Medium RiskPoisons in the Home

Rock Salt: Avoid the Slippery Slope to Suffering for Your Pet

‘Tis the season to slip and fall-la-la-la-la!

Rock Salt Poisoning

I would  much prefer a visit from Ruby the red-nose pitty any day!


Those of us who don’t like a bruised behind start putting out de-icers right around the time the snow starts to fall.  The most common substance for melting ice and gaining traction is rock salt.  But what effect does salt have on our furry companions?

Rock salt is toxic to pets!

Contrary to the belief that salt causes pets to vomit and can safely be used to induce vomiting in a pet, salt is actually poisonous!  While the savvy owner may help avoid exposure to rock salt by keeping a leashed pet away from a noticeable layer on the concrete, many exposures  occur from a pet who has walked or rolled on the ground, then licks it off their fur and paws!  You companion may even find salty snow a flavorful alternative to the yellow stuff.

There are several types of rock salt available on the market, and not all of them are similar to the table salt we use to flavor our foods:

1. Sodium Chloride

This is the most similar to your everyday table salt. While it may seem deceptively safe because we put it on our foods, as little as 4 grams per kilogram is lethal to a dog (based on the average weight of table salt, this is roughly 3 tsp for a 10-pound dog).  We can see severe signs at even smaller doses:

  • Increased thirst
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Stumbling (ataxia)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Unresponsiveness

Table salt is a big no-no for pets at home, and rock salt from sodium chloride should be avoided as well.

2. Calcium carbonate and calcium chloride

Calcium salts are extremely irritating to both dogs and ourselves.  Skin contact with a calcium salt can be as irritating as ingestion.  The more common signs tend to be dermal and gastrointestinal in nature:

  • Skin irritation or “burns” from contact
  • Irritation to the eyes from the dust
  • Pronounced vomiting
  • Pronounced diarrhea

Because these salts are not very easily absorbed from the GI tract, we don’t tend to see more systemic signs, but the gastrointestinal signs can be pretty bad.

3. Potassium chloride

Potassium salts are also quite irritating to the stomach.  Vomiting and diarrhea are common after every rock salt ingestion.  Particular care should be taken in animals that have kidney problems, as they are not able to pass potassium out of their bodies as easily as a healthy dog.  A pet with kidney disease could develop hyperkalemia from ingestion of these salts (an increased amount of potassium in the body).  Signs of increased potassium are more severe:

  • Vomiting (what doesn’t cause vomiting?)
  • Weakness
  • Changes to the heart rhythm
  • Collapse

4. Magnesium chloride

More chlorides! Large ingestions of magnesium salts have the potential to cause (you guessed it!) excess magnesium in the body. Again, animals with poor kidney function are more prone to this problem, but it is not limited to dog with kidney failure.  Since magnesium affects the heart and muscles, we tend to see related signs:

  • Vomiting (more vomit – my blog is earning its name!)
  • Weakness
  • Decrease in heart rate
  • Depression
  • Impaired reflexes
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart failure

5. Urea

If you’re like me, you see the word urea and think of yellow snow, and you giggle.  But beyond our familiarity with our bathroom habits, urea is a chemical that we use to transport excess nitrogen out of our bodies.  We mostly see the more common irritation to the stomach, but there is a small risk that other signs may develop:

  • Vomiting (I almost feel silly typing it again)
  • Drooling
  • Tummy aches

More rarely:

  • Weakness
  • Tremors
  • An inability to adequately release oxygen to the tissues (called methemoglobinemia)

Find a safer alternative

All rock salts can have potentially adverse effects.  But there is good news on the horizon – there are safe things that you can put out on your walkways to prevent slippage.  The downside is that they won’t melt the ice.  However, they will provide the traction needed to stay upright until the sun does it’s job (seriously, someone fire the sun – I hate all this cold!).

Rock Salt Toxicity

He must be unionized.

Of the safest options, cat litter tends to be messier, and depending on the brand you use, it gets a bit slippery when wet.  Litteer needs to be frequently cleaned and reapplied to keep it working appropriately on your drive.  Sand is probably the best alternative.  It doesn’t cause a huge mess, and it retains traction, even when wet.  I have also heard good things about beet juice, but I can only imagine the color it would stain pale concrete


As Scott at PetRegale mentioned on Twitter, booties are another great way to keep salt off your dog’s feet.  Just be sure to watch pups closely if they have a tendency to try and pull them off with their mouths.  Nobody likes a salt-covered bootie (haha booty)!

If you’ve had success with other alternatives (or are an expert in beet juice that can give us more information), let me know in the comments!

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