Snow – it’s fun, it’s festive, and we all love it, including our dogs! But why do dogs like eating snow, and is it ever something to worry about?
Everybody gets excited when the snow starts falling – and dogs are no exception. But are there any risks involved with dogs eating snow?
Do Dogs Love Eating Snow?
Many dogs will eat snow when the winter arrives. They, like us, want to have fun with it. Just as we pick up the snow with our hands, dogs pick it up with their mouths – and sometimes end up having a taste.
Why Do Dogs Love Eating Snow?
Dogs learn and explore the world with their mouths. So naturally, they will be curious to see how it tastes and feels to chew. We all love to play with snow and, again, dogs largely play with their mouths, so eating it may just be part of their game.
They Love The Taste
Your dog may just like the taste. After all, it’s just frozen water, and dogs love water! It probably tastes and feels like the dog equivalent of a slushy or ice lolly.
Alternatively, your dog could be unhappy with the taste of the water in their bowl. You wouldn’t want to drink water that had been sitting out for days on end, would you? Dogs are no different, so make sure that their supply of water is always fresh and cold, from a clean source.
Though it’s not been scientifically proven, some experts believe that dogs’ arctic ancestors had to eat snow to survive. In arctic conditions, water sources can freeze over. So, ancient, arctic canines may have had to eat the ice and snow to stay hydrated instead! If this is true, snow eating may be an innate behavior passed down through genetics.
Snow it’s is just frozen water. So they might just be eating it because they’re thirsty. It sounds strange because we typically associate heat with dehydration, but cold air can be just as dehydrating. The indoor heating which we have on during winter can also cause dehydration. Stomach upsets also cause dehydration.
If your dog shows signs of dehydration, don’t wait for him to rehydrate himself, as he may feel too tired to do it. Instead, offer him regular drinks of water and maybe make him an electrolyte drink. If you think your dog is severely dehydrated, take him to see a vet as soon as possible or he could face organ failure.
Signs of dehydration include:
- Dry nose and gums
- Thick saliva
- Sunken eyes
- Extreme panting
- Loss of appetite & skin elasticity
Snow eating could also be your dog’s way of self-medicating. If your dog appears to be repeatedly eating snow in order to make himself sick, he might be trying to get something out of his system. Typically, a stomach bug or parasite.
Usually, dogs do this with grass. But if the ground is buried in the snow, they can still use it, as snow also causes vomiting when eaten in excessive quantities. If a dog has a stomach bug, it will likely go away on its own. However, if you think they have a parasite, they will need a vet prescribed antiparasitic medication.
Signs of a stomach bug include:
- Abdominal pain
- Gagging after eating or drinking.
Signs of internal parasites are similar but also include:
- Weight loss
- Bum scooting
- Distended abdomen
- Dull coat.
Alternatively, they might be experiencing a psychological issue. If your dog is eating snow compulsively, he may have obsessive-compulsive disorder. If he is often anxious or has a phobia, he might be indulging in this and acts over and over again to self-soothe. Some research suggests herding breeds like Border Collies and German Shepherds may be more prone to obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Don’t ignore OCD. It won’t go away by itself and may be causing your dog a lot of distress. Look up how to treat your dog’s OCD at home or see a behaviorist.
Other Medical Issues
Generally, eating a bit of snow is good fun. But if your dog is eating excessive amounts of snow, it could be a sign of something more serious. Metabolic and hormonal illnesses such as Cushing’s disease, kidney disease, liver disease, hyperthyroidism, and diabetes are the most common causes of disease-induced extreme thirst (and subsequent urination), that your dog may feel regular water just doesn’t quench.
Signs of Cushing’s include:
- Excessive panting and hunger
- Hair loss and lack of regrowth
- Stomach bloating
- Thinning skin
- Proneness to skin infections
It’s usually caused by a tumor on either the adrenal or pituitary glands. This creates a dangerous overproduction of cortisol (the stress hormone). It’s diagnosable via blood testing and is often treatable, sometimes curable with medication or surgery.
Signs of kidney disease include:
- Loss of appetite/weight
- Pale gums
- Mouth ulcers
- Fragile bones
- Low mood
- Loss of vision
Causes are usually related to age, environment, or genetics, and it affects the kidneys’ ability to thoroughly clean the blood. Kidney disease is diagnosed via blood testing. It’s not currently curable but it can (usually) and must be treated. It’s treatable through dietary changes, medication, fluid therapy, and dialysis as a last resort.
Signs of liver disease include:
- Loss of balance, appetite and weight
- Overall weakness
- Stomach bloating
- Blood in the urine/poo
Causes are likely related to age, trauma, or genes and affect the body’s ability to digest food and drink and remove toxins and blood clots. Liver disease is diagnosed via blood and urine testing. There is no cure but it can and must be treated. Treatment involves dietary changes, supplements, medication, and sometimes surgery.
Signs of hyperthyroidism include:
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Speeding heart rate
Its primary cause is cancer and diagnosis is through physical examination of the glands and blood testing. Treatment options will depend on the stage of cancer but will either be chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.
Both types of diabetes cause excessive drinking and urination in dogs. Other signs of diabetes mellitus include:
- Weight loss
- Changes in appetite
- Sweet-smelling breath
- Proneness to UTIs
- Loss of vision
There are no other symptoms of diabetes insipidus. DM is caused by a lack of insulin production, which helps the body process glucose. It most often affects females. DI is caused by a lack of vasopressin production, which regulates the body’s retention of water.
Diagnosis is via blood and urine testing. Neither has a cure, but both can be managed. Treatment for DM involves dietary changes and regular insulin injections. Treatment for DI involves regular veterinary administered injections of vasopressin or eye drops that you can do at home. If left untreated, dogs with diabetes will face fatal malnutrition/dehydration. If your dog displays any of these symptoms, take them to the vet as soon as possible.
Is It Safe for Dogs to Eat Snow?
Snow is perfectly safe for your dog to eat now and again. However, they can take it too far. Eating excessive snow may be harmful and cause your dog some serious problems, so don’t let your dog overindulge. You also want to watch out for dangerous things that could be hidden in the snow. Potential dangers of dogs eating snow include.
Snow is – literally – freezing! Eating too much of it may cause your dog’s body temperature to lower, resulting in hypothermia. Signs include:
- Looking pale
- Stiff muscles
- Shallow breathing
- Mental dullness
- Inaudible heartbeat
- Dilated pupils
- Falling unconscious
If you see any of these, they may have hypothermia and needs to see a vet for proper thermal insulation treatment, IV fluids, and possibly oxygen.
If your dog has a sensitive stomach due to prior issues or allergies, taking in vast quantities of something so cold may upset your dog’s stomach, causing a tummy ache, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. But don’t worry, this isn’t too serious. As long as your dog returns to normal after the snow is out of his system, he’ll be fine and will hopefully learn his lesson!
If your dog keeps feeling unwell, take him to a vet. It’s possible that something harmful was mixed in with the snow.
If your dog has eaten snow out on the street or in public areas, he may have accidentally ingested some poisonous chemicals such as rock salt or a de-icer. People put these on the roads to stop pedestrians and vehicles from slipping and having accidents.
When dogs ingest rock salt their blood becomes highly concentrated in sodium. Eating even a tiny amount leads to extreme dehydration and thirst, drooling, exhaustion, vomiting, and seizures. If you think your dog has ingested rock salt, take him to a vet immediately for blood stabilizing treatment, or they could have permanent kidney damage.
Antifreeze contains extremely high levels of ethylene glycol, which is extremely poisonous. There is an antidote, however, it only works within the first 8-12 hours of ingestion. So it’s important to know the signs and seek emergency veterinary help immediately:
- ‘Drunk’ walking
- Excessive thirst
- A speedy heart rate
Within 36-72 hours a dog who has ingested antifreeze will begin to experience fatal kidney failure and may go into a coma. Try not to let your dog eat snow in public spaces. Even if your dog doesn’t eat snow when playing in it, he could still pick up harmful chemicals on his paws, which he could lick off later. Always clean your dog’s feet after they’ve played in the snow in a public space.
Even in your garden, your dog could ingest something dangerous. Pesticides, animal waste, and debris get easily buried in the snow and ingested by accident. Pesticides such as disulfoton insecticides and slug/snail killers with metaldehyde are extremely enticing and poisonous to dogs, causing immediate, severe reactions. These reactions include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, collapsing, comas, even death.
Avoid using these in your garden at all costs and invest in some dog safe pesticides. But if it’s too late, take your dog to the emergency hospital immediately for antidotal treatment. Animal waste is often harmless (though gross) but can sometimes contain contagious stomach bugs or parasites.
Twigs and other debris can also lurk within the snow. A foreign body in the stomach can cause drooling, lip-smacking, difficulty going to the toilet, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and vomiting. If you think your dog has any of these issues, take him to see the vet right away. They will be able to diagnose the problem and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Dogs Eating Snow – FAQs
Dogs love snow just as much as humans do. As long as you supervise them and make sure they are safe, they will be fine. However, don’t let your dog eat snow in a public space, as it could contain deicing chemicals that are harmful to your dog.
Eating a bit of snow won’t hurt your dog. However, make sure they don’t overindulge, as eating too much of something so cold can cause hypothermia. Furthermore, you also want to try and keep your dog’s snow eating confined to somewhere where you know what’s in it. If your dog is eating snow in a public space, for example, it may have deicers and rock salts mixed in with it. These are both poisonous and extremely harmful to pets.
Your dog can get a stomach upset from eating too much snow. If your dog is vomiting or having diarrhea, he likely just ate too much of the stuff. But don’t worry, this is nothing serious and should stop as soon as it’s all out of his system.
However, if the symptoms don’t stop he may have contracted a stomach bug or parasite from animal waste mixed in with the snow. If your dog is having trouble going to the toilet, he may have swallowed some debris that is now stuck. In addition, if he’s is shaking and trembling after eating snow, he may have eaten enough to contract hypothermia. Should any of these be the case, your dog needs to see a vet as soon as possible for treatment.
If your dog is drooling after eating snow in a public space, is excessively thirsty, vomiting, or having seizures, he likely ingested antifreeze or rock salt. Similarly, if he is experiencing these symptoms but has not been in a public space, he may have ingested a garden pesticide. In either case, he must be taken to the emergency vet hospital immediately for antidotal treatment.
As with anything, dogs need positive reinforcement and firm but fair discipline can teach them to ‘leave’ or ‘stop’ doing what you don’t want them doing. If they don’t respond to leave command, try to engage them with a game instead. If they just won’t stop eating snow and it’s worrying you, take them inside and limit their exposure to it.
Winter is fun – and dogs eating a bit of snow is nothing to worry about, but don’t let them overindulge in it and always watch them when playing outdoors!