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What Are the Dangers of Using Rock Salt Around Pets? (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Sharon Butzke DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on April 10, 2024 by Dogster Team

spoon of pink himalayan rock salt on wooden table

What Are the Dangers of Using Rock Salt Around Pets? (Vet Answer)

VET APPROVED

Dr. Sharon Butzke  Photo

WRITTEN BY

Dr. Sharon Butzke

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you live somewhere that experiences winter, you are likely familiar with the challenges of keeping driveways, sidewalks, and steps free of ice. There are many different products available to help melt ice and provide traction, but some of them can be dangerous for our fur babies. One example is rock salt, which can cause skin and gastrointestinal (GI) irritation, as well as salt toxicity if enough is eaten.

In this article, we will discuss the potential dangers of rock salt and suggest some alternatives that are safer for pets.

 

What is Rock Salt?

Halite, more commonly known as rock salt, is a mineral form of sodium chloride (NaCl).1 It is frequently used in winter to de-ice roads and improve traction for vehicles. People also purchase rock salt for home use. It is inexpensive, widely available, and effective at both melting ice and preventing it from forming. It can be used at temperatures as low as 5oF.

woman holding halite mineral rock stone
Image Credit: Cagla Acikgoz, Shutterstock

Why is Rock Salt Dangerous to Pets?

Pets are at risk of accidentally ingesting rock salt when they lick it off their paws and/or fur after spending time outdoors. Some pets seem to find the taste appealing and will actually eat rock salt intentionally—either from a treated area or an open package.

Rock salt poses several problems for pets:
  • It is irritating to their skin and gastrointestinal (GI) tract
  • If a large amount is eaten, salt toxicity can occur (which is potentially life-threatening)

What Will Happen if My Pet Eats Rock Salt?

If your pet licks a small amount of rock salt, you may see mild signs of irritation, such as:

If your pet eats a lot of rock salt, they may become dehydrated and develop an elevated level of sodium in their blood (hypernatremia). In addition to GI upset, signs of salt toxicity can include:2

  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Weakness
  • Ataxia (incoordination)
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

Salt toxicity can be fatal

If you suspect that your pet has eaten rock salt, contact a veterinarian immediately. Prompt treatment offers the best chance for recovery.

Sad Shih Tzu
Image Credit: Lindsay Helms, Shutterstock

Can Pets Recover from Rock Salt Toxicity?

If only a small amount of rock salt has been ingested, signs should be mild and resolve on their own. For pets who have eaten larger amounts, the likelihood of making a full recovery depends on:

  • Their size and the amount of rock salt consumed (4 grams per kilogram of body weight may be fatal)
  • How quickly the ingestion is recognized
  • How promptly treatment can be implemented

Your veterinarian should be able to offer advice regarding the specific prognosis for your pet, based on their unique situation.

 

What Should I Do if My Pet Comes into Contact with Rock Salt?

If you notice rock salt on your pet’s paws or fur, wipe them down thoroughly with a damp towel to remove them. Dry them afterward so they do not become chilled.

If you suspect that your pet has licked or eaten rock salt, contact a veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline* right away.

*Please note that there is a fee for using this service.

himalaya rock salt in a bowl on wooden background
Image Credit: Jaded Art, Shutterstock

How Can I De-Ice Without Using Rock Salt?

For pets, the safest alternative to rock salt is sand. It does not melt ice, unfortunately, but it does provide traction.

Some de-icing products are advertised as “pet safe.” They typically contain urea, which is considered to be less irritating than rock salt and other common ice-melting ingredients (such as potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium salts). However, toxicity can still occur if enough of the product is ingested.

 

In Conclusion

While you have control over the de-icing methods and products you use at home, it is possible for your pet(s) to be exposed to rock salt while they are out and about in the winter.

Here are some additional tips to help keep your pet safe:
  • For dogs, consider using boots to protect their feet when they are outside
  • Wipe down your pet’s feet, legs, and belly after they spend time outdoors
  • Do not let your pup lick the ground or eat snow near areas that may have been treated with an ice-melting product
  • Store ice melter for home use in a secure container, out of reach of pets

Featured Image Credit: MaraZe, Shutterstock

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