Nov 3, 2023
Some pups love to play in the snow and spend time outside, no matter what the weather is like. But before embarking outside in wintry conditions, it’s important to take precautions so your furry friend can enjoy the season safely. Because in some cases, rock salt or ice melt can be bad for your dog's paws.
These substances are used to make our sidewalks and streets slip-free by eliminating ice, snow, and sleet. But unfortunately, these chemicals carry a few safety concerns for pets.
Here’s what to know about how ice melt and salt can affect a dog’s paws and general health and how to prevent, recognize, and treat any issues that may arise.
Is Salt Bad for Dogs' Paws?
When it comes to rock salts used in ice melts, yes, these substances can be very bad for dogs.
Most deicers contain a type of salt, such as sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, or calcium chloride. Some may contain other types of chemicals, too.
There’s also the possibility of exposure to antifreeze, which can be spilled on the road in close proximity to deicers when out for a walk.
While all of these chemicals can present risks to pets, here we’ll focus on salt-based ice melts.
One possible hazard of salts is ingestion, which can make a dog sick (and, in the worst-case scenario, result in death).
More commonly and less seriously, the salt can irritate or injure a dog’s paws.
What Do Ice Melts Do to Dogs’ Paws?
Rock salt that is commonly used to melt ice can cause injuries, irritation, or burns to paws.
A dog’s paw pads could become sore from repeatedly stepping on rough salt crystals. Or, a sharp edge could cut into a dog’s paw, resulting in a laceration and bleeding.
Additionally, salt on a dog's paws can cause excessive dryness, cracking, or even burns of paw pads, especially with prolonged or repeated exposure.
With any paw discomfort, a pup might lick or chew excessively, which can make the issue worse and lead to an infection.
How to Prevent Damage to Your Dog’s Paws From Salt
Here are a few tips that can help with avoiding salt exposure (and salt damage) during the winter:
- Avoidance. If possible, try to walk your pet away from areas that are likely to contain a lot of salt, such as the sludge on the side of the road. Prevent your pup from eating sludgy snow that may contain ice melts, too.
- Keep walks short. Unless your furry friend is accustomed to long walks and outdoor activities in cold weather, it may be best to limit their walking time. In addition to salt exposure, other winter hazards like frostbite and hypothermia could result from prolonged periods outside.
- Use dog booties to cover your pal’s paws. It may take some time and positive reinforcement to get a dog used to these, but booties can do a lot to protect paws from salt, chemicals, sharp objects under the snow, and ice balls that could form in the fur between the toes.
- Wipe or rinse the paws after a walk. Use a towel or pet wipe. Or, briefly soak the paws in lukewarm water and then wipe them off with a towel to remove salt and chemicals.
- Use paw balm or wax. There are pre-made options available for dogs, as well as DIY recipes. In a pinch, petroleum jelly will work, too (just make sure your dog doesn’t ingest large amounts by licking their paws, as it can cause stomach upset). Place the balm on your pup’s paws prior to a walk to provide a barrier of protection from salt and chemicals. Then, clean the balm off once you return from the walk. Many balms can also be applied after a walk to soothe dry or irritated paw pads.
- Use pet-safe alternatives to salt, and encourage neighbors to do the same if you live in a pet-friendly neighborhood. Just keep in mind you will probably still need to watch for ice melts used by the city.
The Signs of Salt Burns and Irritation on the Paws
The most obvious symptoms of sore paws would be limping, stepping gingerly, or showing any signs of discomfort during or after a walk. Excessively licking the paws can be another clue.
Regularly inspecting your dog’s paws in the winter, whether they are showing symptoms or not, can be a great way to monitor for any problems and catch them early.
Look for redness, dryness/cracking, bleeding, blisters, sores, or anything else abnormal. Also, note if your pup reacts painfully to the paw inspection.
Treating Irritation and Burns From Salt on Your Dog’s Paws
Minor dryness and irritation may be treated at home. Wash or rinse your dog’s paws, then apply a soothing balm designed for paw pads.
Avoid shampooing too often, as this can be drying. But it’s okay to gently rinse the paws in lukewarm water after walks to remove salt and chemicals.
For bleeding/cuts, paws that are obviously painful or infected, or any other moderate to severe concerns, a vet visit is best.
The Dangers of Ingesting Salt for Dogs
Table salt contains sodium and chloride, two substances dogs need in their diet, which are included in appropriate amounts in good quality, nutritionally balanced dog foods.
However, too much salt ingestion can be bad — even deadly — due to something known as salt poisoning.
Just like us, dogs like the taste of salt. So, some pups will try to eat deicing salts directly, either from the package or from the ground. If your furry friend falls into this category, be extra cautious — keep the container out of reach and monitor your pooch when outside to be sure they aren’t ingesting salt.
More commonly, salt on a dog’s paws would be ingested when a dog licks their paws clean after a walk outside. Using some of the tips above can help to prevent this.
Signs of Salt Poisoning in Dogs
In the worst-case scenario, salt poisoning can cause seizures, coma, organ damage, or even death.
Lighter cases of salt ingestion may simply cause digestive upset. But this may be difficult to differentiate from salt poisoning in the early stages, so it’s best to seek veterinary care.
Some of the symptoms of salt poisoning include…
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
- Loss of appetite.
- Excessive thirst or urination.
- Mouth ulcerations (depending on the specific compound ingested).
- Weakness, lethargy, uncoordinated walking, or collapse.
- Tremors or seizures.
If you suspect your dog ingested salt or other deicing chemicals, or if you’ve noticed any concerning symptoms, it’s best to contact a vet right away. Early treatment is crucial.
Treating Salt Poisoning in Dogs
Prevention can be the best medicine. The tips listed above for preventing damage to a dog’s paws can also be very helpful in preventing salt poisoning since they can reduce the risk of accumulation of ice melt on dog paws that could then be ingested by the dog.
Once salt poisoning is suspected, a vet visit is necessary. It’s best to err on the side of caution since salt poisoning can be fatal.
In case your dog is showing severe symptoms—such as seizures, collapse, or any other signs of severe illness—an immediate visit to an emergency clinic is warranted.
It can also help to call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline, but it’s still important to seek veterinary care, especially if your pup is acting very sick. If you have called one of these helplines ahead of your appointment, please have the case number ready for our veterinary team to follow up with the toxicologists.
While paw damage and salt poisoning may be scary, these things don’t have to prevent you and your pup from enjoying time outdoors in a winter wonderland. Just be sure to plan ahead and take precautions so your winter romps are all fun and no worries.