Just because an ice melt claims to be “pet-friendly” doesn’t mean it is. Here’s what to be aware of when looking for safe ways to rid your walks of ice and snow.
Keeping walkways, porches and driveways clear of ice and snow is a big issue during the winter in many regions. The problem is, many of the products we use for this purpose aren’t good for our pets (or the environment). Ice melts can irritate delicate paw pads, as well as cause digestive upsets and worse if they’re ingested when the animal licks his feet. What should you avoid when choosing an ice melt product, and what are the safest solutions?
Look at the ingredients
Although some ice-melts claim to be “pet-safe” or “pet-friendly”, it’s important to look beyond the front of the bag or container and read the ingredient label before making a decision. “Many ice melts available on the market are not safe for the environment, nor for our furry friends,” says Adam DeYoung of Natural Alternatives. “Ice melts aren’t regulated. Products can claim to be pet-safe while containing harmful ingredients. It pays to understand the label and know what to look for or avoid.”
- “Solid ice melts contain a vast array of ingredients that can potentially be harmful to our pets,” says Dr. Teri Skadron, a veterinarian who often sees pets with feet irritated by ice melt products. “Avoid sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium salts — such as calcium chloride which is also known as rock salt — calcium magnesium acetate, and calcium carbonate. We typically receive complaints of infection and irritation to paws, especially in dogs with ‘feathering’ between the toes.”
- Rock salt is readily available and inexpensive, so it’s the go-to ice melt for many people. It’s effective for melting ice and snow, but the runoff can kill grass and plants, increase salt levels in our soil and water – and can cause burning sensation on your pet’s paws and skin. And since animals lick their feet to ease irritation, they then ingest the salt, which can cause health problems. Tracked into the house, meanwhile, it can stain floors and is slippery when wet.
Store ice melts safely so your dog or cat can’t get into them.
- Coated urea is also found in many ice melts and may be touted as pet-safe. However, it’s an ingredient used in fertilizers and can burn paws. It also doesn’t work well at melting ice. Symptoms of ingestion may include tremors or weakness.“The bottom line is, choose a product carefully and limit your pet’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals,” says Dr. Skadron (see below). With a little care and oversight, your animal companion can enjoy being outside without risk.
Alternative solutions to commercial ice melts
So what’s the answer? How do you get rid of snow and ice while also protecting your dog or cat from harmful chemicals?
- Natural Alternatives (natural-alternative.com) is one company that offers an ice melt made from a blend of non-toxic chlorides.
- Sally Morgan, a holistic physical therapist for pets, uses a multi-pronged approach to getting rid of ice. “I clear the steps as soon as they become snowy or icy,” she says. “I also have mats for people to wipe their boots on, and towels for wiping paws.” She also uses Kosher salt to break the surface of the ice, and then scrapes it away with a shovel.
- “Cleaning paws is one of the most important things we can do to protect our pets during wintry weather,” says Dr. Skadron. Use a damp cloth or towel to thoroughly clean off all four feet.
- Cat litter is often used for traction on sidewalks and steps, although it does nothing to melt ice or snow. In a pinch, it’s better than risking a fall, but be aware that it’s messy – it sticks to shoes and paws and is carried into the house, leaving gloppy footprints on floors. “I prefer sand if I have it, but it tracks into the house too,” Sally says. “A friend uses the ash from her woodstove, which when swept off helps the garden, but again, it makes a mess in the house.”
- If you have to use a chemical ice melt, try having your dog wear boots outside (and while on walks). “Teaching your dog to wear boots will help,” says Jessica O’Neill, a canine behavior specialist. “Avoid frequently travelled streets and walkways where salting is heavy. Instead, choose parks and trails.” Boots are available in all sizes; aside from protecting your dog’s feet from ice melts, they prevent snowballs from forming in the hair between his toes, and offer protection against the cold.
- Boots aren’t really an option for cats. Many cats are indoor-only, so ice melts aren’t an issue for them, but if your cat goes outside, the best way to protect him is to wipe his feet when he comes back in. Even if you don’t use commercial ice melts yourself, your neighbors might.