Snow Salt and De-Icers- The Bane in Every Dog’s Winter Existence

Dogs love snow! You see them all the time jumping and frolicking in the white stuff. They even like to eat it- well, my dog likes to eat it.

During our winter months here in Canada, we must make our roads and sidewalks void of snow and ice. We use salt and de-icers to melt the snow and ice. Having this salt everywhere is a nightmare for the dog’s paws. It hurts them, and can even kill them if ingested.

Read on to find out what happens to dog paws when they are exposed to snow salt. Also, we will go over what happens when your dog ingests the salt, and what to do. Let’s find out how to winterize those feet, shall we?!

Ingredients in De-icers

  • Sodium chloride:  Also known as table salt. Too much salt can be dangerous to dogs, even deadly. It can lead to mild ingestion and to gastrointestinal upset.
  • Potassium chloride: A 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.

What Happens to Dog Paws When Exposed to Snow Salt or Other De-Icers?

Salts, de-icers and rock salt know as sodium chloride are mixed with chemicals and sand that melt snow and ice. They can also be sharp, rugged and rough. We humans are not bothered by these products as we are wearing protective footwear during the winter months. But our dogs are not so lucky. They only have padding on the feet, and these chemicals from the salt can get in between the padding, and into their pads. The salt will then cause pain in your dog’s paws. Depending on the brand you purchase these chemicals in the salt can cause chemical burns, dryness and cracking to their little pads. Most of the de-icers out there are skin irritants.

How to Tell if Paws Have been exposed to Salt or a De-icer?

From experience the way I can tell if my dog has been exposed to salt is

  • She wants to turn around and go home early into the walk
  • Yelps in pain
  • Hops on three feet
  • Hobbles
  • Changes feet she is hoping on
  • Tries to avoid sidewalk or road
  • Stops and doesn’t want to move
  • Stops and starts licking paws

This list is a good indication that your dog’s pads have been exposed to salt or other de-icers. If you notice any of these actions while on a walk with your dog in the winter, pick up your dog and go home. You do want your poor dog enduring any more pain due to the salt.

Your Dog’s Pads Have been Exposed to Salt or a De-Icer, Now What?

If your dog’s paws have been exposed to salt or other de-icers there are things you can do right away to help the pain and prevent further pain. Once you get home, take a towel and start drying off your dog’s feet, and its underbelly. If there is any salt in between the padding, here is when you can get it off. Once you have dried off your dog’s feet and gotten rid of any salt, bring your pup to the bathtub. Run the water at room temperature with some dog safe soap. Too cold or too hot is unsafe and may cause more pain to the dog’s feet. Once your dog is in the tub, gently rub the pads and in between the pads to get off any of the salt residue and any salt you may have missed when drying the feet.

A good gentle rubbing of the belly is a good idea as well. Sometimes the salt can stick to their belly’s and well, that is not a good thing. The dog may try to lick it off, and that brings us to our next issue.

What Happens If Your Dog Ingests Salt or Other De-Icers?

Dogs seem to love snow. They love to bound, leap and roll in the white stuff. Our canine friends also love to eat snow. Well, dogs love to eat every and anything. I can say that is a fact with my dog Kiki. I have to keep a very close eye on her when we are out on our walks. She will get something in her mouth so fast, that I’d swear she was the Canine Flash! Thankfully, she has never ingested salt or other de-icers.

Ingesting a de-icer is very toxic to dogs. Loss of appetite, drooling, diarrhea, and vomiting is a symptom of de-icer (salt) poisoning according to the ASPCA. There are also more severe symptoms like coma, seizures which can lead to death. It is imperative that you clean your dog’s feet after every winter walk. If you don’t it gives your dog a chance to clean their feet and ingest the chemicals from the salt.

Another good idea is to keep your dog away from slush and puddles to avoid drinking as they may contain the chemicals from salt and de-icers as well.

Help! My Dog Ingested a De-Icer!

If you think your dog has ingested salt then you need to go to the vet right away. If your vet is closed, look up 24-hour emergency animal hospitals in your area and go there immediately. The vet will know what to do.

Other Threats

There are other threats to your dog’s feet in the winter. Little snowballs can get stuck in the padding if the hair is long. To avoid this, cut the hair around the padding of their feet. Hairy feet do not only hold the little snowballs, but they can also hold the salt. Keep the hair around their feet short during the winter months to protect them.

Another threat to dog’s pads is being left outside for a long period of time. Remember that dogs are also at risk of frostbite and hypothermia just like we are. Keep your dog inside during the winter months, unless of course, you have a breed that can take the cold. But, make sure your dog is not left outside alone for long periods of time.

During the really cold months, take short walks, but more frequent ones. You will both appreciate it!

Winterizing Your Dog’s Feet

Even though there are many threats to our dog’s feet, there are also many ways to protect them. Let’s go over how to winterize your dog’s feet.

Balm

Before going out with your dog, apply a thin layer of dog safe balm on your dog’s paws. When you get home from your walk, make sure to wipe the paws with a lukewarm washcloth to remove any chemicals and snow. Once feet have been cleaned apply another thin layer of the balm. This will help to keep the pads from drying out.

Booties

I have found that the best protection for my dog’s feet and pads are dog boots. Dog boots will protect your dog’s feed and pads from salt, ice balls, sharp and jagged items that may be hidden under snow and ice. Boots also help them from slipping I have noticed. My dog’s botties are sock-like and have a hard bottom with little grip pads. She can walk and run without the worry of slipping and falling on ice. You have to get the sizing right, but trust me it may take a few fails and boots to nail that down. You want the boots to be snug, give maximum protection and you don’t want them falling off every few steps. And they have to be comfortable for your dog.

My dog at first did not like the idea of boots, but she eventually came to realize that if she kept taking them off then she would start to limp and hop. She now wears her boots proudly and enjoys her walks even when it is snowing and there is ice on the ground. Although I still need to watch her like a hawk, she is like a hungry hippo and will put something in her mouth so fast that there is nothing I can do!

If you find that you are having difficulties with keeping the boots on as your dog takes them off, don’t worry. A little time, love and patience are all you need. Your dog will come around when they realize that you are just trying to keep them safe and comfortable.

Dog Safe De-Icers

There are dog safe de-icers out there. These de-icers do not contain the same unsafe chemicals that most de-icers use. Most of the safe ones are safe for dogs and children and will not harm them if ingested. Check out your local pet store for these de-icers. We use Safe Paw Ice Melter dog-safe de-icer on our driveway and sidewalk. This product is safe for dogs and children.

Another safe de-icer is cat litter (non-clumping)  sand, small stones are said to protect your dog’s pads from injury and chemical burns.  Always check with your vet first.

Conclusion

As you can see there are many things to look out for while out on your wintery walks with your dog. But it is manageable and there are products out there that can help winterize your dog’s feet. I will provide some Amazon links to products that will help you.

Remember to keep a towel at the front door so that you can clean off your dog’s feet when you get home. And make sure to soak the dog’s paws in lukewarm water with dog safe soap if you go out with bare feet or balm.

FAQ

Can Dog’s Feet Get Cold?

Dog’s feet can get cold if they are unprotected and left outside for long periods of time. A dog should not be left outside alone for a long time in extreme temperatures.

Are There Safe De-Icers?

There are safe de-icers that you can use on your driveway and sidewalk. A good place to look is PetSmart.

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