An outbreak of sudden cat deaths has been blamed on irresponsible car owners and anti-freeze, researchers have revealed.
The sweet-tasting but deadly substance used to keep cars running in winter has been found in a spate of poison deaths in five areas around the country.
The chemical – ethylene glycol, a major component of anti-freeze in car radiators – has been identified by scientists testing cats with no known cause of death.
Professor Sean Callanan, from the School of Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin (UCD), said reports began to come in from vets before his team began proper testing.
“Over the past few weeks we have seen an increase in the number of cats referred to the UCD Veterinary Hospital by local veterinary practitioners,” he said.
“Many have died suddenly or after a short illness, and our post-mortem examinations have confirmed that these animals experienced rapid kidney failure following the ingestion of ethylene glycol, a major component of anti-freeze.”
The alarm was raised after cats in Cavan, parts of Dublin, Wexford, the Midlands and Athlone were found to be dying in groups.
The professor of veterinary pathology warned that dogs are also at risk from poisoning.
Most of the deaths were family pets and it is believed cats are more susceptible as they lick the substance in small puddles while dogs look for larger water sources. A few millilitres will kill a cat.
Cats are also more at risk as they spend time outside fending for themselves and have a habit of lying under warm cars.
There is no way to be certain how or where the cats ingest the chemical although suspicion has fallen on leaky car radiators and irresponsible disposal of anti-freeze products, the professor said.
“We cannot identify the precise sources of the ethylene glycol that is poisoning an increasing number of cats, but we are asking people to be vigilant with the storage, use, and disposal of their anti-freeze products.
“Ethylene glycol has a sweet taste, so any small puddles created from leaky car radiators, or improperly discarded or stored anti-freeze will pose a poisonous threat to small animals.”
It only takes a small quantity of ethylene glycol to poison small animals and induce relatively rapid kidney failure.
The professor said that after ingesting the chemical, small animals may initially present with relatively vague, non-specific signs such as being dull and listless.
Other damaging side-effects include uncoordinated movement before they move rapidly on to kidney failure and death.