A few years ago my boxer spent the night at the emergency vet due to salt poisoning. If we had not noticed her awkward behavior in time she would have died. The culprit was homemade play dough. Even though she only ate a small amount, the concentration of salt in the play dough was enough to poison her.
I write this because of the impending snow storm moving into our area and the popular use of ice melt. Most ice melt is made up of rock salt and contains calcium chloride. From a lawn care perspective the build up of salt will damage your lawn, but that is secondary to fact it could poison your pet.
Contact with the salt on the paw pads could cause irritation which will cause the dog to lick its paws and ingest the salt. Small amounts may be ok but continued exposure could cause serious issues. Dogs may also lick or eat the ice melt from the sides of sidewalks and roadways before it has has a chance to fully break down. Again, depending on the amount they ingest it could lead to major problems.
The best way to combat the possibility of exposure is to use a pet safe or natural ice melt product. This is where some consumer vigilance will be needed on your part. Don't take the manufactures word for it. The product needs to be salt free! If you search “ice melt” at one of the home improvement mega store site and then filter by “safe for pets” you will end up with two results. Both results contain sodium chloride.
Two possible alternatives are Safe Paw that is usually available at Pet Smart and other pet supply stores (at least until they run out) and Safe Step Sure Paws that is available at Ace Hardware stores.
However, your use of a natural product does not eliminate that risk of exposure while your dog is away from your house. It is pretty obvious that the state is not going to spread Safe Paws on the roads. So now it is time for some pet owner vigilance. Watch for your pet burying their face in the snow. They may just playing but that may be going after some buried ice melt. Wipe or rinse their paws when they come in from outside. Salt left on their skin can heat up to around 175 degrees while it breaks down and burn both the skin and digestive tract if it is ingested.
Also, be sure to read the directions on the product label and only apply as directed. Ice melt doesn't actually melt all of the snow it just keeps if from sticking to the surface so it can be removed easier. Over application is another leading cause of exposure to pets.
So take care when it snows and think of your pet's health when applying ice melt products. A little extra expense for a bag of ice melt could keep you from spending hundreds in vet bills. Your pets will thank you for it, and your plants and lawn will think you are pretty cool as well.