With winter weather raging, cities all across the U.S. are using plows, shovels, and chemical deicers to keep streets and sidewalks safe. But many common deicers are dangerous for dogs, and can irritate their paws and even cause serious illness if ingested.
Thankfully, there are plenty of pet-safe alternatives to harsh chemical de-icers. This winter, make smart choices to keep your dog comfortable and safe (and keep yourself from slipping and sliding all over the place).
What’s in those De-icing Products, Anyway?
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Chemical deicers are products that lower the freezing point of water and make it easier to clear compacted snow and ice. They’re typically used to help clear icy roads and sidewalks, and provide traction for people and cars.
Slippery sidewalks are hazardous to your health, but chemical deicers can be dangerous for your dog. Some of the most common deicing ingredients that are dangerous for pets include:
- Sodium chloride: Plain old salt. Ingesting a large quantity of sodium chloride can be deadly for dogs; mild ingestion will at least lead to gastrointestinal upset. Salt can also irritate dogs’ paws.
- Potassium chloride: Another salt compound, potassium chloride is severely irritating if ingested.
- Magnesium chloride: Sold in crystal and flake form, magnesium chloride is a very popular deicer. It can cause stomach problems if ingested in large amounts, and particularly dangerous for dogs with renal disease who are sensitive to large amounts of magnesium.
- Calcium salts (calcium carbonate, calcium chloride, and calcium magnesium acetate): Calcium salts are the most hazardous of all ice melts. Ingestion can cause major gastrointestinal distress, and they are most likely to cause external irritation on skin and paws.
The good news is, your dog would have to eat a huge amount of deicer to become truly ill. However, even a small amount may lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, and any salt-based deicer has the potential to cause chemical burns and irritation on your dog’s skin.
Dog-Friendly Ice & Snow Treatment
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Thankfully, there are plenty of safer alternatives to chemical deicers, some even marketed as specifically “pet-friendly.” Some natural or non-harmful alternatives include:
- Kitty litter. Yup, kitty litter (the cheap, plain clay kind, nothing with special crystals or scents). While it won’t actually melt snow or ice, kitty litter provides traction on slick surfaces.
- Sand. Similar to kitty litter, sand doesn’t make ice and snow go away, but it makes a gritty surface for better traction.
- Safe Paw and other pet-safe commercial deicers designed to melt ice without harming animals
“Pet-safe” deicers are typically made with an ingredient called urea. Urea is less toxic than other deicing ingredients, but it can still cause issues if not processed specifically for pet safety. Remember to always check the label; the product should be salt- and chloride-free, and labeled as kid- and pet-safe (if it’s not safe for kids, it’s not safe for your dog).
How to Protect Your Dog’s Paws
You can use pet-safe deicers at home, but of course, you can’t control everybody else in town. If you live in a place where the city salts the roads, you may need to take extra precautions for your dog.
There are a few ways to protect your dog’s paws from salt:
- Avoid walking places where salt is used (this may mean steering your pup onto a snowy lawn rather than walking in the street).
- Wash your dog’s paws after a winter walk (wipe them down with a warm, damp washcloth and dry with a microfiber towel)
- Use booties to protect your pup’s feet
- Apply paw salve or wax like Musher’s Secret
- Contact your city officials and ask them to use pet- and environmentally-friendly deicers. Affordable alternatives like sand and gravel may be an option in your town!
De-icing is one of the necessary evils of winter, but it doesn’t have to be dangerous to your pet. Armed with knowledge, preparation, and pet-friendly products, you can make this winter a wonderland for your dog!