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. A national survey shows that 60% of American households use rock salt and salt-based ice melt products, but only about 38% are aware of the hazards. During the winter season, part of our job as veterinary professionals is to educate our clients on the risk these products may pose to their pets.
Many ice melting salt products contain sodium chloride. With exposure of the salt to water and low temperatures, an exothermic 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 risk with the salt-based ice melting products. Ingestion of salt can result in high blood sodium concentration leading to thirst, vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, renal 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, or even a child, if ingested.
There are steps that the pet owner can take to minimize risk for the 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 food pad or skin burning from salt exposure or that your pet has ingested a significant amount of a salt product.
Taken from BluePearl Minnesota Fall 2016 Newsletter