Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Why Do Dogs Eat Snow?
Dogs and snow, what a great concoction, as much as Rover loves snow, snow though may sometimes disagree with his stomach. What gives? Whatever the scenario, it's not totally uncommon for Rover to develop an upset stomach after eating too much snow. Yet it's important to look at what may cause this form of digestive upset, as in some cases, vomiting after eating snow may be a sign or troublesome poisoning. And of course, if your dog is sick, see a vet immediately!
Playing and Having Fun
Well, for starters, dogs are attracted to snow. It's fun to play with it, and then the dog will be interested in mouthing it. You may be tossing snowballs to Rover and Rover catches them and they break off and melt his mouth. Snowball after snowball, he's ingested a whole lot that he soon then feels sick to his stomach.
If the dog plays around a lot, he may start warming up and next thing you know, he discovers that snow feels good in his mouth, even better than water! So he'll start quenching his thirst by eating snow. Be warned: some dogs like snow so much, they'll seek snow more than water and will eat snow more and more and drink water from their water, less and less. Snow can become addicting!
Already Sick and Self-Medicating
Some dogs who are nauseous already may eat lots of snow in hopes of triggering vomiting. Normally, they would eat grass to accomplish this, but with all grass buried under a mantle of snow, the snow would be their next (and possibly only) option. By the way, interesting note of the day: the exact term for animals who self-medicate themselves is "zoocognopharmacy."
Why Do Dogs Get Sick After Eating Snow?
Sensitive Stomach or Already Sick
First and foremost, eating a lot of snow could create an upset stomach in dogs because in a dog with a sensitive stomach, his stomach may react to all that water being gulped at once (and also cold on top of it), and therefore, reacts by causing vomiting--just as some dogs do when they gulp all their water at once and vomit it up just minutes later.
Of course, there are also those cases where a dog vomiting after eating snow is just coincidental, and the vomiting is actually due to something else.
Contamination or Ice Melt
On top of all that, dogs can get an upset stomach because the snow is dirty or contaminated with something that disagrees with their stomach. This is where things get more problematic. One main concern in this case is if the snow was treated with ice melt, also known as rock salt.
Ice Melt (Rock Salt) Is Dangerous for Dogs
Most ice melt products contain sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium salts or some other urea-based material.
According to Caley Chambers with the Pet Poison Helpline, sodium chloride (which is "salt") can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but if large amounts are ingested, the dog can develop sodium toxicosis which can turn lethal if a dose of 4 grams per kilogram is ingested. Signs of trouble involve the nervous system with dehydration, high respiratory rate, high heart beat and an elevated temperature.
Potassium chloride salts instead may cause severe gastrointestinal upset, with bloody vomiting and diarrhea. In dogs with impaired kidney function it can also cause high levels of potassium in the blood.
Ice melts with magnesium chloride can cause gastrointestinal upset, and may also cause the build up of high levels of magnesium in the blood in dogs with impaired kidney function.
Are All Ice Melts Harmful?
The most irritant ice melts are those containing calcium carbonate, calcium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate. Affected dogs may develop severe gastrointestinal upset along with local skin irritations to skin and paws.
Luckily, some ice melts are less harmful than others. Generally, ice melts containing urea cause drooling and mild digestive upset. These urea-based products won't dry up the dog's paws as others, but they work poorly to melt snow. However, large ingestion may cause tremors, weakness and high levels of methemoglobin in the blood.
In some cases, your dog won't eat snow, but he will lick his paws and may ingest rock salt stuck to his paws. Veterinarian Debra Promovic explains that these small amounts may cause mouth irritation, nausea, drooling and vomiting.
Larger amounts of rock salt are often ingested by dogs who drink from puddles of melted snow. On top of that, walking on ice melt dries up a dog's paws and may cause cracks that turn out being painful by the presence of salt.
How to Limit Exposure to Problematic Snow
- Keep your dog away from snow that is treated with ice melt.
- If your dog tends to eat a lot of snow when he gets thirsty and this causes him to vomit, limit exposure, bring him inside and offer him a bowl of water.
- Never let your dog drink from snow puddles where ice melt may have been used.
- Avoid walking your dog in areas where ice melt was used.
- Keep bags of ice melt out of reach of your dog.
- Clean your dog's paws with a damp cloth after walking in areas where ice melt was used. Don't let him lick his paws!
- Debra Primovic also warns owners of ice melts claimed to be "pet safe." There are really no regulations that prove they are really safe!
- Pet Poison Helpline
Pet Poison Helpline is a 24/7 animal poison control for both pet owners and veterinarians. If your dog, cat, or other pet is poisoned, call 800-213-6680.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 19, 2014:
Thank you Pandula77, I love your health hubs and really enjoy reading them.
Dr Pandula from Norway on January 19, 2014:
A very useful hub! Timely.