Winter Poisoning Hazards
by Jason Smith

Rock Salt

Recently, severe winter weather systems have moved across the central, Midwest, and northeastern United States of America. Some areas have faced high winds and blizzard like conditions with snowfall in excess of 12 inches. Snowy conditions means ice formation on walkways and roadways; therefore, state and city crews as well as residents are in full force in clearing out pathways and treating them for ice to make travel safer. Rock salt is often used to treat walkways and roadways in the winter months and it is a known hazard to cats and dogs.

Another chemical that presents a hazard to companion animals is antifreeze. This article will list the various sources of poisoning for animals during winter. In the next article, I will provide you with information you will need to recognize, treat, and prevent poisoning in your companion animals.

Dogs encounter rock salt in the winter when on walks. Walks in the wintertime should be shorter than in warmer months; however, best practice would be to avoid walks during cold weather. Not only is rock salt a hazard to pets, but ice is also a safety hazard for pets. Dogs may injure their shoulders by slipping and falling on ice.

“Salt can irritate paws,” (Winter Safety, 2005, p. 6) and become painful. “Along with physical pains of rock salt is the possibility of toxins that can be harmful to an animal if ingested” (Crawford, 2010). People who hold their pets in high regard should look for alternatives to using rock salt. Suggested substitutes include sand or kitty litter. On a recent visit to the automotive section of Wal-Mart to buy windshield washer fluid, I discovered a pet friendly alternative to rock salt. It’s a Morton product called Pet Care Ice Melt
Safe T Pet.


When bringing your pets inside, Leiker (2010) recommends that you “wipe his legs, paws and stomach to prevent his ingesting salt, antifreeze or other chemicals.” Go a step further and use booties (Dale, 2002) or a product called Musher’s Secret to protect your dog’s feet in the winter. Musher’s Secret is a wax that you apply to the footpads. It is waterproof and prevents the feet from absorbing chemicals such as rock salt and helps prevent ice balls from forming between the pads.

In lieu of using Musher’s Secret, Leiker (2010) recommends using “A coating of baby oil on the dog’s paws prior to an outdoor excursion [as it] can prevent slush buildup between the pads.”

Antifreeze may drip and form puddles beneath cars. Ethylene glycol is the active ingredient in antifreeze. It has a sweet smell and taste that attracts both dogs and cats. According to Dale (2002), “Less than a quarter cup of antifreeze can kill a Great Dane, while a teaspoon’s worth will be lethal to a cat.” This is another reason why you should bring your animals indoors during the winter months because doing so will reduce your companion animals’ chances of accidentally ingesting this deadly poison. To prevent poisoning, “Consider using a ‘pet safe’ antifreeze that contains an active ingredient called propylene glycol” (Dale, 2002).

Bringing pets indoors during the winter months is highly recommended. Some pet owners leave the garage door partially open to allow their dogs to move freely outside when they need to relieve themselves. However, a word of caution for leaving your pets in the garage: “Don’t run your car in the garage either because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning” (Van Veen, n.d.).



Plants may be toxic to both dogs and cats. If you are uncertain of which plants are dangerous, contact your veterinarian. It is commonly thought that poinsettias are poisonous to dogs; however, research indicates, “This is almost an old wives’ tale,” (Pets and Vets, 2010). According to Huber (2011), poinsettias “are not toxic, but it’s best to keep them out of reach” because “they do often cause pets to become sick” (Brown, 2006).

Mistletoe and holly berries may be poisonous to pets. In fact, “‘three or more [mistletoe] berries are lethal in a child, and it’s the same for a dog or cat.’” (Brown, 2006). Mistletoe and holly “can cause nausea or diarrhea” (Pets and Vets, 2010).

In the next article, I will provide you with information that can help you to recognize the signs and symptoms of poisoning in your pets, what you can do to provide first aid, who to contact in an emergency situation, and what you can do to prevent winter poisoning.

Do you have any tips to share concerning cold weather and dogs? Please comment below to share.

Brown, K. (2006). Get your pets out of the poinsettias: Pet-proofing is a must for the holidays. Tulsa World (OK),

Crawford, L. (2010, December 6). Prepare pets, shelter for winter weather. St. Joseph News-Press (MO).

Dale, S. (2002). Wintertime care and safety. Dog World, 87(11), 48.

Huber, K. (2011, December 16). Lantana berries toxic to dogs. Houston Chronicle (TX).

Leiker, D. (2010, January 8). Dogs, cats need protection from cold weather too. Hays Daily News, The (KS).

Pets and Vets. (2010, December 25). Pets and vets: Dangers in the home for pets at Christmastime. Moscow-Pullman Daily News (ID).

Van Veen, Y. (n.d.) Winter safety tips for furry friends. Toronto Star (Canada).

Winter Safety. (2005). Winter safety tips for pet owners. USA Today Magazine, 133(2716), 6.



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