Ice Melt and Road Salt are Hazardous to Canine Health
We've already covered frostbite in dogs -- including how it can happen, and also how we can prevent it. Now let's talk about road salt...
The majority of living things need salt, in some amount, to survive. Why is salt important? Quite simply, standard salt is Sodium Chloride (NaCl) - after being consumed in the body, it is broken down into electrolytes and used in the body to make sure that signals fired by the brain (which are tiny electrical impulses) can travel properly through the brain, the spinal cord and central nervous system to the muscles and organs. Salt is essential to survival.
So if salt is essential to survival, how can it possibly be bad? Well aside from the old "too much of a good thing" rule...it's important to understand one critical thing...Road Salt is not simple salt.
What is Road Salt?
Road salts are unpurified and contain traces of highly toxic heavy metals, including lead and mercury. Additionally, as reported by US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health in 2012, to prevent caking and improve coverage, most road salt mixtures contain ferrocyanide – which is a known carcinogen.
After your dog’s bare paws run or walk on these chemicals, they are often times raw and painful. Your dog’s first reaction is to lick his paws to stop the pain. By licking his paws, he is ingesting a highly toxic mixture that can lead to severe illness or worse. Symptoms of salt poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, drooling, seizures, coma or even death.
Road Salt Poisoning
Road salt poisoning is such as common occurrence during the winter months, that Larissa A. Hautekeete, DVM published a Toxicology brief with the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center entitled "Ice melts are health hazards". This medical brief is intended to be a treatment guideline for Veterinary professionals to use when treating animals exposed to road salt. I've quoted the opening paragraph of her brief below.
"Pets may be exposed to ice melts that have been spilled, applied to sidewalks, or improperly stored. In 1998, more than 50 cases of ice-melt exposure were reported to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA APCC Antox ® Database: Unpublished data, 1998). Vomiting - the most prevalent sign - occurred in 30% of the cases. Other effects included diarrhea, salivation, depression, anorexia, tremors, disorientation, polydipsia, seizures, and death."
In some areas, due to runoff and other topographical issues, the ice melt concentration is so high that just a few licks can be deadly for smaller breed dogs. As stated in a CBS News article: Dr. Juliet Gladden, a board-certified veterinary emergency and critical care specialist with BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Chicago [said], "For a dog that weighs only four pounds, an ounce or two of ice melt can cause sudden death".
Tips to Avoid Road Salt Poisoning
In the end, please take care this winter when it comes to exposing your pets to ice melt and road salt. Follow some common sense rules:
1) Take a look outside before you go out. Do you see that the sidewalks or roadways have been salted?
2) Look and see if the snow and ice are built-up in some areas, but the walkways are completely clear...that's a clear indication that an ice melting agent was used -- even if you can't see it.
3) If you see that ice melt was used, then take your dog to an area in the snow to do his "business".
4) Clean your dog's paws thoroughly when you come inside after your walk - this prevents chemical burns and also prevents potential ingestion.
You can also use Neoprene boots (if your dog will tolerate them). If not, please consider applying a high quality paw balm, like our own Baely's Paw Shield or Baely's Paw Shield Rescue Stick to form a barrier between your dog's paws and the surface.
The ingredients in Baely's are hydrophobic - meaning they resist water - and will keep the salt and salt water away from contacting your dog's paws directly.
This winter, please take care of your dog. Please share this article with a friend or family member so we can all remember to be aware of this very real danger to our best friends.