Antifreeze Poisoning in Cats: What it Is & How to React

If you ever notice your cat licking the ground beneath your car after you've topped up the antifreeze or screen wash, remove the cat immediately and call the vet as an emergency. Here's why.

Antifreeze poisoning

Cats find the ethylene glycol contained in antifreeze coolant as irresistible as you do luxury Belgian chocolate, but did you know that consuming as little one teaspoon-full can be fatal to your cat? Ethylene glycol is the most common source of poisoning in cats. The substance attacks the animal's kidneys, liver and brain and without prompt treatment often proves fatal.


This poison is very fast-acting in cats and effects are seen from as little as 30 minutes to 12 hours following contact with the substance. Watch out for a combination of the following symptoms any of which could indicate poisoning:

  • vomiting
  • lack of coordination, falling over and trouble getting up
  • increased vocalisation and initial agitation
  • muscle twitching or shivering
  • increased thirst
  • depression and lethargy
  • coma

Take action fast

If you suspect that your cat may have licked up spilled antifreeze, get your pet to a vet as soon as possible. If the cat has vomited, try to collect a small sample (if you can stomach it) and take this with you. Your vet will be able to quickly test the sample for the presence of ethylene glycol, and the quicker the diagnosis is made the more chance there will be of saving your pet. 

Keep your cat quiet and allow him to drink if he wants to. Do not offer it food.

Your pet will be hospitalised and treated to prevent the substance being absorbed into the body where it could be catalysed into toxic compounds which will eventually cause total organ failure. The treatment administered by your vet will depend on the quantity of toxin ingested and how long it has been in the cat's system. 

If possible, give your vet an indication of when you think your cat might have eaten the antifreeze product, and how much of it your pet may have had access to. This will give the vet a clearer idea of how much damage could have been done which will help him to decide on the best course of treatment.


Ethylene glycol is used in the production of most brands of antifreeze coolant for cars. It is also present in some windscreen wash products. Always keep the caps firmly on containers, and if possible restrict your cat's access to your garage or any area where such products are stored. Better still, place containers high up and well out of reach of curious pets.

If you top up your car on the driveway, be very careful to clean up spills immediately and thoroughly. A spill can be removed efficiently and quickly by throwing a bucket of warm water over it and sweeping the puddle away with a stiff broom.

Explain to your neighbours the danger these substances pose to cats and ask that they exercise care when using them, especially if your cat is inclined to wander onto their property.

In areas where winters are cold many people put antifreeze into garden water features to prevent them from freezing, and pets often use this to drink from. Make sure your cat has a readily available supply of fresh water outside the house, and never use antifreeze in your water feature.

Ask in your motoring supply store for antifreeze products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Whilst these substances are not entirely pet-friendly, they are non-toxic and can be used in relative safety.

Antifreeze poisoning in cats is common and usually fatal. Take care when using products containing ethylene glycol in areas to which your cat has access, and if possible swop to a brand that uses non-toxic propylene glycol instead. If you suspect that your cat has been poisoned, always consult a vet clinic like Fernlands Veterinary Practice immediately.