Why you shouldn't let wild animals lick your car this spring

Dog licking icy window
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're heading out hiking or camping this spring, try not to let wildlife lick the salt off your car. The salt used to prevent roads getting icy isn't toxic to animals, but multiple creatures licking the same place can easily spread disease through their saliva.

The warning comes after a person visiting Jackson Hole was recorded trying to pet one of the local bighorn sheep while it licked their vehicle's door. The incident was captured by Wyoming resident Brian Parker, and shared on Instagram account TouronsOfYellowstone, which highlights careless behavior at US National Parks and other sites of natural beauty.

In the clip, which you can watch below, the animal is lapping at salt that has splashed up from the road onto the bottom of the car door. The passenger watching reaches out to touch the bighorn, causing it to jump back, but it soon goes back for another taste,

"The types of salt commonly found on vehicles and on the Elk Refuge Road are not toxic to bighorn sheep and don’t pose a direct threat to their health," explained Jackson Hole Wildlife in a blog post. However, this unnatural behavior causes bighorn sheep to congregate in close contact with one another and licking cars exposes bighorn sheep to others’ saliva, which can cause disease transmission."

"Recent research in this herd has shown that some sheep are carriers of pneumonia-causing bacterial pathogens. These bacteria are passed from sheep to sheep via saliva, mucus, and droplets in the air. One sick sheep licking a car could easily infect other sheep that are licking the same car, which could lead to disease spreading quickly through the whole group."

Visitors are advised to only stop their cars in designated pullouts, driving slowly through groups of animals that have gathered on the roads, and warning other members of the public about the risks.

Moose and more

Bighorns aren't the only animals that might try to lick your car in the spring. All ungulates, including bison, elk, and moose, have a taste for salt. 

In 2020, officials in Canada resorted to putting up signs asking people not to allow moose to lick their cars' paintwork. 

"They’re obsessed with salt, it’s one of the things they need for the minerals in their body," Jasper National Park spokesman Steve Young told CNN at the time. \2They usually get it from salt lakes in the park, but now they realized they can also get road salt that splashes onto cars."

Young explained that encouraging moose to approach your car causes them to become habituated to traffic, reducing their natural wariness and increasing the risk of accidents.

"Moose and cars are not a good mix," he said. "If you hit the moose with your car, you take the legs out from under it and it’s going through your windshield."

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.