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Is ice-melting salt bad for dogs? How to keep paws safe in snowy weather.

In this iphoto illustration, a small dog is seen jumping into and out of snow.
(Linnea Bullion for The Washington Post)
4 min

The question:

Is it true that ice melts — pellets that help keep sidewalks and roadways safe — are dangerous for dogs?

The science:

Dog owners know they have to pay attention to paw health in the winter.

Walking bare-pawed over salt can be uncomfortable for dogs. Prolonged exposure to ice melts, particularly certain types, can lead to more serious problems for dogs such as chemical burns on paws.

Some of the most common types of ice melts are sodium chloride, magnesium chloride and potassium chloride, all of which can cause mild skin irritation. Calcium chloride, however, is more dangerous and can cause chemical burns on the paws and, when ingested, burns in the mouth and stomach, experts said. In most cases, it’s not possible to know which products have been sprinkled on public streets and sidewalks.

To be safe, experts recommend wiping or rinsing your pup’s paws after walks to remove the salty residue.

If you are planning to use salt in your home’s walkways and driveways, use products containing urea, which are considered pet-friendly.

Salt is not the only winter hazard for dog paws. Ice can cut into paw pads, and clumps of snow can get stuck to the fur between the toes, experts said. If your dog is showing signs of irritation — limping, or excessively licking or chewing their paws — check their paws.

“While de-icers can pose some risks to our pets, it’s important to remember that ice poses its own risks to pets as well,” Rena Carlson, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, wrote in an email. “In addition to the risk of slips and falls, ice and icy crust on snow can cause cuts and abrasions to your dog’s paws, or it could contain embedded objects that could be harmful if stepped on.”

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