A Lethal Combination


As those of us here in Calgary brace for the return of winter tomorrow, I’m reminded once more of all of the inconvenience this time of year brings.

There’s the usual winter garb, the mitts (where did that other one go?) the scarves and boots never mind the cars and sidewalks that will need to be cleared.

For our pets, the snow and ice can be down right dangerous, potentially lethal even!

I remember our first winter with Sophie. We were laughing until our sides hurt as we watched her tunnel beneath the snow. She would surface with a look of total bewilderment like somehow in the moments she had buried herself, the world above her had mystical transformed.

I remember too meeting up with a neighbor and hearing a story that chilled me to the bone and as sad as it is, its a story every dog owner needs to hear.

She told us how she had lost her dog just a few weeks ago. She had taken him for a lovely walk and then mere hours later  he had began convulsing. She didn’t even get him as far as the car to take him to the Vet and he was gone.

Sammy became a statistic that winter. He was one of the countless dogs that falls prey to the toxic and sometimes lethal affects of commercial de-icers and antifreeze that are frequently used to combat ice during the winter.

When we walk our dogs in the winter, their paws are like magnets for the stuff and then when they get home and begin grooming themselves, the poison enters their system with each lick and paw. It can happen before Fido even gets in the door. All it takes is just a few licks.

So what are commercial de-icers?

Commercial de-icers are  sold to melt ice and snow from sidewalks and roads. Some are less harsh to Fido’s paws but ALL have the potential to cause medical problems or even death.

  • The most common de-icer is Sodium Chloride or rock salt (NaCl). Sodium chloride contains 67% chlorides and about 30% sodium.
  • The alternative de-icer is Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2). Magnesium Chloride is used because it melts snow and ice faster and at lower temperatures than other de-icers. Magnesium Chloride contains 34% chlorides and 18% Magnesium. While it is considered to be the least toxic de-icer, gentler to concrete or asphalt surfaces and lawns, and less harsh on dog paws, ingesting it will still make your dog sick.

What is Commercial anti-freeze?

Commercial anti-freeze if made up of ethylene glycol. The thing about anti-freeze is its taste. Anti-freeze has a sweet flavour that seems to entice  dogs and cats to want to eat it. Once the chemical has been ingested the glycol in it ends up binding with the calcium in the animals blood resulting in the formation of crystals. When those crystals are deposited into the animals kidneys a variety of symptoms occur. The severity of those symptoms is based on how much of the chemical was ingested and the length of time its been in the animals body.

Learning about the dangers of de-icers and anti-freeze,  along with the huge ice-balls Sophie forms between her pads, (Golden’s are notorious for the problem) has resulted in a pair of bright red boots for Miss Sophie.

She’s a pretty good sport most days about wearing them and seems resigned to the fact that they aren’t a negotiable fashion option but not all dog owners have a dog that’s willing to wear boots so then what?

The first and most obvious thing is to avoid the stuff whenever you can. Keep Fido on a short leash so you can steer him/her out of harms way. I’ll cross the street, walk her (when its safe) down the side of the road. I’ll do anything to avoid having her walk through it.

The big and most important thing you can to do,  is to be sure Fido’s tongue doesn’t come in contact with a single paw before you get indoors.

Once you’re home, a quick foot cleaning is a MUST.  We’ve found that keeping a pot of water handy works really well . . . just one thing! Be sure you don’t plunge those freezing cold paws into hot water.

Most importantly is to be aware of the symptoms of poisoning from de-icers and anti-freeze.

Symptoms of Chloride poisoning  (De-icers) in dogs:

  • Increased thirst and consumption of water with accompanying increased urine output
  • Mental confusion
  • Staggering gait
  • Coma
  • Seizures


Symptoms of Glycol poisoning;

The symptoms of this kind of poisoning fall into three stages.

Symptoms that develop within  an hour of ingestion (Stage 1) , those that develop within 12-14 hours after ingestion (Stage II) , and symptoms that develop 24- 72 hours after the animal has ingested it. (Stage III)

Stage I Symptoms: (I hour post ingestion)

  • Staggering drunken behaviour with a noticeable loss of muscle coordination
  • Excessive thirst followed by an excessive output of urine
  • Depressed or lethargic behaviour
  • Gastric pains, irritation, nausea, and vomiting
  • A noticeable drop in normal body temperature

Stage II Symptoms: (12 -14  hours post ingestion)

Neurological toxicity evidence begins to appear as a result of the ingested glycol.

  • Continuing marked dehydration
  • Progressing physical weakness
  • With accompanying rapid breathing and elevated heart rate.

Without treatment a dog will inevitably enter the symptoms listed in Stage 3.  The effects of the toxin will most likely cause irreversible kidney failure and the eventual death of the animal.

As homeowners we need to think about our social responsibility to our neighbors and our pets. I’m certain that most of  my neighbors were unaware of the potential hazard to animals these products imposed prior to hearing the tragic story about Sammy.

We each play a part in protecting the animals of our communities while ensuring the safety of people and children.

This winter try shovelling your sidewalks as soon as possible after a fresh snowfall. Snow that gets trampled on quickly turns to ice.

Be sure you are  using pet friendly methods when dealing with ice . Things such as sand and kitty litter can be used without harming the environment or our pets.

I recently came across a product EcoTraction (By no means is this a personal endorsement as I haven’t tested or tried the product) that seems to have some very compelling reasons to use it.

Lets do our part to protect as many of our pets as possible this winter. Please share this post with as many of your friends and loved as possible.

With Gratitude,

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