Rock salt is a mixture of salt and grit and is widely used to de-ice paths and roads during cold weather. Anti-freeze is commonly used by road users to de-ice vehicles before driving and is becoming a popular addition to garden water features to ensure they still run during a cold snap. Due to their make-up, both can be deadly to animals if ingested, causing dehydration, muscle tremors, kidney and liver problems and, if not treated, death. Estimates provided to Government Environment Minister George Eustice suggest that 50 cats die each month in the winter from anti-freeze poisoning (source Sunday People paper, 1st February edition).
As even ingestion of small amounts can be fatal, vigilance is key and there are some simple things that you can do to ensure your pet’s health during the colder months.
The commonest way for rock salt to be ingested is by pets licking lodged salt from their paws and fur whilst grooming. Paws and fur can be cleaned with warm water, a mild pet shampoo and a soft brush, and you should keep your shoes away from pets so they don’t lick any clinging salt from them. Check under your car for sleeping pets before using anti-freeze and, as it can be somewhat sweet, any spills should be cleared up as soon as possible. And, of course, if you or your neighbours have a water feature, you should allow nature to takes its course as local cats may use the feature as a water source and ingest the anti-freeze that way.
Early signs of ingestion include excessive salivation after grooming and excessive drinking. Other signs include lethargy and strange/unusual noises from your pet, as this may indicate they are in pain. As these pet behaviours may be similar to other illnesses, ingestion can only be confirmed via blood tests to show abnormal blood sodium concentration, so immediate veterinary attention should be sought. Never attempt to induce vomiting in your pet as a ‘cure’, this should only be done by a Vet.