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Antifreeze Industry Agrees to Add Bitter Taste to Products

January 28, 2013 | 5,786 views
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By Dr. Becker

Some good news for a change from the pet poisoning front.

U.S. manufacturers of antifreeze and engine coolant have agreed to voluntarily begin adding bittering agents to their products to discourage pets, children and wildlife from sampling the sweet-tasting liquid.

According to dvm360, while several states have already passed legislation requiring the addition of bittering agents:

“The Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA) and the Humane Society Legislative Fund jointly announced Dec. 13 that the industry would now voluntarily add the flavoring agent to products for sale on the consumer market in all 50 states.”

The Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF) estimates that from 10,000 to 90,000 animals are poisoned each year by antifreeze spills in driveways or garages, or from products left in open containers. According to the HSLF, one teaspoon of antifreeze or engine coolant can kill an average-sized cat.

Manufacturers will add bitter-tasting denatonium benzoate to antifreeze and coolant products sold throughout the U.S. Denatonium benzoate has been used in common household products and as an anti-nail biting formula in the U.S. for decades.

Ethylene Glycol Toxicity

Ethylene glycol is the problem ingredient in antifreeze. What many people don’t realize is that it is also found in relatively high concentrations in brake fluid, condensers, heat exchangers, home solar units, and the bases of portable basketball goals. It is also used to winterize toilets in recreational vehicles and summer homes in colder climates.

Ethylene glycol is also found in much lower concentrations in household paints, inks, ink pads, polishes, finger moistening compounds (e.g. Tacky Finger), and other office supplies.

Ethylene glycol is highly toxic, with a sweet smell and taste that attracts both animals and children. It is rapidly absorbed, which leads to systemic poisoning that starts with the central nervous system. Symptoms may be less obvious in animals than humans.

No toxic doses of ethylene glycol have been established for dogs and cats. Most of the data available is based on instances of acute toxicity that resulted in death. The data doesn’t take into account pets that survive the initial poisoning but die of kidney failure within a few days.

It’s important to note that ethylene glycol is a very potent form of alcohol, so many of the symptoms of a potential poisoning will be similar to those of severe alcohol intoxication. There are typically three stages of symptoms:

  • Neurologic, in the form of “drunk behavior” from the effects of the alcohol
  • Cardiopulmonary, as the result of severe acidosis and electrolyte disturbances
  • Renal, due to renal tubular injury from calcium oxalate crystals

Since no “survivable” exposure levels of ethylene glycol have been established, if you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze or another of the substances that potentially contain the toxin, you should seek immediate veterinary care.

You should also carefully inspect the labels on all antifreeze and automotive coolant products in your home and follow instructions on how to use, store and dispose of them.

For more tips on how to keep your fuzzy family members safe from all potential household hazards, and also for information on what to do if you suspect your pet has ingested a toxin, the Pet Poison Helpline has two useful downloads for pet parents:

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