Reusable hot and cold packs are versatile gel or liquid filled products that are commonly found in many households. The Animal Poisons Helpline is frequently contacted about companion animals, particularly dogs, that ingest the contents of these packs. There are a wide variety of hot and cold packs available on the market which can contain a range of different constituents such as propylene glycol, cellulose based polymers and glycerol. These differ from ‘instant’ hot and cold packs, which contain other constituents such as ammonium nitrate or iron.

The risk of poisoning following ingestion of gel or liquid from a reusable hot and cold pack is highly dependent on the pack’s constituents. The vast majority of these cases are not concerning, with most animals remaining either completely well or developing mild transient gastrointestinal upset only. In 2008, the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia recalled a number of hot and cold packs because they were found to contain a highly toxic substance called ethylene glycol. Pets that ingest ethylene glycol can become inebriated and sustain a fatal kidney injury. Due to the perishable nature of these packs, fortunately it would be highly unlikely to come across an ethylene glycol containing pack in Australia these days.

Ethylene glycol can however also be found in other household products, most frequently radiator coolant. When ingested, ethylene glycol is rapidly metabolised to toxic acids. These acids bind to calcium in the blood, forming little crystals that get stuck in the kidneys. Ethylene glycol is a sweet tasting liquid, and even small ingestions can be life-threatening to dogs and particularly cats. Animals that develop kidney failure from ethylene glycol have a very poor prognosis, and therefore preventing ingestion in the first place is incredibly important.

Whilst early veterinary intervention in these cases can be lifesaving, treatment of ethylene glycol poisoning can be expensive. This is because prolonged hospitalisation for antidotal therapy and close monitoring is often required. Costly veterinary care is not unique to ethylene glycol either, but may also be incurred following a number of other toxin exposures such as non steroidal anti-inflammatory overdose, paracetamol poisoning and snake bites. In these cases, pet insurance can provide significant peace of mind and protection, ensuring you can give your pet the best chance at recovery without financial limitations. If you are looking for pet insurance for your furry friend, our platinum sponsor Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance are currently offering two months free pet insurance in the first year of coverage for Animal Poison Helpline followers. Visit and enter AP368 at checkout to take advantage of this offer.

The Animal Poisons Helpline provides free advice to pet owners in Australia and New Zealand and can be reached on 1300 869 738 (AU) or 0800 869 738 (NZ). If you are a member of a veterinary team in Australia or New Zealand, you can join the Animal Poisons Centre For Vets Facebook group which is regularly updated with toxicology tidbits and poisoning trends.