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Head vet Alun Edwards warns of Winter antifreeze and rock salt risks to dogs and cats

Clent Hills Vets

Clent Hills’ Head Vet Alun Edwards is warning pet owners to be aware of a dangerous risk that animals can face during the winter months.


One of the most hazardous substances for dogs and cats at this time of year is ethylene glycol, found in most car antifreeze mixes. Whilst many poisons taste unpleasant, which deters ingestion, ethylene glycol is sweet and pets will readily consume it when given the opportunity.

A common place for pets to find this poisonous liquid is in puddles that form when a car radiator is drained or topped up, or when a container is left uncapped. Even the smallest amount can cause acute kidney failure and death in cats and less than 88 ml is sufficient to poison a medium-sized dog. Antifreeze poisoning rapidly affects the brain, liver, and kidneys.

Recognising the symptoms of antifreeze poisoning early could make a huge difference to a pet’s chance of survival and recovery. If you spot any of the following symptoms and there is no other obvious cause you should act quickly and take your pet to your local vet:

  • excessive drinking
  • nausea and vomiting
  • moving unsteadily or slowly
  • enhanced excitement followed by urination
  • metallic or urine smell on breath

Alun explains: “Pets usually come into contact with antifreeze when it leaks from a car’s engine onto the ground. Ethylene glycol is broken down in the body into glycolaldehyde, which is incredibly toxic to kidney tissue. Cats are more rapidly affected than dogs but time is of the essence with both animals. Ingestion of ethylene glycol is a true emergency which can cause death within 24 hours.”

Rock salt and road salt

You should also be aware of the dangers of rock salt, which is pretty commonly used in winter as a de-icer. It can be extremely harmful to your dog’s paw pads, but can be even worse if your dog ingests it. In large quantities it can be fatal, and it doesn’t take much for a dog to ingest a large amount of rock salt – especially if licking ice melts.

Salt poisoning in dogs and cats results in signs of:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • decreased appetite
  • lethargy
  • incoordination
  • excessive thirst or urination
  • In severe cases: tremors, seizures, coma, and can even be fatal.

Most road salt is composed of chloride combined with sodium, calcium, magnesium or potassium, they may also contain ferrocyanide salts. Many dogs suffer from painful burning and cracked and dried out pads from walking on salt-treated roads and pavements.

Remember to wash your dogs paws if they have been walking on surfaces that may have been gritted, and regularly check your dog’s and cat’s paws after they have been out for anything unusual. Try to discourage your pet from licking their paws if you suspect they may have come into contact with salt / grit. You may want to consider purchasing some protective pet boots as an option, which are available from most pet stores and some online retailers.

For more information, contact our central advice line on 01527 889810. We operate a 24/7 out of hours emergency service, simply ring the same number if you need assistance.

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