Ice Melt & Pets – Keeping Them Safe
Winter weather presents many challenges for commercial property owners and managers. Keeping guests, residents, and employees safe and keeping the property accessible to emergency personnel are the primary goals and ice melt plays a critical role in an effective winter weather strategy. But what about pets and other animals? Are the products used to melt ice on asphalt, concrete, and other hard surfaces safe for our four-legged friends?
Most Common Ice Melt Ingredients
- Sodium – Sodium chloride is the most commonly used material for ice melting because it is inexpensive compared to other products, and it is effective down to roughly 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Potassium – Potassium chloride melts ice down to 12 degrees Fahrenheit and is considered safer than sodium to use around vegetation and landscaping plants. Safe to use on concrete and pavers.
- Magnesium – Magnesium chloride is able to melt ice down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit and is also safe to use around vegetation, concrete, and metal surfaces. Safer to use around animals and pets.
- Calcium – Calcium chloride has the widest range of temperatures where it is effective at melting ice. Fast acting and releases heat as it melts ice and snow. Can damage vegetation and concrete with prolonged use.
Ice melt products with only one of the ingredients above can be found, but more commonly, ice melts are made up of a blend of these products. Blends tend to be more effective at melting ice and snow over a wide range of temperatures thereby making them more versatile in a variety of winter weather situations.
What Makes Ice Melt Pet Safe?
The two most common concerns about ice melting products and pets are the drying out of their skin and ingestion of chemicals that can cause stomach upset so pet safe products aim to reduce these irritations. Many of the products labeled as “pet safe” contain a product that we didn’t describe above and that is urea. Urea is a nitrogen compound and is often found in fertilizer. Out of all of the ingredients used in ice melt, urea is least harmful to pets and children, but unfortunately, it’s not very effective at melting ice. Since it is not very effective at melting ice, it tends to be over applied. Excess urea can be dangerous to turf and landscaping, but the effects won’t be seen until spring.
Extra Steps to Keep Pets Safe
There are ice melting products that are labeled as “safe” for pets, but taking a few extra precautions during winter weather will ensure that both you and your pets have a trouble-free winter.
- When possible, allow your pet to walk on untreated snow. It may be tempting to walk in the street or sidewalk because these surfaces are typically cleared by snow contractors. Both of these paved surfaces will typically have ice melt products present that can still irritate your pets’ paws. So if you can walk on the pavement and allow your pet to walk in the snow, do it!
- Wipe your feet and your pet’s feet when you return inside. Pellets and granules of ice melt can get caught in between your pet’s pads where they can irritate their skin or even worse, continue to produce heat and burn their skin. Taking a small towel and wiping their feet helps to remove residual ice melt from their feet. Wiping your feet and putting shoes or boots in a tray keeps ice melt or brine from being tracked through the home where pets may be tempted to lick or ingest the residue.
- If you are responsible for treating your own walks, driveways, and exterior surfaces, read the labels. If a product is marked as “not safe for children” it’s likely not safe for your pets either. Also, take note of the ingredients and the product form. For pets, flake products may be a better option then pellets.
- Boots. I know. It sounds silly. My dogs certainly wouldn’t allow me to put boots on their feet, but there are a remarkable number of pets that will tolerate these protective shoes and they are extremely effective at keeping pets’ feet and skin out of contact with ice melt chemicals.
- Watch for unusual behavior. Pets that have ingested ice melt chemical will typically experience stomach upset or nausea and may also need to urinate more frequently. They may also be licking their feet excessively which may indicate dry or cracked paw pads. In severe cases will exhibit muscle weakness.