I was reading a post recently saying that if your cat or dog drinks antifreeze than alcohol(not pure rubbing alcohol I assume) will stop the acidification of organs and save your pet. Is this true?
There is a tiny grain of truth in there, but it’s a whole lot more complicated than that.
The toxic component of antifreeze is ethylene glycol. It’s metabolites have multiple toxic effects and it’s metabolism. It’s metabolism through the liver is complicated.
All metabolites of antifreeze have toxic effects.
- Ethylene glycol causes central nervous system depression, euphoria and increased serum osmolarity.
- Glycoaldehyde and Glycoxylate can inhibit the Krebs cycle, that thing mitochondria do to generate cellular energy.
- Glycolate causes renal failure and acidosis
- Oxalate aculumation in the kidney can also cause permanent renal failure.
So with all this badness, where does ethanol (drinking alcohol) come in?
Ethanol is preferentially acted upon by alcohol dehydrogenase. This means that if you have both ethanol and ethylene glycol present, alcohol dehydrogenase will spend more time acting on the ethanol. This slows down the rate that ethylene glycol is turned into its other toxic metabolites.
Because a relatively small amount of ethylene glycol is getting metabolised at one time, the other enzymes in the chain can keep up with the pace, so the most toxic metabolites don’t accumulate in super high levels before being excreted as calcium oxalate.
However, this means two things:
- If you give ethanol 18 hours after ingestion of antifreeze, you actually make everything worse
- Treatment with ethanol requires you to induce alcohol poisoning for about two days.
A single shot of vodka isn’t going to cut it. We usually have these dogs on intravenous fluids to keep them hydrated whilst giving ethanol in hospital (we use vodka) because these animals are often nearly comatose.
We are inducing one type of poisoning to protect against another.
And for what I hope is obvious reasons, do not try this at home.