The ice melt that keeps you safe in wintery weather could harm dogs and cats who come into contact with it. Find out which pet-safe ice melts are the best choice to use this winter.

By Debra Steilen
October 09, 2020
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Baby, it’s cold outside! And that likely means snow, ice, and slippery surfaces are coming your way. Ice melt makes it possible for you to deal with those surfaces and walk safely to your car. Unfortunately, that same ice melt may cause health problems for dogs—possibly even death if you're not careful. Learn how to choose a safer alternative.

What Is Ice Melt?

We all know that heat melts ice. But it’s hard to apply heat to an entire driveway unless you added a hydronic or electric snow-melting system to the asphalt or concrete.

That’s where ice melt products come in. These chemical treatments lower the freezing temperature of water, which keeps surface water slushy instead of freezing into solid, slippery ice—according to Scientific American.

Why is Ice Melt Dangerous for Pets?

Ice melts can hurt your pet in two different ways. 

  1. Skin irritation usually shows up on your dog’s paws because they have come into direct contact with the ice and therefore the ice melt. These products can also irritate your dog’s mucous membranes in the eyes and nose.
  2. Digestive problems happen when dogs or cats ingest ice melt products made with toxic chemicals. In extreme cases, a pet can require hospitalization or even die.

Which Chemicals Should I Watch Out For?

It’s really important to know what’s in the ice melt because “... there is no set agreed-upon standard for pet-safe ice melt,” says Douglas Kratt, Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)

So read the label or go to the company website and look for these ingredients as identified by poison.org.

Products with these chemicals should be avoided:

  • Sodium chloride is ordinary salt. Larger amounts can be lethal to dogs. Smaller amounts may lead to vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Calcium chloride is tough on paws and can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.
  • Magnesium chloride causes gastrointestinal upset. It’s especially dangerous for dogs suffering from kidney problems.
  • Potassium chloride can irritate your dog’s gastrointestinal tract and cause hemorrhagic vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Ethylene glycol has the same active ingredient as antifreeze, which makes it extremely toxic to cats and dogs.

Products with these chemicals are safer alternatives:

  • Propylene glycol resembles—but is safer than—ethylene glycol. Ice melts using this ingredient can damage a cat’s red blood cells when ingested.
  • Urea, a biodegradable substance that comes from living organisms, is considered relatively safe for pets.
  • Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) is more environmentally friendly than salts and relatively non-toxic to dogs and cats.

How Will I Know My Dog Has Been Harmed by Ice Melt?

Irritated, red, itchy skin is a good indicator that your pet may have encountered ice melt. If her paws are chafed, cracked, or bleeding, she may have stepped on some of the harsh substance without proper paw protection. Other external indicators may include paw-licking, reluctance to walk on surfaces covered with ice melt, and your pet appearing to be in pain in general when walking.

Watch for these symptoms—provided by the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center—if  your dog has ingested an excess amount of ice melt.

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vocalizing/crying
  • Excessive thirst
  • Depression
  • Low blood pressure
  • Disorientation
  • Decreased muscle function
  • Cardiac abnormalities, seizures, coma, and even death (in severe cases)

If you suspect that your pet has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian immediately or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435. Learn more about what to do if your dog or cat has been poisoned.

What Kind of Ice Melt Is Safe for Pets?

Because most ice-melting products use some kind of salt, no de-icer is completely safe for your pet. So select the ice melt product that is the least harmful.

You may want to choose a urea-based ice melt product since urea—which is already produced by your dog’s body—is less harmful than other options. Urea can be bad for your plants and lawns though, so try and limit its use around your home. In addition to urea-based ice melt products, those made from propylene glycol or calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) are relatively safe for dogs and are not as likely to cause skin irritation as other options.

Another option? “Skip the ice melts altogether, and use sand or kitty litter to make your walkways less treacherous,” says Jerry Klein, DVM, President of the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Best Pet-Safe Ice Melt Options

Though no ice melt is 100 percent safe for all pets, if you must use it, look for these better-for-your-pet ice melts and make sure to always supervise your pet outdoors to make sure they don’t get near or ingest anything dangerous.

How to Make Your Own Pet-Safe Ice Melt

Make homemade pet-safe ice melt out of simple household products that won’t harm your dog or cat, according to TipHero. Here’s how.

DIY Ice Melt

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 gallon of warm water
  • 6 drops of dish soap
  • 2 oz. rubbing alcohol

Instructions:

  1. Mix all three ingredients in a large container.
  2. Pour the liquid ice melt onto your icy patches to melt the hazard away.

What Else Can You Do to Protect Your Pet From Ice Melt?

Keep his paws clean. Put a bucket of tepid or warm water by the entry door. After your walk, use the elbow of your dog’s leg to guide his paw into the water, rinse it clean, and dry it off with a towel, says Klein.

Use less product. No matter which ice melt product you buy, limit the amount you use. Kratt recommends putting down just enough for safety’s sake.

Shield that skin. Use a balm—such as Musher’s Secret—to protect the pads on your dog’s feet, Kratt says.