Which Ice Melters Are Pet Safe?

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: December 26, 2014

Updated: November 15, 2022

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snow ice melter and dog toxicityWhy some ice melters are safer for pets than others

Did you know that when you and your neighbors are faced with icy driveways and sidewalks this winter, your choice of ice melter can actually have a significant effect on the health and safety of your dogs and cats!

It's true. And so it's important to know — and spread word — that there are a few pet safer choices for ice melters to be used around pets. (Note that no ice melters are completely pet safe, some are just pet-safer than others.) Read on to see why "traditional" ice melters are dangerous for pets, and which options are pet safer.

Traditional ice melters, those containing sodium chloride and other salts, can lead to a wide variety of problems for pets:

  • Skin irritation or burns – the jagged edges of the salt crystals can cause direct irritation, and the heat generated when certain salts melt the ice can cause irritation and burns (see linked video at the end to see this heat generation).

  • Digestive upset – not only can the jagged edges of the salt crystals irritate the lining of the digestive tract, but some of the common salt compounds can cause direct chemical irritation, too.

  • Nervous system problems – when ingested (either from a cat or dog licking the salt off their paw or the occasional dog who gorges on a bag of the stuff) the salt breaks down into its component elements and can be absorbed into the bloodstream. When this happens with sodium-chloride (NaCl) it can cause sodium toxicity, resulting in nervous system signs: staggering, mental depression, seizures, and others.

The pet-safer options (which typically contain urea, glycols, or other non-salt components) work great and pose a lower health and safety risk for your cats and dogs.

Again, though these products are safer they can still cause problems if ingested in a large enough quantity. So you should still take some steps to protect your pet's pup's paws (see further below) and keep them away from the bulk containers of any ice melting products you use.

Here are two of the safest and best ice melting options to use when you have pets:

Wanna see a cool video about how salt melts ice? Check this one out... it’s about 5 minutes long, but it's pretty cool and very informative.


How to Protect Your Pet's Feet From Snow and Ice

So, you've cleared away the ice and snow around your home using pet safer ice melters, but you probably still want to go for regular walks (after all, your pup definitely still wants and needs to get in some good "outside time," even when it's cold). To further protect your pup's paws this winter, consider also outfitting them with some sturdy dog boots for your wintery walks and/or applying a moisturizing and protective balm to their paw pads before heading out.

Pit Bull Wearing BootsHow to Find a Good Dog Boot

To protect your pup’s paws, look for a boot that’s…

  • Sturdy – made of durable materials and constructed to withstand nasty winter elements and regular use.

  • Well-fitted – not so loose that the boots bunch up or twist around on your dog’s paws, and not so tight that they’re difficult to get on or take off. With some dogs, it can also be helpful to have boots with multiple fasteners that keep them from falling off, or getting flung off in a fit of doggie joy. Always be sure to measure (and re-measure) your dog's paws according to the manufacturer's instructions before ordering, to make sure you're getting the right size for your dog.

  • Non-slip – good traction on the bottom of the boot to help your pup navigate icy paths. Slippery "soles" can actually decrease your dog's ability to walk safely in the snow and ice, increasing their risk of slips, falls, and injuries.

Here are some of my favorite dog booties for winter weather:

Ultra Paws Rugged Dog Boots
ultra paws dog boots

These rugged dog boots are easy to size and introduce to your pup because of their lightweight and soft material.

Muttluks Snow Mushers Winter Dog Boots
muttluks winter dog boots

Keep your dog's paws toasty warm in these Muttluks! Specifically made for cold weather and snowy climates, these are a great choice for winter with their fleece lining and rubber soles.

*Note: Regardless of which dog shoes/boots you buy, take the time to train and acclimate your dog to wearing them before venturing outside, and always keep an eye on your dog for comfort when they first start using them.Not sure how to acclimate your dog? Grab a clicker, some treats, and learn how to shape behaviors by reading "An Introduction to Clicker Training."

Paw-Protecting Balms for Dogs

Perhaps your dog won't tolerate boots? Or maybe you can't find a good pair that fits and stays on them? Or maybe their paw pads are just really dry and easily cracked, or you just want to go that extra step further to protect your pup's paws from the winter weather? A good paw-protecting balm may be just the thing your dog needs!

A good-quality protective balm for dog paws has the following qualities:

  • Ingredients/formula that truly protects and moisturizes the paws and will help to prevent "snowsicles" from building up between your dog's toes. Look for balms with a good combination of natural waxes and oils — supplementation with vitamin E can help, too.

  • Non-toxic in case it’s licked off. Obviously, avoid anything with xylitol (which does have humectant/moisturizing properties, but is highly toxic to dogs!). The oils and waxes in these balms typically won't cause any toxicities, though they may cause slightly "looser" stools or have a mild laxative effect if ingested in large enough quantities.

Here is one of my favorite winter weather dog paw protecting balms:

Musher's Secret Paw Protection Wax
musher's secret paw wax for dogs

About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.

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