Bittering Agents Saving The Lives of Cats?

The bosses of Halfords, in the United Kingdom, deserve a pat of the back for voluntarily deciding to add a bittering agent (sometimes called a “bitterant”) to their antifreeze. They also add a bitterant called “Bitrex”® to their screen wash. It is probably the same chemical that is added to their antifreeze. Although Halford’s products contain a bittering agent, they sell products from other manufacturers that don’t.

Antifreeze with bittering agent

Antifreeze with bittering agent

In the UK, as far as I am aware, there is neither a legal requirement to add a bittering agent to antifreeze, nor to use propylene glycol, which is much safer than ethylene glycol, the commonly used but highly toxic chemical. I have to ask, Why? A defective government, probably.

See also: (a) making antifreeze unpalatable and (b) saving a cat who has ingested antifreeze.

In the USA, there were attempts to create a legal requirement to add a bitterant. However, a bill, the Antifreeze Bittering Act of 2009, died a death at the committee stage. To me, it seems extraordinary that such a simple and useful piece of legislation cannot become law. Bitterant also save the lives of kids as well as cats and wildlife.

The objective of the Antifreeze Bittering Act of 2009 was:

To amend the Federal Hazardous Substances Act to require engine coolant and antifreeze to contain a bittering agent so as to render it unpalatable….

Thankfully and wisely, the manufacturers voluntarily decided to add bitterant to all antifreeze and engine coolant. This puts the USA ahead of the UK in this regard. In the UK, there are still many cases of the deliberate poisoning of cats by people putting food down laced with antifreeze. It is time for all manufacturers in the UK to follow the US example.

Those are the “facts” as I have researched them. There are probably other manufacturers who have been equally responsible. If a visitor knows of a manufacturer, please comment.

What I am yet to discover is how effective a bittering agent is to stop cats licking up antifreeze. Will a cat be able to smell the bittering agent when the antifreeze is mixed with food as is often the case in malicious poisonings? I suspect a cat will pick up the smell because they have an excellent sense of smell, which well beyond the capabilities of humans.

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Bittering Agents Saving The Lives of Cats? — 13 Comments

  1. That’s really good news, I didn’t know Halfords were doing that and I agree they deserve praise for it, I think I’ll look for their Facebook and Twitter pages and put something on. It would be good if all manufacturers followed their lead, thanks for the information Michael.

    • Thanks Barbara. It is good news. I am a bit surprised to be honest! I don’t think that much of Halfords but they have gone up in my esteem.

      The motivation was probably saving kids not cats 😉 True?

      • Do you think many kids would try antifreeze? I suppose some are daft enough 😉 anyway I’ve messaged Halfords on FB and Twitter to say a big thank you. We don’t normally go to Halfords (and don’t do our own antifreeze but that’s a thought I might insist the garage uses it with bitrex) but have a good impression of them since an employee of theirs kindly put some new windscreen wiper blades on for us when we hadn’t a clue a good few years ago now.

  2. Yes that is very good news and I think it would be a good idea to follow Barbara’s idea to thank Halfords and we could also contact other manufacturers and ask if they are doing it too and if not, why not, when Halfords are!
    I think cats would sniff it mixed in food, as you say Michael they have an excellent sense of smell.

    • Thanks Ruth. I agree, we should see if we have the energy to ask other manufacturers to follow suit. There are probably thousands of cats killed yearly or at least many hundreds because of antifreeze in the UK. We don’t know.

      How many wild animals are killed? No one is keeping a record, unsurprisingly. The UK needs to sharpen up.

  3. This is great news. It was always one of my big fears in winter in Canada. I hope this becomes widespread. IT’s lethal stuff even in tiny amounts.

  4. Good on Halfords and yes we must make the effort to thank them and to ask other firms why they are not doing the same.
    I will be writing to the government again too about making it law.

  5. I sent Halfords a message via Facebook and here is their reply:-

    Halfords Auto
    2 April 09:35

    Hi Barbara, Thank you so much for taking the time to contact us, we really appreciate our Customer feedback and have passed on your comments to the Category Managers Thank you again and we hope you had a wonderful Easter! Social Media Team

  6. Yes well done Barbara, you put me to shame, I haven’t thanked them yet but I will because as Michael says, it can only do good for cat welfare.

  7. I’ve had a reply now too

    Halfords Auto
    5 April 10:22
    Hi Ruth
    Thank you so much for taking the time to contact us, we at Halfords value any feedback.
    We will most certainly be passing your comments on to our category teams and also our quality team who work hard to ensure we deliver our products to a high standard.
    Many thanks
    Social Media Team

    • It’s good, isn’t it? The response is a bit formulaic but you actually got a response and the fact they put bittering agent in their antifreeze tells me that someone at Halfords is thinking.

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