We got a bit over 2 feet of snow during winter storm Nemo, around the beginning of the month. I had to break out Kitsune's boots, not because of the cold, but because of the insane amount of ice melt that our city and residents put out on the sidewalks and streets when it's icy.
Exposure to traditional ice melts, usually made from salts, can injure your furry friend's feet in a few different ways. Salt crystals can be irritating if they get caught between doggy toes, and sharp crystals can even cut or puncture pet's paw pads. Salt is also drying, and can cause the pads of animals' feet to become dry, cracked, and sore. Prolonged exposure to traditional ice melt products can also cause chemical burns on animals feet, skin, mouths, and digestive systems (if they consume any of the product).
Many kinds of ice melts are also bad for the environment. They can kill or damage plants, and can be carried in runoff to contaminant local bodies of water, where they are damaging to the plants and animals that live there. Even if you don't have any pets, or care for the environment, ice melt products can also damage lawns, contaminate water meant for human consumption, and damage asphalt, concrete, wood, rugs and wood floors (if tracked inside).
So what are the alternatives to traditional salt based ice melt products? Some companies sell pet or environmentally friendly products that do not contain salts. However, these products are usually less effective and some of them do still contain ingredients that can be harmful to the environment. The safest and cheapest alternative is to use sand to create traction on icy areas rather then using products that melt the ice. Sand is much safer for animals, children, and the environment. The ice will melt naturally anyways, and in the meantime covering it with sand makes it safer to walk on.
If you must use ice melter products for some reason, follow the directions closely and use as directed. A little bit goes a long way, and applying too much salt not only increases its negative impacts on plants and animals, but can also make the product less effective at melting ice. For pet owners who cannot avoid walking their pets in areas were ice melt products may be present, consider protecting your pet's paws with booties, or by using paw protecting products such as Musher's Secret, and always rinse or wipe your pet's paws and fur off after returning from a winter walk.