Many local governments and homeowners go straight for the standard ice melt to make walking or driving on icy sidewalks and roads safer. The sidewalk might be safer for you, but perhaps not for your dog. Ice melt often contains salt and harmful chemicals that can irritate your dog's skin, paws and digestive system. In the worst cases, it can be fatal.
There are a couple of ways ice melt can be a problem. Many people use rock salt as an ice melt, which is sodium chloride mixed with other chemicals to help the ice melt and provide grit to keep the area from being slick. As it melts, it can form puddles of water containing the ice melt that your dog might drink from when he's outside. Another problem is the ice melt getting caught in the fur around your dog's paws, in between his paw pads or slung up onto his belly or sides as he walks. In addition to the salt and chemicals irritating his skin, he can lick the ice melt off himself after he goes inside and ingest it.
When you mix salt and harsh chemicals, you get a powerful ice melt product that seems to burn through the frozen surface. Unfortunately, it can irritate your dog's skin almost like a burn as well. If left on the skin, most ice melt products can cause serious and painful dermatitis. His paw pads might swell after touching ice melt, and the swelling can become worse when ice melt caught in the hair around the paws stays in contact with the pads. Clipping his paw fur and wiping his feet and lower body with a damp cloth as soon as he comes inside can help reduce the chance of skin irritation.
A more serious problem occurs when your dog ingests some of the ice melt, either by drinking in puddles, eating snow as he plays outside or licking the ice melt off his paws. The ice melt can cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and lack of appetite. It can also lead to dehydration and kidney distress. In extreme cases, your dog can die -- it only takes about 1 ounce of sodium chloride per 2.3 pounds of body weight to kill your dog. If your dog weighs 6 pounds, less than 3 ounces of ice melt could be fatal. If you notice digestive distress or lethargy soon after coming in from a snowy walk, call your vet immediately.
You can't control products the local department of transportation puts on the roads, but you can choose not to use harmful ice melts on your driveway, outdoor steps and sidewalk areas. Pick a pet-safe ice melt product that specifically says it contains no sodium chloride or rock salt. Or, use dog booties or socks when you take Rover outside. These usually have non-skid bottoms, offering him a bit more traction in the icy weather, and are machine washable so you don't have to worry about him licking ice melt off the booties.