When the weather outside is frightful, it seems like a logical next step to break out the salt to deice driveways and sidewalks.
But pet owners should beware: Ice-melting products can be harmful, and even deadly, to man's best friend.
Ice melt is made from various salt mixtures - sodium, calcium, magnesium or potassium chlorides - and sometimes includes other organic additives like urea, a fertilizer.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Brian Black and his wife, Chris, both of Hollidaysburg, walk their 2-year-old collie/Chesapeake Bay retriever mix, Owen, along Jones Street in Hollidaysburg Thursday.
Other, less corrosive deicers such as calcium magnesium acetate sometimes are used to protect cars and lessen damage to nearby plant life or water supplies, but all still have the potential to poison the family pet.
"There are no chemicals here," said PennDOT District 9 Safety Press Officer Pam Kane of the state's road treatment supply. "Statewide [PennDOT] does not use anything but rock salt and salt brine" to make sure salt sticks to roads.
Kane said PennDOT doesn't use any chemical treatments or additives, and that most municipalities use the same supplier as PennDOT to fill their salt trucks.
Altoona Highway Superintendent Al Hykes confirmed the city buys salt through the state PennDOT contract.
For those who venture onto the roads with Fido, veterinarian Brad Kissell of Lakemont Veterinary Clinic Inc. said people should be aware that even basic rock salt can raise a dog's or cat's blood salt level and lead to sodium toxicosis, which could be fatal.
According to Kissell, a lethal amount of salt would be 4 grams for every kilogram of body weight, or, roughly 1.28 ounces for a 20-pound dog.
"A dog would have to be an idiot to eat that much" salt, he said, but added that dogs sometimes do things owners didn't know they were capable of.
In his 2 years at the clinic, he hasn't seen a fatal case of salt or ice-melt ingestion, but said owners should be aware that even if it doesn't kill their pets, eating salt could lead to vomiting, diarrhea, hypersalivation or a loss of appetite.
In addition, dermal irritation can result from exposed paw pads, which will cause them to itch and burn. Pet owners should rinse their pets' paws with cool water if they come into contact with salt.
Overall, owners just need to be watchful.
"A lot of it goes under the radar," he said. "A lot of dogs don't even show any signs" that they've eaten or been exposed to salt or other ice-melt chemicals.
If a dog will allow its owner to put on protective foot booties, people should try it, he said.
Other alternatives include Musher's Secret, a wax developed in Canada for use with sledding dogs. According to its website, musherssecret.net, the wax is made by blending and refining several food-grade waxes. It creates a barrier between a pet's paws and harmful snow, ice and salt.
Another option is an ice melt brand labeled as pet-friendly. Steve Vernik, director of operations, sales and marketing for Southampton, Pa.-based Gaia Enterprises Inc., said his company's product Safe Paw is 100 percent safe for pets.
While it's more expensive than rock salt, according to Vernik, it "melts better, lasts longer and is more effective," which saves money in the long run.
It's also cheaper than paying an emergency animal hospital bill, in some cases.
"When we started in this market, people [used to] automatically mention salt. Salt has become the household name, but there's no salt here," he said. "The world is changing."
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.