Veterinarian Reviewed on January 7, 2016 by Dr. Janice Huntingford and Diane Weinmann
The winter season is here with the cold, snow and ice. When snow is on the ground, municipalities apply commercially prepared snow and ice melting products. Home and business owners also apply similar chemicals to sidewalks, porches and driveways. Most ice melting compounds contain salt products that can damage vegetation and hard surfaces and are toxic to people and their pets. Most people are not aware of the dangers that deicing solutions pose to pets.
Many ice melting salt products contain sodium chloride. With exposure of the salt to water and low temperatures, a reaction occurs that causes melting with temperatures generated up to 175°F. This reaction can burn the pet’s foot pads and skin with contact and can burn the mouth and rest of the GI tract with ingestion. Dogs and cats can ingest the salt by licking snow or icy surfaces or by licking their paws after being outside and picking up the ice melting pellets between their toes.
Salt toxicity is also a possibility with the salt-based ice melting products. Ingestion of salt can result in high blood sodium concentration leading to thirst, vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, kidney damage and possible neurologic signs including seizures, coma and even death. It is difficult to know how much salt is a “toxic dose.” Even small amounts of pure salt can be dangerous to a pet if ingested.
A pet with clinical signs suspected of ingesting rock salt should be assessed by a veterinarian. Serum sodium level will be elevated and reestablishing normal fluid and electrolyte balance may be necessary with fluid support and in-hospital care with 24-hour observation. It is important that water replacement be managed carefully because rapid shifts in water with dehydration may result in cerebral edema ( brain swelling) and cause neurologic signs.
Salt-based ice melting products are the least expensive. There are other, more expensive formulations that contain potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium carbonate or calcium magnesium acetate. The potassium and magnesium salts are less toxic if ingested but can still burn the foot pads. The calcium-based products do not create an exothermic reaction but still can be drying to the skin surface with exposure.
I know you have to carefully check the pads of your dog’s paws for salt granules that are stuck. I think my dog ate one and then he threw up a bunch of bile. It was gross but once he threw up he seemed better and ate his dinner. I know it’s easy to forget to check but try to remember to look after every outside walk!
Here are steps that the pet owner can take to minimize risk for his or her pet:
- Monitor/modify your pet’s behavior to minimize the risk of salt exposure.
- Use waterproof pet boots during winter walks with dogs.
- Wash off the pet’s feet, abdomen and chest after being outside with exposure to deicing salts.
- Use sand, crushed cinder or cat litter to provide traction on icy pavement being aware that these products will not melt the snow or ice.
- Immediately remove slush and dissolved deicing product after the snow and ice have melted enough.
- Seek veterinary care if you suspect foot pad or skin burning from salt exposure or that your pet has ingested a significant amount of a salt product.
- I also sell a product that is a pet lotion bar to put on your dog’s paws or nose to help with chapping and winter exposure to the elements as well as to the salt. The product has cocoa butter, shea butter, bees wax olive butter, avocado oil, neem oil and oatmeal and is completely handmade, holistic (as you can see by the ingredients) and safe for your pet even if they lick at it. The pet nose and paw lotion bar is $10 plus shipping. Contact Dianefortheloveofanimals@yahoo.com if you would like to purchase one of these fabulous bars (I use it on my own hands and feet).