By Andrew LevyUPDATED:16:18 GMT, 23 December 2010
Hundreds of pets are becoming seriously ill and in some cases dying because of the rock salt and antifreeze being used during the cold snap, animal charities warned yesterday.
Dogs and cats are walking through the substances left by gritters trying to clear roads and car drivers defrosting their windscreens and then licking them off their paws.
Consuming rock salt can cause dehydration, liver failure and pancreatitis, while antifreeze contains the chemical ethylene glycol, which can be lethal when ingested.
A pedestrian walks a dog during a snow-fall in central London last week. Dogs and cats are walking through the substances left by gritters trying to clear roads and then licking them off their paws
The RSPCA said it has received 248 calls about cases involving cats and dogs between January 1 and mid-November this year, compared to 259 for the whole of 2009.
It expects this year's total to be 'considerably higher' once figures for the current freeze are taken into account - and added these would represent the 'tip of the iceberg' as only a fraction of cases are brought to its attention.
Victims include Amanda Walsh, 31, whose four-year-old grey tabby Bubbles died last week from anti-freeze poisoning, the third in her neighbourhood in a matter of days.
'She went missing last Tuesday and a neighbour said a cat similar to mine had been found the following afternoon,' said Mrs Walsh, a dinner lady from West Earlham, near Norwich.
'I went round to the people who found it and showed them a photo and they said straight away it was her. They'd found her lying down in their garden. She couldn't move and was mewling in pain.
'They wrapped her up and took her to the vet's. Originally they thought she'd been hit by a car but further investigation proved it to be antifreeze poisoning.
'I have two daughters and they're devastated. I just want people to be aware that this can happen. They should keep their pets indoors for the time being, if they can, and, if they do go out, try and wash their paws when they come back.'
Gritters spread grit on a street in Glasgow. Consuming the rock salt in grit can cause dehydration, liver failure and pancreatitis in animals
Animal nutrition counsellor Ruth Hayward-Smith said a young dog that attended an obedience and agility class she runs had died after licking rock salt off her paws.
Ruby, a five-month-old Lhasa Apso, fell ill on Sunday evening and had to be put down the following morning.
'When she got home she obviously groomed herself and she started salivating excessively. Her owners rushed her to the vet where she was observed and allowed home the following day,' said Mrs Hayward-Smith, who runs her classes in Bracon Ash, Norfolk.
'But they were so concerned they took her to another vet who put her to sleep straight away. She had gone into kidney failure.'
Animal charities said the public should take extra care when using anti-freeze and mop up any spillages. Pet owners were also advised to clean animals' paws if they have been outside and even clip the fur to keep it short.
A truck spreads rock salt on the M1. The symptoms of consuming rock salt include burns to the mouth and throat and excessive salivating and drinking
The symptoms of ingesting anti-freeze include vomiting, seizures, appearing sleepy and a heightened breathing rate.
Symptoms of consuming rock salt - which contains the same ingredient as table salt, sodium chloride, but also has harmful chemicals such as magnesium - include burns to the mouth and throat and excessive salivating and drinking.
An RSPCA spokeswoman said: 'Owners should contact a vet immediately if they suspect that their pet may have been in contact with these substances or if they see any warning signs or symptoms.
'The sooner they are treated, the better their chances of surviving.'