Vet Q&A: How do I keep my pet safe from de-icing products?

by PDSA | 24 November 2021 #VetQ&As

As winter looms and cars and paths begin to get icy, people start reaching for antifreeze and rock salt. Unfortunately, these products, amongst many of the others we use to melt ice, are dangerous for our pets. Our vets are here to help with their advice on how to keep your four-legged friends safe from de-icing dangers during the winter months.

Which de-icing substances are dangerous for pets?

Whether you use them yourself, your neighbours do, or you come across them when you’re out and about, there are potentially dangerous de-icing substances around that can harm our pets, including antifreeze and grit and salt. Cats are particularly at risk, as they’re more likely to wander outdoors freely.

Antifreeze products

Products used on cars such as engine anti-freeze, de-icing spray, and screen wash often contain ethylene glycol which is toxic to dogs and cats. If your pet ingests antifreeze, it’s likely to cause severe damage to their kidneys, which can be fatal. Your pet could come into contact with ethylene glycol by directly licking it up from a spill, or from cleaning their paws/fur after walking or rolling in it when wandering out and about.

Grit and salt

Grit and salt used on pavements and roads can also cause problems for pets, as it can get caught between pads, cause skin irritation or lead to stomach upsets if licked or eaten.


How can I protect my pet from de-icers?

There are lots of simple steps you can take to keep your pet safe from becoming poorly from de-icing products. These include:

Check your pet’s paws: Always check your pet’s paws when you get home from walks, or when your cat comes inside, looking for any sores or cuts. Check for grit, salt or skin irritation and consider washing your pet’s paws with plain water when they get home. Many pets – especially cats – don’t like their paws being touched, so always be gentle and reward your pet with a tasty treat.

Look for alternatives: Avoid using products that contain ethylene glycol – or even better, avoid chemicals completely and choose alternatives to defrost your windscreens and paths. You could try an ice scraper, heat from your car engine, or covering your car at night.

Avoid areas with grit: Keep your pet safe on winter walkies, by taking extra care to avoid areas with grit. 

Wash off unknown substances: If you find any unknown substances on your pet’s feet or fur, make sure you wash it off quickly. If you have any concerns about your pet, contact your vet as soon as possible.


What happens if my pet drinks antifreeze?

Antifreeze containing ethylene glycol is highly toxic to dogs and cats – if ingested, it can cause severe kidney damage which can be fatal. Unfortunately, ethylene glycol tastes sweet - so if your pet comes across it, they are likely to want to drink it. It’s really important to be able to recognise the symptoms of anti-freeze poisoning so you can get your help for your pet as soon as possible.

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning include:

  • Twitching
  • Vomiting
  • Drinking more
  • Seizures (fits)
  • Collapse

Poisoning is much more common in cats, because they are much more likely to come across a spillage when they are roaming outside. If you think your pet may have swallowed antifreeze, contact your vet as soon as possible – even if they don’t have symptoms. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. If treatment for antifreeze poisoning is started quickly, the outlook for your pet is more hopeful.


How can I protect pets if I need to use antifreeze for my car?

There are many different antifreeze products available, just make sure you always look for one that doesn’t contain ethylene glycol as it’s much less likely to be toxic to pets.

If you can’t avoid products that contain ethylene glycol, you’ll need to be very careful when using them. You can do this by cleaning up any spills immediately, making sure the bottles are kept safely away from pets and children, and by only buying products with added ‘bittering agents’ to discourage pets from drinking them. It’s important to bear in mind that bittering agents aren’t always effective, so ideally, just avoid ethylene glycol completely!

For tips on keeping your pet safe in the winter, take a look at our winter pet care advice.

Share this article on:  PDSA | 24 November 2021


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