Propylene Glycol and Cats – Everything You Need to Know

Ethylene glycol is found in, among other things, coolant, locking oils and brake fluid. When ingested, the ethylene glycol is broken down in the body and the decomposition products are very toxic. Today, it is more common to use propylene glycol in coolant, which does not carry the same risk of poisoning.

Ethylene glycol poisoning is not relatively uncommon in cats. It is usually a matter of the cat getting ethylene glycol in the fur and getting this by licking itself clean. A cat is at risk of dying from as little as 1.5 ml of ethylene glycol / kilo body weight.

In the body, ethylene glycol is broken down into various breakdown products that are harmful to the kidneys, but also to the heart and nervous system. Degradation is handled by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase.


The symptoms can differ between individuals and depending on how much the cat has ingested. Usually the poisoning has the following symptoms:

30 minutes to 24 hours after ingestion is seen vomiting, nausea, fatigue, shakiness, wheezing, increased thirst and urination, and in some cases seizures.

After 24 hours, kidney function may be completely knocked out, with symptoms such as severe general malaise, cessation of urine production, seizures, coma and death.


The diagnosis can be difficult to make at an early stage unless the pet owner knows that the cat may have ingested ethylene glycol. Sometimes remnants of the fluid can be seen in the fur or on the cat’s pads. Calcium oxalate crystals in the urine are a typical finding in ethylene glycol poisoning. The crystals can be detected in urine samples about 6 hours after the time of poisoning.

The blood tests may look normal in the first hours after ingestion, but fairly soon there are changes in the body’s acid-base balance and the effect on body salts. If the poisoning continues untreated, the cat develops an acute kidney failure with a strong effect on the kidney values.


At a very early stage, you can try to make the cat vomit with the help of medication. However, this is inappropriate if the cat is already showing symptoms of poisoning. Even if the cat has vomited some of the fluid, continued treatment is given because the dose required to cause severe poisoning is so low.

The cat receives supportive treatment in the form of a drip and a treatment that is intended to block the enzyme that breaks down ethylene glycol in the various toxic substances, so that it is instead excreted from the body in unchanged form. This usually means that alcohol (ethanol) is added via intravenous drip. The cat needs to be admitted to an animal hospital for several days for treatment.


The prognosis depends on how severe the poisoning is and how quickly the right treatment is started. Cats that survive the acute crisis can suffer chronic kidney damage.


Avoid having coolant containing ethylene glycol at home and if possible choose propylene glycol instead. If ethylene glycol is spilled, it should be dried immediately! The amount of coolant that causes fatal damage is very small!

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