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Natural Awakenings Fairfield County & Housatonic Valley CT

Keep Dog and Cat Paws’ Safe in Winter

Dec 28, 2013 07:39PM ● By Natasha Michaels

Winter has arrived in the Northeast and, with it, the inevitable snow, ice and resulting layers of salt on roads and sidewalks. While application of ice melting products makes surfaces less treacherous for human passage, it also creates a health concern for animals. Every year, hundreds of pets in the U.S. become seriously ill or even die because they ingest rock salt from paved surfaces. Consuming rock salt can cause dehydration, liver failure and pancreatitis. 


Rock salt is made up of chemicals such as calcium chloride, potassium chloride and magnesium chloride that draw moisture from the air. Over-application of such chemicals is often to blame for cracked, dried out paw pads or more serious illnesses because after a storm, a layer of residue may remain on the road for days. Although it is unlikely a dog or cat will actually eat a chunk of salt, observe your animal’s behavior and take necessary precautions. More usually the chemical is transferred from the road to the mouth via the paw, which is licked when the salt stings the paw pads. 


A dog may signal it has picked up stinging salt because it will stop walking and hold a paw in the air, sometimes even whining. Help keep paws clean by avoiding obvious piles of leftover salt, walking them through puddles away from the salt-covered surfaces or by dipping their feet in fresh water once at home. You can also grab a handful of snow and “wash” paws while still on the road. 


For the safest melting on your own property, search out melters that are salt and chloride-free. Some salt-free products may still contain magnesium chloride or potassium chloride, which are still irritants to paws. Try to avoid ice melt products that are jagged or irregular in shape, which may cut or get stuck in the pads. 


In recent years, veterinarians have worked with companies to develop safer products. These include, but are not limited to, Morton® Safe-T-Pet® ice melt and Gaia Enterprises Safe Paw™ Ice Melter. Safe Paw was awarded the PTPA Green Product Seal and was included in the Whole Green Catalog: 1000 Best Things for You and the Earth.


If you suspect your animal has ingested a significant amount of any ice melt product, contact your veterinarian immediately or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.


Natasha Michaels is a Contributing Writer to Natural Awakenings Fairfield County.

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