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Winter Warning: Antifreeze and Rock Salt Deicers Are Risks to Dogs

Winter Warning: Antifreeze and Rock Salt Deicers Are Risks to Dogs

Responsible dog care includes knowing about the risks that arise seasonally. Every time of year brings new potential dangers, and winter is no different. Here we address two common cold-weather hazards that threaten dogs: antifreeze and rock salt deicers.

These two toxic substances can be found all around your environment during the cold times of year. Since your assistance dog is probably out and about more often than pet dogs—especially in parking lots and other high-traffic public areas—it’s important that you remain vigilant about these risks.

Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs

Antifreeze is often found in your garage or on the ground after it leaks from a car’s radiator. It’s also sometimes added to toilet bowls to winterize pipes. If a dog licks it or walks through it and then licks her feet, she’s susceptible to antifreeze poisoning. That’s because the ethylene glycol content of antifreeze. Ethylene glycol is also used in many windshield deicing agents, hydraulic brake fluids, motor oils, paints, photograph developing solutions, and solvents.

Don’t allow your assistance dog to approach, walk through, or drink from puddles on the ground. Also, have your radiator checked and repaired if necessary as part of winter maintenance. Store antifreeze containers tightly sealed and out of your dog’s reach, and securely dispose of empty containers.

If your hearing, guide, or service dog is suffering from antifreeze poisoning, the first stage typically occurs within 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion and resembles alcohol poisoning. The second stage generally comes on between 12 to 24 hours after ingestion; all or most outward signs resolve, but serious internal damage occurrs. From 36 to 72 hours after ingestion, the third stage involves the latter half of symptoms listed below.

Signs and symptoms of antifreeze toxicity in dogs include:

  • Acting drunk
  • Euphoria or delirious behavior
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Excessive thirst and/or urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Panting
  • Halitosis
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Weakness
  • Seizures, convulsions, or tremors
  • Fainting
  • Coma

Antifreeze toxicity is a life-threatening emergency. Seek immediate veterinary attention. If your assistance dog vomits or passes stool, bring a sample with you. Without intervention, ingestion of even a small amount of antifreeze can lead to kidney failure and death within a few days. Fompeizole is an antidote, and it’s usually a successful treatment if administered within 8 to 12 hours of ingestion.

If you’re sure that your dog ingested antifreeze within the past two hours, induce vomiting with 1 teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide per 5 pounds of body weight (not to exceed 3 teaspoons). Try this up to three times—but no more—at intervals of 10 minutes if necessary to induce vomiting. Also, never attempt to induce vomiting if your assistance dog is having trouble breathing, showing signs of distress, or unconscious.

Even if you successfully induce vomiting, contact or visit your vet right away.

Rock Salt De-Icer Risks to Dogs

Chloride salts or rock salts are another dangerous substance your service, hearing, or guide dog can easily come into contact with in winter. It’s sprinkled over stairs, sidewalks, parking lots, and other surfaces to melt ice and prevent treacherous conditions and falls.

But, from a dog’s standpoint, it actually creates treacherous conditions. Salt-based deicers are contact irritants that can cause considerable pain as they melt and heat up. If your assistance dog walks over them or gets them stuck in her coat, they will cause pain and possibly even serious burns as they melt.

However, not only her paw pads and other skin are at risk. If your assistance dog ingests rock salt deicers, these chemical burns can occur in her mouth or anywhere along her digestive tract. Ingestion commonly occurs when a dog licks rock salt off her during grooming or if she eats snow or drinks from a puddle that contains the deicing agent.

Steer your hearing, guide, or service dog clear of salted areas, and use a pet-friendly deicing agent on and around your own property. Consider asking your neighbors to do the same. Keep your dog’s hair trimmed short on her feet and ankles and between her toes to limit salt getting stuck in her fur. Wipe off her feet and lower legs after each trip outside during the winter. Also, there are socks made for dogs to protect their paws and help keep them warm.

Ingesting too much rock salt can also cause toxicity that may lead to kidney damage and even death. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of coordination
  • Edema (swelling to do fluid accumulation)
  • Excessive thirst and/or urination
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures, convulsions, or tremors
  • Fainting
  • Coma

Rock salt poisoning is a life-threatening emergency. Seek immediate help from a pet poison hotline or veterinarian. Intervention may include IV fluids, monitoring of electrolytes and treatment for dehydration, monitoring for brain swelling, and other support.

Additional Reading

Take a look at our article “15 Cold Weather Care Tips for Your Assistance Dog” for more information about keeping your service, guide, or hearing dog comfortable and healthy through the winter.

Also, many people burn scented candles and use air fresheners during the holiday season and through the cold weather. If you’re one of them, read over our article “Air Fresheners Pose Risks to Your Assistance Dog’s Health.”


PetMD: Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs

Pet Poison Helpline: Antifreeze

Peters Chemical Company: How Salt-Based Deicers Harm Pets and Children

Pet Poison Helpline: Salt

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