Pet Safe Ice Melts: Quick Picks
- Safest Ice Melt: Safe Paw. Made with urea, one of the least harmful salts and least likely to irritate your pup’s feet or pose an ingestion danger.
- Longest Lasting Ice Melt: Natural Rapport. The time-released formula claims to last 3x longer than standard ice melts.
- Best Rock Salt Alternative: Redmond Ice Slicer. Made from naturally-occurring sea salt less likely to hurt your dog’s paws. Also cost-effective and in a resealable bag.
Ice-melting products are a fact of life for those living in cold climates. Without them, you’ll have trouble walking to your car safely, never mind backing down your driveway without sliding into a tree.
But unfortunately, many ice melt products can cause health problems for dogs. In extreme cases, they can even cause canine deaths.
Thankfully, there are a few ice melt products available that are designed with dogs in mind. So, if you are a dog owner living in a region with icy winters (or even if you simply live next door to dogs but have none of your own), you’ll want to read on to learn all about the dangers ice melt products represent and some of the safer alternatives available.
What Are Ice Melts?
Ice melts are chemical treatments designed to lower the freezing temperature of water.
In other words, while water normally freezes around 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or, as our friends in the rest of the civilized world know it, 0 degrees Celsius), ice melt products mix with the water and reduce the freezing point to temperatures lower than this.
Some of the most powerful ice melt products reduce the freezing temperature of water all the way down to -62 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ice melts accomplish this by incorporating any of several different materials in their products. Most come in powdered or crystalline form, and they can be applied manually or via specialized vehicles.
Some of the most commonly used ingredients in ice melt products include:
You undoubtedly have a ton of sodium chloride sitting around your house – in fact, you probably eat it every day.
Sodium chloride is just ordinary salt. Most ice melt products use rock salt rather than table salt, but the difference between the two essentially comes down to the grain size and the presence of iodine and anti-caking chemicals in the latter.
Calcium chloride is one of the most widely used ice-melting chemicals in the world. In fact, most of the calcium chloride harvested in the world is used in the manufacture of ice-melting products.
It normally takes the form of tiny, white spheres called prills. Calcium chloride is also used as a food additive and a desiccant.
Magnesium chloride is another chemical that lowers the freezing point of ice. It is primarily harvested from brine lakes or sea water (most of the magnesium chloride produced in the U.S. is harvested from the Great Salt Lake in Utah). Magnesium chloride not only helps lower the freezing point of ice, but it also helps prevent the ice from sticking to pavement.
Urea is a very common chemical, produced by a variety of living organisms. Urea actually forms a significant portion of the urine of mammals – it’s the primary chemical the body uses to get rid of excess nitrogen. Urea is generally considered safe for animals in reasonable amounts.
Urea is usually produced in labs by combining ammonia and carbon dioxide, and the vast majority of commercially produced urea is used in fertilizers. While urea lowers the freezing temperature of water, it does not lower it as much as many of the other chemicals used in commercial ice-melting products.
Ethylene glycol is the primary active ingredient in antifreeze – the same product that prevents the water in your car’s radiator from freezing.
Ethylene glycol is extremely toxic, and it has been implicated in the deaths of countless dogs and cats. Part of the problem with ethylene glycol is its sweet taste, which many animals find quite appealing.
Propylene glycol is chemically similar to ethylene glycol, and it also reduces the freezing point of water. However, it is much safer than its chemical cousin.
In fact, while propylene glycol is probably most commonly used in the production of various resins, it is also a common ingredient in liquid sweeteners, whipped cream, and a number of human medications.
It may even be present in your vape pen, as it is a common component in e-cigarette liquids.
Calcium Magnesium Acetate
Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) is another popular de-icing substance used to treat roads and sidewalks. Originally developed by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration in the 1970s, CMA is often described as a more environmentally friendly alternative to salts and other ice-melt products.
It is also essentially non-toxic to mammals, although it can cause mild skin or eye irritation. Additionally, it reportedly smells somewhat similar to vinegar, which means that most dogs won’t be inclined to eat it.
The biggest drawback to CMA is its high price. Producing CMA comes with a price tag more than 10 times that of producing regular rock salt. This has limited the use of the product and prevented it from becoming a more popular solution for icy roads.
Dangers of Ice Melt for Pets
Now that you have a clearer idea of what ice melts are and what chemicals are used to create them, we can turn our attention to the risks they pose pets.
In general, ice-melting products cause problems in two different ways. We’ll discuss each below.
1. Skin Irritation
Many ice-melting products can irritate your dog’s skin. This is typically a problem that is caused by ice-melt products that contain salts, such as calcium chloride or magnesium chloride, but propylene glycol is also a very common skin irritant for people, and it may cause damage to your dog’s skin too.
The irritation caused by ice melt products primarily occurs on the paws, as they typically experience the most direct contact with the ice.
However, any portion of your dog’s skin can become irritated after walking on salt-covered roads. In some cases, ice melt products can even irritate your dog’s mucous membranes, including the eyes and nose.
The severity of the irritation caused by ice melt products varies from one circumstance to the next. Some ice-melt products are gentler on canine skin than others, some dogs are simply more sensitive to these products than others, and the amount of contact dogs have with the product will vary.
In mild cases, pups with irritated paws will simply appear to walk a little gingerly and lick their paws more than usual. In severe cases, the skin and pads may become very red, or even crack and bleed. This may prevent your dog from walking much at all.
2. Ingestion Hazard
Skin and paw irritation are certainly no fun for your pup, but cracked and chapped skin heals, and your vet can even prescribe medications to help reduce your dog’s discomfort and accelerate the healing process.
On the other hand, dogs who ingest significant amounts of de-icing products may become very sick.
Deaths aren’t very common in pups who eat ice-melting products (we were unable to find verifiable numbers regarding their frequency), but they are certainly a possibility. Even dogs who don’t die outright from eating these products may become seriously ill and require hospitalization.
Signs That Your Dog Is Suffering from a Reaction to Ice Melt
Accordingly, it is important to familiarize yourself with some of the signs and symptoms that may indicate your pet is suffering from a reaction.
Even if you use one of the safest ice melt products for pets, your dog may still be exposed to other ice melt products while you are walking around the block or playing at the park.
Some of the signs you’ll want to watch for include:
- Red, chaffed, cracked, or bleeding paws
- Reddened or irritated skin (especially if your dog has recently played in the snow)
- Excessive paw-licking
- Vocalizations or obvious signs of pain when walking
- Reluctance to walk on salt-covered surfaces
Any of the symptoms described above may occur in dogs who are suffering from contact with ice-melting products.
However, you should also familiarize yourself with some of the signs that may indicate your dog has ingested an ice-melting product, including the following:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of consciousness
- Lack of coordination
- Extreme thirst
If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately. Many dogs can be successfully treated for ice melt ingestion, but prompt care is imperative.
What Makes an Ice Melt Product Safe for Pets?
Because most ice-melting products utilize some type of salt, no de-icer is completely safe for pets. Pets who eat these products are likely to become ill, and they can all cause your pet’s paws and skin to become very irritated.
Accordingly, the best strategy for pet owners is to select an ice melt product that is least likely to harm your pet.
Urea-based ice melt products are likely some of the best choices. Urea is a salt, but it is a salt that your dog’s body already produces, and there aren’t many reports of it irritating paws.
Urea can, however, be very bad for your plants and lawn, so it is important to use as little as possible to melt the ice around your home.
In fact, this is a good practice in general – always use as little ice melt as possible. Additionally, try to spread the ice melt on the ground before it starts snowing. This will not only help melt the snow and ice that fall on top of it, but it’ll also help prevent icy substances from sticking to your walkways and driveway.
In addition to urea-based de-icers, those made from propylene glycol are likely pretty safe for dogs. As mentioned above, propylene glycol is used in a variety of foods and medications, and it is unlikely to irritate your dog’s paws as much as some of the other substances used in ice melt products.
Ice melt products containing CMA may also be worth trying too. CMA is usually added to various salts to help make them more effective, helping to reduce the amount of salt you must spread.
Additionally, CMA is not as likely to cause skin irritation as some other de-icing products.
Best Pet-Safe Ice Melt Products: Our Top Picks
There are a ton of ice-melting products that are marketed as being safe for pets, but we think these five are solid representatives of what is available.
About: Safe Paw Ice Melter is a time-released ice-melting product that is designed to be safe for pets, children, concrete, brick, and stone.
- PEOPLE & PET SAFE - Imagine an ice melt you can put down and never worry about. It won’t harm...
- MELT AT LOW TEMPERATURES - Guaranteed to melt at low temperatures (-2°F), it’s non-toxic and...
- VETERINARIAN RECOMMENDED FORMULA - Unlike other Pet Safe Ice Melts, Safe Paw's patented formula is...
- NON-CORROSIVE & LONG SHELF LIFE - It’s non corrosive and non-conductive. No damage to delicate...
Features: Unlike many other ice-melting products which use salt to help lower the freezing point of ice and snow, Safe Paw Ice Melter is made with modified carbonyldiamine – also known as urea.
Urea is one of the least harmful ingredients used by commercial de-icers (at least as far as Fido is concerned); accordingly, it shouldn’t irritate your pup’s feet, nor pose an especially serious ingestion hazard.
Safe Paw Ice Melter also contains other ingredients of note. Substances known as non-ionic surfactants are included to help ensure the product mixes readily in water.
Also, unlike many other products on the market, proprietary traction agents are mixed in with the formula to help your feet and car tires get a grip.
“Special inhibitors” are also included in the mixture. It isn’t entirely clear what these inhibitors are, nor is it clear whether they represent a threat to your pet. In any case, they’re undoubtedly responsible for the time-released properties of the product.
However, and this is important, Safe Paw Ice Melter also contains “special glycols.” Glycols are alcohols that exhibit varying levels of danger. Propylene glycol, for example, is pretty harmless, but ethylene glycol is essentially antifreeze, which can be deadly for dogs.
The “special glycols” are probably propylene glycol as the manufacturer claims that the product is non-toxic and safe if ingested. However, the manufacturer is unclear on this point, so it is wise to use caution.
PROS: Safe Paw Ice Melter appeared to work well for many people. Several people who used the product reported that it worked as advertised and didn’t appear to irritate their pet’s paws. A few customers also praised the product’s blueish green color, which helped make it easy to see against the snow, and therefore, ensure good coverage.
CONS: There were two pretty common complaints about Safe Paw Ice Melter. Several customers found that it didn’t melt ice very effectively, and several others reported that it damaged the concrete around their home. Although we couldn’t find any reports of this product injuring pets, a few owners did report that the pellets made the ground very slippery for some dogs.
About: Natural Rapport Pet-Friendly Ice Melt is a US-made, time-released ice melt product that is designed to be safer for pets than traditional rock salt de-icers.
- SAFER FOR PETS - Made in the USA. Our proprietary, eco-friendly formula is safer for your pets,...
- WORKS FAST AND LAST 3X LONGER - Our fast-acting, "time release" formula lasts longer and helps...
- SAFER FOR CONCRETE, METAL, AND WOOD - ProtectRx, our proprietary, organic technology, reduces...
- LESS HARMFUL TO LAWNS AND GRASS - Safer for trees and other vegetation. Our non-hygroscopic ice melt...
Features: Natural Rapport Pet-Friendly Ice Melt is made from a variety of salts (including sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, and potassium chloride) and calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). CMA is one of the safest ice-melt products to use around dogs (it’s also pretty environmentally friendly), but it still features salts, which may irritate your pup’s paws.
Natural Rapport reports that their Pet-Friendly Ice Melt also reduces corrosion rates on concrete, metal, and wood by 75%. They also explain that because it is a time-released formula, Pet-Friendly Ice Melt works for 3x as long as many other ice-melting products.
This product is also designed to be safer for your carpets and floors, in case your dog tracks some of the pellets back into the house.
PROS: Natural Rapport Pet-Friendly Ice Melt received pretty positive reviews from most customers who tried it. And although a few owners noted that this product burned their dog’s paws, the majority of dog owners reported that it did not appear to cause any type of pain or discomfort.
CONS: As mentioned above, a few owners observed that this ice-melt burned their dog’s paws, so it doesn’t appear to be a completely safe product in all cases. This is likely due to the fact that salts – which cause most of the problem — are still used in this formula.
About: Green Gobbler Fast-Acting Pet-Safe Ice Melt is a small, pelleted compound designed to melt ice and snow without harming pets or plants as much as some other ice-melting products may.
- MELTS SNOW AND ICE IN FRIGID TEMPERATURES (as low as -10°F): Pet Safe will generate exothermic heat...
- MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE FORMULA HARVESTED FROM THE DEAD SEA. Magnesium chloride ice melt has a...
- SAFER FOR PETS AND THE ENVIRONMENT. Pet Safe is highly unlikely to burn or irritate the skin or pets...
- PERFECT FOR SPREADERS. Because of its small, round pellet shape, Pet Safe can be used in various ice...
Features: Green Gobbler doesn’t disclose exactly what chemicals are used to make Fast-Acting Pet-Safe Ice Melt, but the packaging does indicate that it contains magnesium chloride, which is likely the primary active ingredient.
Curiously, Green Gobbler states that this product does not contain salts, but magnesium chloride is, in fact, a salt. They likely mean that the product does not contain rock salt, but it is still troubling to see this kind of misrepresentation.
Nevertheless, magnesium chloride is generally considered much safer than sodium chloride or calcium chloride. The manufacturer also reports that it works in very low temperatures – even down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit.
PROS: Despite the issues surrounding the “no salt” claims, Green Gobbler Fast-Acting Ice Melt does appear to be a good choice for dog owners, as most customers who tried the product indicated that it did not burn their dog’s paws. It also appears to be an effective de-icing product in general, as it reportedly melted ice quickly and didn’t damage concrete.
CONS: A few pet owners complained about the residue left behind by this product, which often created quite a mess. One owner likened the residue to melted paraffin.
About: Redmond Ice Slicer is an ice-melting product that is designed to be gentle on your dog’s feet as well as your concrete driveway and walkways. It is made from naturally occurring sea salt deposits that contain more than 60 different trace minerals.
- AN ALL-NATURAL ICE MELT THAT REALLY WORKS: Ice Slicer attacks ice twice as hard as other deicers....
- MORE POTENCY WITH LESS ICE MELT: Ice Slicer is naturally more concentrated than white salt. So, you...
- SAFER SOLUTION FOR KIDS AND PETS: Ice Slicer is dye-free, urea-free, and polymer-free ice melt....
- ECO FRIENDLY: Ice Slicer’s concentrated pellets cover twice the area and also contains 1/60 the...
Features: Redmond Ice Slicer is a fairly straightforward ice melting product, which – according to the manufacturer – outperforms rock-salt-based alternatives.
The trace minerals included in the formula reportedly increase the rate at which this de-icing product works and help to provide residual ice-melting action.
No fillers are included in this product, and it is reported to work down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The manufacturer claims that it melts ice 3.5 times quicker than ice melts made from white salt.
Redmond Ice Slicer contains no dyes, and it is much less likely to raise the alkalinity of the surrounding soil, which should help reduce the damage caused to your lawn, plants, and trees.
This product does often leave a residual reddish-brown film, but this is designed to wash away with ordinary tap water or rain.
PROS: Many owners reported that Redmond Ice Slicer worked well, quickly melted the snow and ice covering their property, and didn’t irritate their pet’s paws. The product’s low price point also elicited plenty of praise from customers who tried the product, and many praised the resealable bag, which made it easy to use and store.
CONS: Despite being marketed as a “pet safe” product, Redmond Ice Slicer is still made from salt and may irritate your pet’s paws or cause illness if ingested. There weren’t many complaints about irritated paws, but there simply isn’t much of a difference between this product and typical rock salt.
About: Snow Joe Melt-2-Go is designed to be an environmentally friendly and pet-safe product for melting snow and ice quickly and easily.
- PET FRIENDLY: Formulated from nature’s own ingredients, EB Ice Melt provides a greener solution to...
- ENVIRONMENTALLY SAFE: Leaves no slimy residue behind, making it safe to use on grass, turf, around...
- SAFE TO HANDLE: When used as directed, EB Ice Melt will not dry out or irritate the skin and can be...
- FAST-ACTING IN FREEZING TEMPERATURES: Goes to work immediately upon contact with snow and ice to...
Features: Snow Joe Melt-2-Go doesn’t list the ingredients used in the product. It simply states that it is “enhanced with CMA.” This implies, but does not guarantee, that it is made with a combination of salt and CMA, but there’s no way to know for sure what is included in the product.
CMA is generally recognized as safer for pets and the environment than salts, and it probably won’t irritate your pet’s paws. However, if salt is included in the formula, your pup may suffer from paw irritation anyway, and it may also represent an ingestion hazard.
The manufacturer reports that the product contains an anti-caking agent to make it easier to apply, and they also state that it won’t cling to your pet’s feet or damage concrete, wood, or metals.
PROS: By and large, Snow Joe Melt-2-Go received positive reviews from most owners who tried it. It appears to melt ice and snow effectively, and many owners praised its “pet safe” nature. It’s also one of the most affordable ice-melting products available.
CONS: The biggest drawback to this product is the fact that it is unlikely to be that much safer for your pet’s paws than typical rock salt. In fact, because the manufacturer doesn’t list the ingredients used to make it, it may be comprised primarily of salt.
Our Recommendation: Safe Paw Ice Melter
While any of the products reviewed above may be worth trying, Safe Paw Ice Melter is likely the safest for your pet.
It is the only one of the five reviewed above that is primarily made from urea (which is one of the safest chemicals used in de-icing products).
We’d feel more comfortable recommending the product if the manufacturer identified the glycols used in the formula, but it is still probably the safest of the bunch. It did appear to damage concrete in several cases, so you’ll want to be sure to use as little as possible.
Homemade Ice Melts You Can Use Around Your Pet
Because most commercially manufactured de-icing products can harm pets, many dog owners have tried to create their own homemade ice melt products.
Unfortunately, few are very effective, and many represent the same hazards that salt and other common ice melt products do. For example, many online sources recommend using pickle brine to melt the ice on your driveway.
Pickle brine will, in fact, work, but it only does so because it is essentially salt water – you may as well just use salt.
However, there are a few options that may be worth trying, especially if your dog has particularly sensitive paws.
1. Sand or Dirt
Sand and dirt may help melt ice a bit if they contain salts, but they’re primarily used to provide traction.
This can be an effective strategy, as it addresses the primary problem (slippery surfaces) without worrying about changing the freezing point of water.
Sand and dirt are both perfectly safe for your dog, and they won’t cause any environmental harm either (at least in the quantities you’d be using at home – widespread use of sand can damage local watersheds).
Ashes are another inexpensive household substance that can be used to provide better traction on icy surfaces. Additionally, because ash is typically dark in color, it can absorb heat, potentially helping to melt the surrounding ice.
Ash won’t harm the environment (assuming it was produced by burning wood), and it’ll blow or wash away readily, alleviating the need for a difficult cleanup.
3. Warm Water
In some cases, you may simply be able to use warm water to melt the ice and snow around your home. Admittedly, this won’t work during January if you live in Buffalo or Minneapolis, but it is a very effective solution for those living in milder climates.
I often use hot water to deal with the ice that occurs about once or twice a year here in Atlanta.
Just be careful to think about where the water will runoff – you don’t want it to re-freeze somewhere else, potentially creating a safety hazard.
Shoveling away the ice and snow on your driveway or sidewalks is certainly a lot of work, but it is an effective way to clear the ground and it won’t harm your dog in any way, shape, or form.
Staying Salt Safe: Additional Strategies for Keeping Your Canine Safe
Unfortunately, while it makes good sense for dog owners to use a pet-safe ice melt, this won’t necessarily prevent your dog from being exposed to dangerous versions of these products.
After all, your neighbor and local road-care authorities may use products that are hazardous.
Accordingly, it’s wise to embrace the following practices to the extent possible.
→ Fit your dog with booties. Booties are a simple way to protect your dog’s feet, and they’ll also provide him with greater traction while he’s running around on the ice and snow. We’ve reviewed some of the best booties available, so be sure to check out our recommendations before you start shopping.
→ Cover your dog up in a coat or vest. Your dog’s paws aren’t the only place he may suffer from skin irritation, so you’ll want to protect as much of his body as possible. Coats and vests not only allow you to protect your pup from ice melting chemicals, but they’ll also keep your dog warm and toasty in cold weather.
→ Coat your dog’s tootsies in paw wax. Paw wax balm is somewhat like chapstick for your dog’s feet. You apply a thin coat to your dog’s paws, and the wax helps lock the moisture in your dog’s skin and prevent the irritation that salt and some other chemicals can cause.
→ Rinse your dog’s paws after walks. Whether you fit your dog with booties, coat his paws in wax, or simply let him run around with “bare” paws, you may want to consider rinsing his feet off once you return home (either manually or through the use of a paw washer). Doing so will not only help remove any of the chemicals that may be present on his paws. Be sure to dry them gently with a towel once they’re clean.
→ Stick to places where ice-melting products haven’t been used. One of the best ways to protect your pup’s skin and paws is to simply avoid places that have been treated with ice melt products. Obviously, this isn’t always an option, but, when possible, you may want to consider loading Spot in the car and driving to the local dog park instead of walking around the neighborhood.
→ Watch your dog closely. Most of the strategies we’ve discussed so far have focused on protecting your dog’s paws and skin from ice melt products, but it is even more important to prevent your dog from ingesting them. Consequently, you’ll want to keep a good eye on your pooch and make sure he doesn’t lick any melted water or eat snow that’s been exposed to ice melts.
→ Store ice melt products safely. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, associate director of veterinary services and senior veterinary toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline, Ahna Brutlag, explains that serious ice melt poisonings almost always happen “when the dog has chewed through the bag.” So, be sure that you store your ice melt products safely, in a place that your dog can’t reach. You may also want to store the product in a metal cabinet or trash can for additional safety.
A Final Consideration: The Environmental Impact of Ice Melt Products
The sheer quantity of ice-melting products used in the U.S. each year is staggering.
According to one source, approximately 20 million tons of salt are poured over paved surfaces each year – that’s 13 times as much salt as the entire food processing industry uses each year.
All of this salt causes sidewalks, roads, and cars to suffer a considerable amount of damage, but it causes even bigger problems for the local environment.
Most of this salt – as much as 70% according to some research — is eventually washed into the local rivers and streams, where it makes its way into our lakes and other freshwater reservoirs. This raises the salinity of these waters, which kills many of the animals, plants, and microorganisms inhabiting them.
Even worse, there’s no quick fix for this problem: These lakes and reservoirs will continue to be salty until fresh rainwater dilutes the water.
It’s also important to note that all of the plants and trees exposed to salty runoff water suffer too. Some may not die outright, but they’ll become stressed and unable to cope with any further stressors that may occur.
For the most part, there’s little we can do to prevent these problems. We can’t very well stop using ice melt products entirely – travel and commerce would come to a screeching halt in the northern portions of the U.S. every winter. We simply have to be able to drive safely during the winter.
However, by using as little ice melt product as possible, combining your ice melt products with sand (or some other abrasive material), and shoveling up as much of the remaining salt and slush as possible after it has done its job, you can reduce the amount of environmental harm you are responsible for.
Ice melt products can certainly cause problems for dogs, but if you use one of the pet-safe products listed above and employ the safety tips we described, you can reduce your pup’s chances of getting sick or injured.
Have you figured out any clever ways of protecting your dog from ice melt products? Let us know all about them in the comments below!