Friday, January 26, 2018

Chemical stew and a dog named Friday

Scrolling through Facebook over the weekend, I came across a disturbing post from my friend Belinda. Because I felt this was important info to share with any pet lovers in the community, I asked her to write a guest post for me and she agreed. Below is her account of what happened to her dog when she took him for a walk last week. 

I can’t describe the guilt I feel writing this. I can only console myself by repeating, “Next time, I’ll know better.”

Standing in the parking lot, I stared at the endless solid chunks of de-icing salt. The chemicals were especially thick after the extreme temperatures and considerable snowfall we had in Western Pennsylvania. I looked down at my dog, Friday, as he laid on his side whimpering and compulsively licking his paws. Instinctively, I knew what was wrong with him, but how? And why? I always took him out for a walk as soon as the temperature allowed. What was it about these chemicals and this outing that left him with painful chemical burns between the pads of his paws? And more importantly, how can dog lovers everywhere avoid a scenario like this in the future?

I made a number of regrettable mistakes that day. Here are a few things I wished I’d known to look out for: 

Excessive de-icing 

Each product has different guidelines on how much is considered “safe.” Unfortunately, most of the warnings are geared more toward not damaging concrete than not harming animals. But I’m guessing if it can corrode a parking lot, it’s probably not good for bare paws. I distinctly remember the sheer volume of little ice rocks that littered the parking lot that day. Next time, I’ll choose a different route.

A period of exceptionally cold temperatures

Harsher weather requires a broader variety of snow and ice treatments. Once the temperatures dive into the negatives, most snow removal companies need to concoct a “chemical stew,” with many of the ingredients imported from Asia and other parts of the globe. We simply don’t know much about the safety and purity of it. And with all those chemicals interacting with each other, who knows the true potency on any given surface? 

The day Friday’s paws were burned, we were warming up from a particularly cold spell. I suspect he picked up a piece of solid salt chemical and when it came into contact with his damp paws, it turned into what pennDOT describes as a “strong brine," which is what caused the immediate chemical burn.

An area of low traffic

Here’s where the irony kicks in. A lot of the de-icing chemicals work best when there’s frequent friction; like tires driving on a busy road. So parking lots and walkways have to use a stronger mixture of the “brine” to keep pedestrians safe. Of course, I'm not suggesting you walk your dog where there’s high traffic. But be aware of the extra risks walkways may pose to your pooch.

What about booties? Every dog is different. I know Friday wouldn't tolerate having them on his feet and would have them off within seconds. But if your dog doesn’t mind them, it may be worth the cost and effort to protect those paws from these harsh chemicals.

As for me, I’m lucky to have two indoor dog parks nearby. My Sheltie requires lots of exercise and mental stimulation. Staying cooped up in the house isn’t really an option. People laugh at me taking Friday to our “doggie social.” But for future cold and thawing weather, the indoor dog park may just be the the only way to go.

Belinda and Friday live in Pennsylvania with their family. They enjoy agility, long hikes, and snuggling on the sofa. They've been together since 2009 and neither can imagine life without the other.

If your pet has been exposed to de-icing chemicals and has burns on his paws, there are safe and natural treatments. Click here for some guidance.

And click here for a safer, non-salt solution for de-icing your own driveway and walk.


  1. Sometimes, dogs who won't tolerate booties on, will do well with a pad wax applied before the walk. Might be worth looking into.


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