The winter season brings ice and snow for many parts of the country, and for people living in these areas, ice melts are necessary to prevent accidents. While ice melt exposures in pets are not often serious, there are some things pet owners and veterinarians should know to minimize potential problems.
Most Common Exposures
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) receives the most calls around these topics, in order of popularity:
Pets licking their feet after walking through an area treated with ice melt
Concerns about pets licking the ground where ice melt was used
Pets getting into the ice melt container and eating it
The third topic around actual consumption of ice melt is less common, but potentially a more serious concern due to actual ingestion of the minerals that make up ice melt products.
What Makes Ice Melt Toxic
Ingredients in ice melts can range from seriously toxic to non-toxic. Ice melts are often made of sodium chloride, but some other common ingredients are potassium chloride, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride. Ingestion of these minerals can cause a varying degree of symptoms and health issues.
Pet Exposure Symptoms and Concerns
The good news is that a couple of licks of a paw or treated ground will not cause serious problems. The primary concern will be possible self-limiting drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea.
The more concerning situation is when the ice melt bag is left in a spot where a pet has easy access and can eat a larger amount. Larger ingestions of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and/or magnesium chloride can lead to more significant vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, and electrolyte abnormalities. Ingesting large amounts of calcium chloride may lead to ulcerations in a pet’s mouth and stomach, which can be painful, causing pets not to want to eat or drink.
Any patient who may have ingested more than a casual lick of an ice melt, is displaying more than mild vomiting, or showing any neurological signs should be seen by your clinic immediately.
Upon presentation, it’s important to treat patients by:
Evaluating hydration, electrolytes, and neurologic status
Managing any vomiting with an antiemetic to prevent further loss of fluids and aspiration
Managing any neurologic signs such as tremors and seizures with methocarbamol and benzodiazepines until the electrolytes are normalized, and they are no longer having any neurologic signs.
Most often, hypernatremia is seen with ice melt toxicosis. It is an acute condition (less than 24 hours in duration). meaning the sodium can be brought down rapidly through fluids and warm water enemas. The type of fluid and fluid rate will depend on how severe the hypernatremia is and the pet’s level of dehydration. Rechecking electrolytes and hydration status frequently (sometimes hourly) may be critical to make sure treatment is sufficiently aggressive. Activated charcoal is not recommended, as it is known to cause hypernatremia itself. If calcium chloride was a primary ingredient or your patient has evidence of oral ulceration, starting a proton pump inhibitor and sucralfate is recommended.
Pet-Friendly Options and Alternatives
If you have clients asking for recommendations on a safe ice melt to use, there are many on the market listed as pet-friendly. For patients who tend to lick their feet or lick puddles of water outside, the best idea is to stick with products that list urea as their primary ingredient since it is the least irritating to the stomach of all the potential ingredients.
There are several non-ice melt alternatives that may be considered. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Sand: While it won’t melt ice, sand can provide traction on slippery surfaces and is a safe option.
Paw booties or paw wax: Paw booties provide a safe barrier between an animal’s paws and not only ice melt, but also other natural elements; however, some pets won’t tolerate them. Paw wax can be applied directly to the bottom of their paw without the bulky feeling of booties.
Note: A word of caution about paw waxes, some pets find the wax tasty and may be prone to licking it off or helping themselves to the whole container. While this will not cause serious problems, it could lead to some gastrointestinal upset.
Damp cloth: Advising clients to wipe their pet’s feet with a damp cloth after coming back inside is also a safe, easy way to prevent issues.