Why Do Dogs Eat Snow?
Ever close your eyes, open your mouth, and catch snowflakes on your tongue? Your dog might too.
While you marvel at every falling flake's unique pattern and the cool calm that descends over the world with a fresh white layer, your dog seems to enjoy rolling around and chomping into snow drifts. So what is the deal with your dog eating snow? And is it normal?
Why Dogs Eat Snow
Dogs probably like eating snow for the same reasons humans open their mouths as it falls from the sky or eat a handful off their mitten. Snow is tasty. It's different from many other foods and drinks. It melts pleasantly in our mouths and hydrates.
"I don't know if dogs should eat snow, but many certainly do," says Andy Rollo, DVM, a veterinarian and co-owner of Madison Veterinary Hospital and Walnut Lake Animal Hospital in the suburbs of Detroit. "I have one that does, and I believe it's for his own entertainment purposes. But so does my 7-year-old kid, so that isn't saying much."
There are a few other reasons why your dog could be eating snow, including:
- Thirst: It’s a common misconception that dogs don’t get as dehydrated in the snow as they do in the heat. If your dog is exercising, he is dehydrating to some extent. Make sure you’re giving your pup enough water to drink throughout the day to ensure proper hydration.
- Health condition: Dogs that have a health condition that causes dehydration like diabetes, diarrhea, vomiting, or kidney disease could also be looking for that extra boost of H2O.
- It’s fun!
Rollo's main concern with snow is what could be hiding inside the snow once it hits the ground and mixes with whatever is in the grass, in the dirt, or on the pavement.
Is Eating Snow Bad for Dogs?
Fresh snow? No, says Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian toxicologist who works with Pet Poison Helpline.
But where has that snow been, and what has it mixed with since hitting the ground? There are a few main potential dangers to lookout for.
Toxic Ice Melts
Some treatments to keep water from freezing on driveways and roads are OK for accidental ingestion in small amounts. But that's not true of most treatments used by cities and businesses, says Schmid. "This is especially a problem where an area has been shoveled or plowed, and then ice melt has been scattered there."
Ice melts often contain salts, which can result in hypernatremia (too much sodium in the blood) and cause neurologic signs, including seizures. Other ice melts contain unhealthy levels of calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Too much ingested can result in electrolyte abnormalities in the dog's body.
Mushrooms, Compost, and Other Rotted Vegetation
Chemical ice melts are bad enough, but sometimes melted snow can be potentially toxic if ingested by dogs from the wet, wintry ground. "Rotted vegetation and compost can contain mycotoxins, which cause stomach upset and neurologic problems in dogs," Schmid says. "Mushrooms may cause mild stomach upset, neurologic signs, or liver and kidney failure, depending on the mushroom type."
Winter can bring rats and mice in from the outdoors, and many homeowners deploy rodenticides to manage them. These poisons, however, can contaminate snow if they wind up under or around the frozen water, according to Schmid. They're also toxic for dogs. "Rodenticides can cause bleeding disorders, neurologic signs, or kidney failure depending on the type," Schmid says.
Miscellaneous Leftover Spills
Rollo says melting or contaminated snow might also reveal to a dog's eager, lapping tongue a spill of antifreeze (which can cause kidney failure) or other chemicals. "Make sure there's nothing leaking onto the snow that could be harmful to a dog," he advises.
None of this should leave you terrified to let your dog enjoy playing in the snow, it just means you need to be mindful of where your dog decides to chow down on some snow (and watch out for the yellow kind).
"Plain snow is not an issue for dogs," Schmid says.
Rollo agrees: "If dogs want to lap up a fresh morning snowfall, let 'em do it."