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Choosing a Pet-Safe Ice Melt

Is snow salt bad for dogs? If so, how can you protect your driveway and walkways without risking harm to your pooch? Click here to get the answers.

Choosing a Pet-Safe Ice Melt

Baby, it’s cold outside! Time to break out the snow shovel and the ice melt if you plan on keeping your sidewalks, driveways, and footpaths ice-free. Before you do, however, think about the products you’re using and how they might affect your pets. Just as you want to keep your driveway and walkways safe for you and your visitors, so too you want to make sure you’re using substances that won’t harm your pups.

Is snow salt bad for dogs?

For those of us who have pets, choosing the right ice melt product isn’t always easy. You may have heard that snow salt can harm dogs. Is it true that ice melts can harm your pets? If so, what should you do?

The fact is, most commonly used chemicals can irritate paw pads, and many are toxic if consumed. So, yes, ice melt can be harmful, depending on the type you use. We all want to do what’s safest for our pets, but deciphering the various labels to figure out what’s safe can be daunting, especially if you don’t know which chemicals are harmful and which aren’t.

Here we’ll talk briefly about the ways most ice melt products work, look at the chemicals they contain, and offer some tips on choosing pet-safe ice melt alternatives.

How ice melt chemicals work

There are basically two chemical processes that can be used effectively to melt ice. One is called an exothermic (or heat-releasing) reaction. Exothermic reactions work by introducing a chemical that when combined with water (liquid or frozen) will generate heat. The other is an endothermic (or heat-absorbing) reaction. Endothermic reactions absorb the sun’s energy and use it to melt the ice into a brine or slurry that is easily removed. Of the two types of reaction, endothermic is safer for pets, as it doesn’t risk the chemical burns to sensitive paw pads that can occur with exothermic reactions.

Pros and cons of common ice melt chemicals

  • Rock Salt. The least expensive and most commonly used ice melts are the rock salts—sodium chloride that is mined, crushed, packaged, and sold with few if any chemical additives. Rock salt’s main advantage is that it’s cheap. Drawbacks are that it’s exothermic, toxic if consumed in large amounts, is bad for some plant species, and can damage concrete surfaces.

  • Calcium Chloride. Calcium Chloride is among the most common, commercially used ice melts. Like salt (sodium chloride) it’s mined and cheap, but it’s also exothermic and can damage paved areas with long-term use. Similar compounds include potassium chloride and magnesium chloride. All the chlorides should be avoided if pet safety is a concern to you.

  • Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA). CMA is a chemical compound used as a road de-icer. It’s not as powerful as the chlorides and is corrosive to metals. Sometimes it’s combined with other ingredients (like salts) to boost its strength, so check your product labels. CMA is less toxic to animals than chlorides, but it’s also more expensive.

  • Glycols. Chemicals such as propylene and ethylene glycol are common endothermic de-icers often used on aircraft because of their low corrosive properties. To make boost their power, increase traction, and make them more eco-friendly, glycol compounds are sometimes combined with other chemicals.  

  • Crystalline Amides. Crystalline amides are endothermic ice melt chemicals that use the power of the sun’s warmth to break down ice and snow without any corrosive properties. Crystalline amides are exposure safe for children, pets, and plants and are low impact on paved surfaces. Combined with glycols, they are effective, eco-friendly ice melts with good surface penetration. They are, however, substantially more expensive than rock salt.

Choosing a pet-safe ice melt

Now that you’re more familiar with some of the common ice melt chemicals and their properties, you can make more informed choices.

Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Avoid the cheap stuff. The cheapest products are likely to be salt-based, cheaply mined, exothermic products that are bad for paw pads and toxic if consumed in quantity.

  • Avoid products with big, bold warning labels.If they’re being cautious, you should be too.

  • Check ingredient lists. Manufacturers must provide ingredient lists, so look for the compounds that are safest. Crystalline amides and glycols are preferable to salts, other chlorides, and CMA.

  • Check brand websites. This is where your smartphone comes in handy. You can look up product sites, customer reviews, and expert reviews online before you order or while you’re at the store.

We hope these tips will help you and your pets have a safer, healthier winter season! Along with them, we also offer a variety of winter paw-care ideas for protecting your pooch this season. By incorporating these practices, you can ensure the best care for your pup.

Editor’s Note: From the bistro downtown or the beach across the country, take these travel paw care tips along. And don't forget to invest in pet insurance like Figo. You never know when a nasty paw burn might turn into an emergency vet visit!

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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