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Post-snowstorms, the safety of your family is paramount when it comes to clearing walkways and driveways and keeping them ice-free. The safety of your pets is also important. Common chemical deicing solutions, which lower the freezing point of water, are applied to roads, sidewalks and driveways to prevent dangerous ice from forming. While effective unless the temperature drops below a certain point, these often corrosive deicers also pose serious risk to pets, infrastructure, your lawn and landscape plants and the environment.

What are common ice melt products and how are they potentially dangerous to pets?

  • Sodium Chloride (Rock Salt): The most commonly used deicer, causes topical irritation to the paws and skin. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea with mild consumption, and if ingested in large amounts it can lead to hypernatremia, sodium toxicosis, and in dogs, even death.
  • Calcium Chloride, Calcium Carbonate or Calcium Magnesium Acetate: The most hazardous of all deicers to pets, causes severe topical irritation on paws, skin and to the mouth if consumed, and known to cause major gastrointestinal distress if ingested.
  • Magnesium Chloride: Not likely to cause topical irritation but can still cause gastrointestinal issues (upset stomachs) if consumed.
  • Potassium Chloride: Not likely to cause topical irritation, but if ingested it can cause hemorrhagic vomiting or diarrhea.

In small doses, most of which include accidental consumption, your pets should not be in any real danger. To be on the safe side however, call and consult your veterinarian or a pet poison hotline if you believe your pet could have ingested any of the aforementioned chemical deicers.

Are “pet-safe” or “pet-friendly” de-icing alternatives really safe for pets?

The short answer is no.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are no standards to meet or requirements to pass for products marketed as pet-safe. At best, “pet-friendly” products might be marginally safer, but all pose certain risk to pets. In the ice melt industry, be mindful of the validity of such advertising claims.  

Even urea (carbonyl diamide), which is typically marketed as “pet-friendly” can still cause gastrointestinal irritation at low doses. Furthermore, it’s expensive, one of the least effective ice melt products available and an aquatic pollutant – its presence in water can cause and increase toxic algae blooms.

How can you keep your pet safe during and after wintry walks?

If you must put down chemical deicers, use only the recommended amount, or less if you can mix in kitty litter or sand for improved traction. After the dangers of ice have passed, sweep up and properly dispose of any ice melt product still on your property’s walkways.

Post-snowstorm, keep a careful eye on your pet while walking them. Don’t let your pet lick anything on the ground, and if they start limping or walking gingerly, bring them inside. Without animal booties, there is an increased likelihood of pets injuring or cutting themselves on sharp or icy walking surfaces.

After walks, you must wash off their coats and paws immediately. Simply use a towel to wipe their coat clean – meaning their legs, underbelly, chest and sides. Meanwhile, take particular care when cleaning off their paws. Any wounds to the paws will cause your animal to lick the affected area, which often means they are consuming deicers. Even without abrasions or cuts, deicers can irritate paws and also cause chemical burns. Use a towel and warm water to gently clean off each paw, checking their pads for cracks and wiping in between their toes before drying them off.

If you take special care during and after walks that may expose your pets to chemical deicers, you can easily protect your pet’s safety. 

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