Salt and Sand

Traction is the safest tool to battle epic ice!

It has killed more than a few trees this winter, but that daunting ice we’re all battling on our driveways has not yet caused much harm to my four-legged patients.

It’s more our methods of attack than the ice itself that usually cause problems for dogs and cats. Road salt is hard on pets’ soft pads, so it’s always a good idea to rinse – not just dry—their feet every time they are exposed to the stuff. For those in-and-out, out-and-in kitties, that could be a tall order, I know, but do your best and see a doctor if teeth come into play.

There is also an assortment of bootie styles out there for dogs that agree to wear them. Praise and practice are always the best motivators for our canine friends. If you want to try the bootie solution, be patient and get a good fit to start off with.

Many pet owners are trying to keep animals safe by using ice-melters that are less corrosive than pure sodium chloride. Some are mixes of regular salt – that self-same sodium chloride – combined with calcium chloride, potassium chloride or urea. With the exception of urea – a component of plant fertilizers – all of these substances can be irritating to the skin and toxic if ingested in large volumes. Few animals will eat more than a little of these chemicals, but if you have a “snow hound” who gobbles the white stuff or loves rubbing his face in it, be careful where you scatter the melter.

Urea is indeed less corrosive than the sodium, chloride or potassium salts, but it too can cause gastrointestinal problems if eaten. It is also a relatively poor ice melter. In the quantities it might take to get through our epic accumulations, it could easily damage your grass and plants come spring. It’s a nitrogen-containing chemical and the result of over-application on vegetation is exactly what you’d expect from over-fertilizing – leaf-burn.

So the smart money in safe ice management is on providing traction. That means sand, products containing volcanic minerals, wood shavings or kitty litter.

That last item brings our discussion back into the veterinarian’s bailiwick and I must say I’m concerned for my feline patients. My last visit to Walmart revealed only three bags of the cheap regular clay litter left. What if people start resorting to the more expensive clumping litter to get them over slippery driveways? Will kitty litter go the way of road salt and vanish from store shelves? Cats don’t like it when we mess with their bathroom supplies.

Still, we need something to keep us on our feet without relying exclusively on salts. There aren’t many studies on the toxicity of salty ice melters to pets, but there are plenty showing how bad they are for plants and aquatic life. For the sake of our dogs’ paws today and the frogs of next spring, try cutting back on the chemicals by mixing in some traction.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario
January 2014