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Last Tuesday, Darren and Tracey Towns, of Ipswich, England, noticed something was wrong with their cats, Charlie and Bella.

One-year-old Charlie was ice-cold to the touch and was vomiting repeatedly. The Townses rushed the cats to the vet, where blood tests revealed that he and 7-month-old Bella had ingested antifreeze.

Despite aggressive treatment, the cats’ organs were so badly damaged by the poisoning that they had to be euthanized three days later.

“They were very happy cats — everyone knew them and they would go round to other peoples houses and gardens in the area,” said Darren.

When we went to the vets, they were surprised Charlie was still walking, because the levels in his blood were through the roof.”

Three-year-old Casey, the Towns’ youngest daughter, was very close to the male cat, whom she called “Charlie Boy,” and she is very upset about the cats’ death.

Tracey Towns said, Charlie would always follow me down the road when I went to take the children to school — it was like he was protecting me. He was such a loving cat.

People might think theyre just cats, but they were part of our family and now Im scared of letting the other two out in case it happens to them.

Becky Fox, deputy manager of the RSPCA in East Suffolk and Ipswich, said, At this time of year, when people start getting anti-freeze out for their cars and leave it around or have it leak out of radiators onto the grass, animals can come along and lick it up afterwards.”

Ehtylene glycol, the active ingredient in many brands of antifreeze, has a taste that cats seem to enjoy. But it has immediate and potentially fatal effects.

“Many of us are not aware of just how toxic antifreeze is so its really important that we all take care when using, storing and disposing of it. It could save an animal from an incredibly painful death,” says Dr. Kerry Westwood, RSPCA scientific officer for companion animals.

According to the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, symptoms of antifreeze poisoning occur within 30 minutes of ingestion and up to 12 hours after ingestion. The symptoms include depression, vomiting, a “drunken” gait, increased breathing rate and seizures. Coma and death can occur in a matter of hours. Cats that recover from acute intoxication frequently develop acute kidney failure one to three days later.

If you suspect your cat has consumed even a small amount of antifreeze, immediately induce vomiting and take your cat to the vet, say the Handbook‘s authors.

As much as they hate to think of it, the Townses believe the poisoning could have been done deliberately. Police are investigating the incident, which is being treated as animal cruelty.

We just want to tell people to make sure they keep anti-freeze out of the way of animals. The vet told us its quite a sweet taste and if its on the floor they may lick it up,” said the Townses.

[Sources: Evening Star, RSPCA, and the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook]