Is RV Antifreeze Toxic To Dogs?

RV antifreeze is an essential part of winterizing your RV or travel trailer. It helps to protect the plumbing system from freezing and bursting in cold temperatures, as well as keeping the seals in the toilet and faucets from drying out in the summer. The most popular type of RV antifreeze is propylene glycol-based RV/marine antifreeze because it's safe to use in the freshwater plumbing system and doesn't leave a lingering aftertaste once you de-winterize.

Yes, RV antifreeze is toxic to dogs. This article explains the difference in danger levels between ethylene glycol in household antifreeze and propylene glycol in RV antifreeze. It describes the signs and symptoms of antifreeze poisoning and measures to take if your dog has ingested it.


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What Makes Antifreeze A Dangerous Chemical?

Antifreeze is a standard household product. It prevents plumbing damage from extreme cold and assists your engine. Unfortunately, ethylene glycol is a toxic element in antifreeze.


The Humane Society Legislative Fund estimates 10 000 animals die yearly from antifreeze poisoning. A teaspoon of antifreeze is fatal for cats. For large dogs, slightly more- three ounces.


Pet-safe antifreeze, like RV antifreeze, is on the market. This variation of antifreeze contains propylene glycol, which is the active ingredient. It is considerably safer, yet still harmful to your pet, especially in large doses. Essentially, chemicals aren’t suitable for people or pets.

Yes, RV antifreeze is toxic to dogs. A key ingredient found in most antifreeze is ethylene glycol, which is highly toxic and affects the nervous system and kidneys. What's worse is that ethylene glycol has a sweet taste, so pets can easily be drawn to and ingest it. It takes only a small amount of ethylene glycol to be potentially fatal.

Where Is Ethylene Glycol Found?

What Makes Antifreeze A Dangerous Chemical

Ethylene glycol is a chief ingredient in antifreeze, a thick, brightly colored substance, usually pink, blue, and green. It prevents your car’s radiator from overheating or over-freezing.


Dogs and cats lick small amounts of antifreeze that drips from your car’s engine onto the floor and clean the substance from their paws.


Antifreeze is sweet and tempting for dogs (cats are more discerning). Antifreeze is glycol-based, which is why it has a syrupy sweet taste. Glycol belongs to a division of organic compounds classified as alcohol, which is fragrant and sweet.


In December 2012, the Consumer Specialty Product Association and Humane Society Legislative Fund stated that Antifreeze manufacturers across the US are adding a bitter flavor to the product to deter animals and children.


The substance remains problematic as it clings to their paws from spills on the ground. Adding a bittering agent has yet to be a federal requirement. However, many manufacturers are voluntarily making their antifreeze acrid.


Keep your antifreeze stored safely, beyond reach, and securely capped. When throwing away your antifreeze bottle, ensure the cap is tightly on. It’s a good idea to place it into a plastic bag when discarding the bottle.


Be mindful when using antifreeze. Secure your pets far from the area and clean up any mess. Keep checking the undercarriage of your car for leaks. Keep all antifreeze containers (full and empty) out of reach. Vigilance is a small effort to exercise for a beloved pet.


Other areas where ethylene glycol is found:

  • Some household products contain ethylene glycol- latex paints
  • The base of portable basketball hoops
  • Printer cartridges and pen inks
  • Hydraulic brake fluid
  • Snow globes
  • Deicing solutions in boats, aircraft, and plumbing
  • Windshield deicing agents
  • Adhesive in food packaging
  • PET plastic resin in cans and polyester fibers for clothes


What Are The Signs Of Ethylene Glycol/Antifreeze Poisoning?

Signs Of Ethylene Glycol Antifreeze PoisoningEthylene glycol is fatal for people and animals. As this article focuses on dogs, I will first give a generalized overview of how people exhibit signs of antifreeze poisoning.


Then a step-by-step account of the different stages of dog intoxication to death.


Signs Of Ethylene Glycol Poisoning In People

Ethylene glycol intoxication isn’t an immediate death. It’s prolonged and torturous, over several hours. The amount of antifreeze swallowed affects the poisoning duration and symptoms. Therefore, symptoms vary from person to person on a few variables, like the amount of antifreeze, size, and age of the person.


Initial signs of poisoning are evident from 30 minutes after ingestion to 12 hours. The severity of the antifreeze on the body rapidly increases after 12 hours.


Signs of ethylene glycol poisoning in people 30 minutes to 12 hours after consumption:

  • Feeling disoriented, groggy, or drunk
  • Fatigued
  • Headaches
  • No coordination
  • Speech impairment
  • Nausea and vomiting


Signs of ethylene glycol poisoning in people 12 hours after consumption:

  • Major organs like kidneys, lungs, brain and nervous system are affected
  • Rapid breathing
  • Unable to urinate
  • Increased heart rate
  • Convulsion
  • Coma and death


Signs Of Ethylene Glycol Poisoning In Dogs

Signs Of Ethylene Glycol Poisoning In DogsThere are three main phases of ethylene glycol poisoning symptoms in dogs. These stages take place over 72 hours. Therefore, it’s imperative to get to a vet ASAP.


  • Phase One (30 – 12 hours after antifreeze ingestion): Initially, your dog acts drunk. Their drunken behavior includes unsteadiness on their feet and vomiting. Your pet may appear depressed as the central nervous system (CNS) is attacked. Other CNS indications include muscle twitching, poor reflexes, and an inability to stand or walk. In addition, there’s hyperthermia (low body temperature), vomiting, increased urination, and thirst.


  • Phase Two (12 – 24 hours after antifreeze ingestion): This stage is troubling, as your dog seems to recover and begin to act normally. The ethylene glycol is rapidly metabolized into glycolic acid; these toxic metabolites are fatal to your animal. Their heart rate fastens, elevated breathing, and dehydration. An increase in heart rate and breathing will cause acidosis- a decrease in pH levels.


  • Phase Three (36 – 72 hours after antifreeze ingestion): At this point, toxic metabolites are rampant in the animal’s system. The results include kidney failure, no urine, lack of appetite, anorexia, seizure, coma, and death. Physical symptoms include swollen painful kidneys.


Is RV Antifreeze Toxic To Animals?

RV antifreeze has an ingredient called propylene glycol. The toxicity level of propylene glycol is an issue of debate among veterinaries, animal associations, various agencies, and societies.


Although it’s referred to as a “pet-friendly” antifreeze, there are recent reports of pet deaths resulting from ingestion.


Despite the frequency of poisoning incidents, specialists maintain that this is the least harmful and reactive substance. Accordingly, routine intake of small doses of propylene glycol isn’t dangerous and is in some dog food brands.


The ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) claims that propylene glycol isn’t toxic in small quantities.


Investigations into the damaging effects of propylene glycol have uncovered that the impact of toxicity depends on the animal. Therefore, harmful effects are determined by various factors like the size, age, and health of your dog.


Your dog’s symptoms from RV antifreeze intoxication include panting, lethargy, drunken behavior, sedation, and occasionally severe seizures.


Propylene glycol affects cats more than dogs. In dogs, it damages the nervous system and causes depression and lactic acidosis.


What Should You Do If Your Pet Has Ingested Antifreeze?

If your animal has ingested antifreeze, go to a veterinarian immediately. Bring the antifreeze bottle with you. Try to assess the amount swallowed; remember, a small amount is enough to kill your pet- the list of ingredients on the package and the quantity ingested assist treatment.


The process at the vet is simple. First, a series of tests and assessments are done. Fortunately, there is a test that determines the amount of antifreeze ingested, the exposure, and the prognosis. However, blood tests are tricky and are subject to misinterpretation. Tests must be taken within 8 -12 hours of ingestion to be reliable.


Another test that confirms the presence of ethylene glycol in the body is inspecting the urine. Calcium oxalate crystals are discarded by the kidneys and observed in the urine. A urinalysis will indicate ethylene glycol ingestion.


Antifreeze Antidote

There is an antidote to antifreeze, and the treatment is specific. It is of utmost importance that treatment is given immediately. Time is the critical factor in determining the success of the antifreeze antidote.


There are two antidotes, ethanol and fomepizole.


Ethanol is a clear hard liquor, like vodka or Everclear.


The second treatment is a medicine called fomepizole. Fomepizole is a commercially produced pharmaceutical and is the preferred treatment. It’s expensive, and some vets don’t stock it.


Both antidotes function the same. They inhibit toxic metabolites, glycolic acids, from forming and destroying the kidneys. Hard, clear alcohol (vodka and Everclear) will save your pet’s life when administered intravenously.


Your animal must stay in the hospital and be monitored during treatment. An average size dog will be administered eight shots of liquor every four to six hours. Your animal will need love and care when sobering up.


Frequently Asked Questions


  1. How do you know antifreeze is poisoning your dog?

Vomiting is a clear sign that your dog licked up or drank antifreeze. The vomit will be one of the bright colors that antifreeze comes in. However, the color doesn’t always indicate that the dog drank antifreeze.


Confusion and Disorientation signal that your pet is poisoned. After a half hour of antifreeze consumption, your dog will move around aimlessly and uncoordinatedly. They stumble, fall, and are unable to stand.


Increased thirst and urination are ways your dog’s body responds to the toxin. Again, this behavior displays 30 minutes after ingestion.


Seizures happen within the first hour of consuming the toxin. However, seizures are also the outcome of numerous other dog conditions. If the seizure occurs with the above indicators, it’s very likely your pet has swallowed antifreeze.


Your dog’s behavior changes abruptly once they drink antifreeze. The symptoms are dramatic and not hard to discern. If you’re suspicious, don’t hesitate to take your pet to the veterinary hospital. It will save their life.


  1. Does milk help a poisoned dog?

No. Milk won’t help the poison in your dog’s bloodstream and blood cells. In some situations, milk will worsen your pet’s condition. Most animals are 95% lactose intolerant, and milk will hurt their stomach and cause diarrhea.


  1. How long does a dog survive antifreeze poisoning?

Treat your dog immediately. Dogs have an eight-hour window for treatment. However, your animal’s life is endangered every minute the poison is in its system.


  1. Are pets attracted to antifreeze?

Yes. Antifreeze is sweet and fragrant. Animals are curious, and antifreeze will capture their interest. The bottle is big and clumsy, and the liquid will easily spill. Keep your animals in a secure place when working with antifreeze.


  1. Will antifreeze kill a dog?

Yes. Any quantity of antifreeze is fatal to your pet. A tablespoon can kill your dog.


  1. What does a dog act like after drinking antifreeze?


Your dog acts drunk or inebriated within 30 minutes of consuming antifreeze.


  1. How much antifreeze is harmful to a dog?

Any amount of antifreeze is harmful to a dog. Half a shot glass will kill your dog.


  1. How much antifreeze will kill a cat?

Antifreeze is extremely toxic to a cat. Even a half teaspoon will kill a cat.


  1. Is antifreeze safe to dump on the ground?

No. Even if the antifreeze bottle states it’s biodegradable or non-toxic, it’s unsafe to dump anywhere. Likewise, RV antifreeze isn’t safe to dump as it’s a chemical substance that will disrupt ecosystems and damage the environment on multiple levels.


You’ll be actively contributing to contaminating your environment and hurting other animals. Additionally, antifreeze is flammable. Avoid a potential fire hazard, and don’t dump it on the ground.


Discard RV antifreeze in a responsible manner considering the impact on our earth and the life it supports. Your local government may have suitable means to guide your RV waste dumping.


  1. Why does antifreeze taste sweet?

The chemical ethylene glycol has a syrupy sweet taste. The sweetness is attributed to its glycol-based properties. Glycol is a part of organic compounds belonging to the alcohol family. Alcohol is characteristically sweet and fragrant.


Final Thoughts

Antifreeze is responsible for thousands of pet deaths every year. The chemical ethylene glycol in antifreeze kills animals and people in small doses.


RV antifreeze consists of propylene glycol, which isn’t fatal unless administered in large doses. Exercise caution because chemicals harm the environment, people, and animals.

It is important to take preventive measures to prevent antifreeze poisoning in animals. Keep all antifreeze containers locked up and out of reach, clean up any spills immediately, and dispose of the antifreeze properly. Additionally, check your car for leaks or spills before allowing your pet to go near it. If you suspect your dog has ingested RV antifreeze, contact a veterinarian immediately.

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