Babi the cat was lucky enough to make it to the vet ahead of the Level 4 booze ban – or he might have used up all nine his lives.
Thanks to his quick-thinking vets, the feline survived being poisoned by antifreeze after being fed an intravenous cocktail of vodka and sterile water, which saved his life.
Babi, a shorthaired ginger feline from Fouriesburg in the Free State, was rushed to the Cluny Animal Trust, a veterinary practice in the small town, when his owners saw he was behaving strangely.
“He was lethargic and disorientated; he couldn’t walk and he seemed dizzy,” recalls vet Dr Eunice Olevano.
Anti-freezing poisoning was diagnosed. Antifreeze liquid is used in generators and car engines to stop the water in these systems from freezing in cold conditions. Many antifreeze liquids contain ethylene glycol, a colourless and odourless alcohol derivative that lowers the freezing points of vital engine fluids.
This highly toxic liquid has a sweet taste that attracts cats, and the animals will lick it if it’s leaking from machinery. This appears to have been what happened to Babi.
Dr Olevano and her colleagues, Dr Mariska Malan and Dr Katherine Barker, who founded the community non-profit organisation in 2011, put their heads together to work out an appropriate treatment.
“Shortly after we arrived Babi projectile vomited a watery liquid which helped him purge the liquid from his system but he still needed treatment,” Dr Olevano says.
“Using Google to assist us with the diagnosis, we ran a couple of tests on his urine and vomit.”
The doctors learnt that antifreeze contains fluorescein, which is used to locate leaks with ultraviolet light, “and when Babi’s bodily fluids lit up under the UV light we knew we were on the right track”.
Unfortunately, the treatment for antifreeze poisoning is intravenous ethanol, “which we didn’t have at the centre”, Dr Olevano says.
But thanks to quick thinking and years spent studying veterinary science, “we remembered that we could use 7% vodka diluted as an alternative for ethanol.
Vodka contains the same agents as ethanol and works as a substitute”.
Luckily for Babi, his woes started before the latest lockdown saw bottle stores shut their doors.
Babi was hooked up to a drip to administer vodka which was diluted with sterile water, for six hours a day.
It worked, but it also made Babi a little tipsy, Dr Olevano adds.
“You could see he was confused but he responded well to the dosage.”
After being monitored for a few days and given liver treatment to counter his alcohol intake, Babi was ready to head home.
“He is doing really well and back to his curious self,” Dr Olevano says.
While Babi’s poisoning was treated before it led to kidney failure, Dr Olevano strongly advises cat owners refrain from treating their pets themselves with a vodka solution if they suspect antifreeze poisoning.
“The administration is very complex and it needs to be done intravenously. If done incorrectly it can be life-threatening for the pet. Instead, please visit your nearest vet for professional assistance.”
Dr Olevano adds it’s important to check for radiator leaks or mechanical leaks that cats may lick if they sniff out the sweet antifreeze agent, particularly in colder parts of the country.
“You may not have any leaks but cats are roamers and will wander around so it’s really a community effort.”
People are also encouraged to use antifreeze made with propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Propylene glycol is tasteless and less toxic and safer for people, pets and wildlife than conventional antifreeze.
The toxic stuff may start your car – but it could kill your fur babies.