Winter Woes

posted on December 02, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As winter officially begins, many of us are busy dealing with the household chores that freezing weather present.  Many of these tasks present hazards to our pets however.  Ice melts and antifreeze can both be toxic if ingested by our furry friends.

Ice melts are often applied to driveways and walkways to prevent people from slipping.  If they are spilled or tracked indoors, improperly stored, or if your pet spends too much time walking on or rolling on sidewalks that are treated, they may exhibit signs of toxicity.  Most commonly seen is vomiting, but diarrhea, excessive salivation (drooling), depression, decreased appetite, tremors, disorientation, increased thirst, seizures, and even death can result.  Depending on the method of exposure, a bath may be indicated to remove salt from hair and feet.  Inducing vomiting is sometimes indicated as well, but it depends on how long ago ingestion occurred and which type of ice melt was used.  Please contact a veterinarian to see if vomiting should be induced in your situation.  Hydration via IV catheter or subcutaneous fluids will help prevent or correct electrolyte issues.  If electrolyte disturbances are noted, an EKG may be recommended.  If seizures are occurring, an anti-seizure medication may be needed until the electrolytes are normalized again and seizures stop.  Lastly, anti-nausea medications may be needed to prevent vomiting.  Many of these treatments are dependent on what type of salt was ingested and which signs your pet is having, but early detection and correction will help prevent the more serious issues such as arrhythmias of the heart or seizures.  Please call as soon as you realize your pet may have ingested ice melt.  When walking your pet in winter, wiping the feet carefully after being outside will help remove residue and can also prevent those pesky snow balls that form inbetween feet.  Clipping the hair between toes and wearing booties are other options.

Antifreeze, or ethylene glycol, is another very toxic substance for our pets.  It often has a very sweet flavor to it, so pets are enticed to lick up spills or drink from toilets where it has been added.  Ethylene glycol can be measured in the bloodstream within 30 minutes of ingestion, and reaches peak levels in 1 hour in cats, and 3-6 hours in dogs.  The body metabolizes the chemical, and these metabolites are actually what is toxic to the pet.  They cause kidney damage, acidosis, and can cause the formation of calcium oxalate crystals in the urinary tract and mineralization of the kidneys.  Often the signs seen with ethylene glycol poisoning include depression, ataxia (walking uncoordinated/like they are drunk), vomiting, increased thirst, and increased urinations.  These signs can develop and persist from 30 minutes-12 hours after ingestion or longer.  If you suspect your pet has ingested ethylene glycol, please immediately contact your veterinarian.  If treatment is delayed until kidney damage occurs and kidney values in the blood are elevated, the prognosis is much poorer.

With a little prevention, winter can be a fun and enjoyable time for you and your pet.

acewinter