Is Pet-Safe Ice Melt Really Safe for Pets?

Try to avoid it as much as you can.

brown doodle-type dog walks on leash near snowy sidewalk

nycshooter / Getty Images

When it's winter and you have no intention of eating it on a slick sidewalk, you might turn to pet-safe ice melt. It'll keep you on your feet and your pets won't have to worry about it. Right? 

Not exactly, according to Grace Stalter, CVT at VCA Saukville (Wisconsin) Animal Hospital. Our furry friends might be fine if they're exposed to small amounts of pet-friendly ice melt, but the chemicals can still be dangerous if our pets consume them. 

Sure, the pet-safe products pose less danger to your pet, but you still want to be careful.  

"In cases of exposure, it is best to err on the side of caution," Stalter says. "Regardless of the label, owners should be sure to rinse any exposed skin on their pets with warm water and dry them afterwards."

Here's what else you should know about the risks of ice melt:

Are All Ice Melts Safe For Pets?

Usually no, Stalter says. The brands that aren't considered "pet safe" contain salts that can be more toxic to dogs if ingested: sodium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride. Even the "pet-safe" products contain chemicals like magnesium chloride or urea which can cause illness when ingested.

Ice melt can be dangerous on two fronts, irritating our pets' paws and skin or damaging their internal organs if they happen to eat some of the salt.

"While most pets don’t typically ingest large quantities of ice melts on purpose, they can be exposed to it by licking their feet after walking on surfaces treated with it, or eating snow that has ice melt on it," says Jennifer Hinz, DVM and medical director at VCA Saukville Animal Hospital. 

She adds that some ice melts will include "harmful metals" or ethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze. That can be deadly if pets eat it.

What Can Ice Melt Do to Your Pet?

That depends on how much your pet ate or stepped on. Small amounts on your animal's paws can be irritating, but those aren't usually a huge cause for concern, Stalter says. If your pet ingests some salt by licking their paws, they may have mild upset to their digestive tract in the form of vomiting or diarrhea, but she adds that it doesn't often lead to long-term issues. 

However, if your pet consumes or comes in contact with a large amount of ice melt, the problems could be more serious. 

Your dog's feet are often most at risk since they come into direct contact with these products and where, depending on the product's toxicity, ice melt can make walking painful for your pet, Stalter says. The sidewalk salt can cause sores and cracked skin, which might cause your dog or cat to limp. 

If your pets accidentally eat some salt, they can sustain oral ulcers, especially if they consume calcium chloride ice melt, Hinz says. 

Ingesting larger amounts of ice melt containing sodium chloride can cause even more problems. Too much sodium can lead to salt toxicity. Then your pet could experience:

Stalter adds that ingestion of toxic amounts of ice melt has been linked to muscle weakness and depression

While dogs might be the pets that typically encounter ice melt, cats can find it as well (especially if you track it indoors). To that end: Hinz notes that propylene glycol-based ice melt is safer for dogs, but it can damage a cat's red blood cells if ingested.

What To Do If Your Pet Eats Ice Melt

If you know your pet ate some ice melt—pet-safe or not—immediately call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Hotline at 1-800-213-6680, Stalter says. If you see your pet displaying any abnormal signs, including vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, trembling, or muscle weakness, go to a vet right away.   

How To Keep Your Pet Safe Around Ice Melt

It's not always realistic to simply avoid it on walks, but Hinz and Stalter several ideas to keep your pets protected: 

  • Carefully read the product's label, noting the ingredients and making sure you take the proper precautions.
  • Store any ice melt somewhere inaccessible to your pets.  
  • Prevent your pet from eating any snow or drinking from any puddles that could contain ice melt. 
  • Try dog boots or paw balms
  • Always wipe your pet's paws with a wet towel when they return from the outdoors. 

Using a pet-safe ice melt can keep your pet away from some of the dangers regular ice melts pose, but you can always avoid using ice melt altogether, Hinz says. However, that might not "be reasonable" depending on where you live. 

Sand or kitty litter can offer you some traction on the front porch, but she notes it won't do much to melt the ice.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Ice melt toxicity in pets. ASPCApro.

  3. Salt toxicosis in animals - toxicology. Merck Veterinary Manual.