By Sally Salopek
Q: When walking my dog Rowdy this winter, should I worry about the salt used on sidewalks and roads for melting the ice?
A: I love walking my dogs on a sunny day in winter when the temperature isn’t too cold and the wind isn’t blowing too hard, but with winter comes snow and icy conditions. Deicers are a necessary part of keeping walking and driving surfaces safe. Unfortunately, these products can be harmful to our canine friends as well.
Personally I try not to use them on my property, but instead use plain clay, non-clumping kitty litter on the ice for traction. Sand would be another good choice. But when we go off the property there is a good chance we will encounter deicers on our walking surfaces.
The main ingredient in most ice melt products is either sodium chloride or calcium chloride, which are both forms of salt. Salt can irritate a dog’s paws and cause chemical burns. If ingested it can cause mouth burns and gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea.
To keep your dog from consuming ice melt products on your walks, try and discourage him from eating snow and drinking from puddles.
You may also want to consider putting some dog booties on your pet for paw protection. Dog boots can protect your dog’s paws from salt and also from ice balls forming in their pads. It will take some time and patience for your dog to get used to wearing boots, but he may soon learn to love them.
You can get him acclimated to wearing them by putting them on in the house and gradually increasing the length of time you leave them on as he gets used to them. You may want to try just putting them on the front paws for starters. Be sure to praise him and don’t laugh as he high steps getting used to them. Make sure the strap holding the boot on is not so tight that it constricts movement. However, they should be snug so the boots don’t slip off.
If boots don’t work out for Rowdy another idea you may consider is protective balm applied to the pads of his paws. This will put a barrier between his feet and the salt and snow, along with helping the pads from cracking or bleeding. If your canine’s feet are hairy it is a good idea to keep the hair between the pads and toes clipped short. This, along with the balm, will help prevent ice balls from forming in the feet.
It is always a good idea to inspect your dog’s paws periodically to make sure they are in good shape.
When you come in from a walk be sure to wash your pet’s feet. You can use a warm bowl of water to dip their paws in and then dry them off. Or you may want to invest in one of the paw washers on the market. At the very least wipe the paws off with a warm washcloth.
Enjoy your winter walks together, but be sure to protect your dog from the dangers of deicers.
Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].