With a total of nearly $140 Billion spent on their pets last year, American's spend vastly more than any other country taking care of their furry family members. Given that level of expenditure, it is safe to say that we as a society will pinch no pennies when it comes to providing the absolute best care and products available for our pets, as any responsible pet-owner should. Companies and marketers alike recognize this, and thus we've seen quite an influx in health conscious branded animal products throughout recent years. One such example of this, and the topic we'll subsequently delve deeper into, is "Pet-Friendly" or "Pet-Safe" Ice Melts.
Beginning many years ago, consumers shopping for de-icing products found themselves comparing what they traditionally bought, with newly labeled "Pet-Friendly" alternatives. These products were sold at a premium, but, as we formerly established, the added cost did little to deter buyers from purchasing what they believed to be the safer option for their beloved pets. After all, why would you purchase a product that could potentially harm your dog or cat? You wouldn't.
So if a bag of Ice Melt is labeled as Pet-Safe, then that must mean that the bag without such labeling is dangerous for our pets, right? Well to answer that question, we need to first understand what the side-effects of traditional ice melting products are, the causes of said side-effects, as well as a comparison of the ingredients between traditional de-icing products and their "pet friendly" competitors.
The biggest health-risks to our pets in regards to ice melting products, is the ingestion of too much of the chemical (typically salt) or the embedding of salt in their paws, resulting in dried out skin that's susceptible to cracking which can make it painful to walk.
Ingestion: The first and foremost concern. While it is rare that your pet will eat enough salt to actually cause harm to themselves, the side-effects of abundant salt ingestion can result in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, excessive thirst, depression, weakness or muscle fatigue, and in severe cases, cardiac abnormalities or even seizures.
Dried / Cracked Paws: This occurs when salt becomes embedded in the paws and, if ignored, can make walking painful until they're rehydrated and moisturized. Chemical chlorides (calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, sodium chloride, potassium chloride) are commonly used in ice melters as they draw moisture from the air, and while these hygroscopic chemicals are the typical culprits of dry paws, excessively applied rock salt can also be to blame.
Many "Pet-Friendly" products available today hide their active ingredients behind the mysterious and vague term "proprietary blend". A look back at the evolution of these products, however, sheds more light on how we arrived at the "pet-safe" products available today. The most commonly used ingredient in early ice melt products marketed as Pet-Friendly was Urea. Urea is a biodegradable chemical used across multiple industries; with its applications including fertilizer, diesel emissions control, and more. Urea is considerably expensive and while it absolutely won't harm your pets paws, it's virtually useless as an ice melting agent. As consumers found themselves applying more and more product in an effort to serve its intended purpose, they inevitably noted the correlated damaging effects on vegetation and water run off contamination.
In an effort to reinforce their products efficacy, manufacturers began adding additional chemicals such as magnesium chloride along with sugar beet additives or even traditional rock salt. While sugar beet based liquid de-icers are commonly used by road commissions on main roads and highways, it emits a sweet smelling odor that's appetizing for pets. The downside to this, is that the accompanying chemicals pose all the same risks or concerns as traditional ice melt, only now you're applying more product -priced at a premium, mind you- resulting in residual buildup that attracts pets to eat... If this seems counterintuitive to you, I'm inclined to agree.
So what should you do?
Be weary of products labeled as Pet-Friendly but fail to list their ingredients. After all, this industry is unregulated and sometimes you don't know exactly what you're getting. It very well may have all the same ingredients of traditional ice melting products, only it'll have a picture of a happy-go-lucky pup on the front and an accompanying higher price tag. The best, most responsible practice any pet owner can do is research the product they're being sold and to use it accordingly to the instructions listed on the back. While hygroscopic chlorides can be harsher, they are certainly more effective de-icing agents and can absolutely be used safely when not used in excess. So long as you're not trying to melt ice at temperatures lower than the capable melting temp advertised, traditional rock salt is the most economical and effective ice melt available. If pet safety ranks higher as a priority than mitigating the risk of a slip and fall, then an even more economical yet still effective option would be sand or other fine aggregate; just be sure to understand the municipal regulations as many cities avoid the use of these due to concerns of drain and sewer clogs.
In conclusion, when used correctly and not in excess of what's necessary, almost all ice melts can be classified as pet-friendly. Sagacious marketing in conjunction with well intended virtues of pet-owners, have exacerbated the demand for perceived "Pet-Friendly" ice melting products. Applying the products as intended, monitoring the pets activities while outside to ensure consumption doesn't occur, and wiping excess salt from their paws when they come back inside are the 3 most imperative steps pet-owners can take in effective ice management.
Seeking a Commercial Snow Removal Contractor?
If you're a commercial property owner or manager looking for an experienced, professional snow service provider in Oakland, Livingston, or Wayne County, then look no further than Images Landscaping & Construction. With a complete fleet of late model Ford trucks, Caterpillar loaders and skid steers, and a seasoned staff of knowledgable experts, we are Metro-Detroit's most capable snow response team. Reach out today to schedule a free consultation!
Author: Chase Neirynck; Vice President, Images Landscaping & Construction
Ossain (n.d.). What's In a Pet Friendly Ice Melter? http://ossian.com/whats-in-a-pet-friendly-ice-melter/