We know that too much salt isn’t good for us, but what about dogs? Do they have the same problems with hypertension? Does too much salt make them sick? Is it okay to share your super-salty potato chips with your dog? What if your dog likes to drink the ocean water at the beach?
Here’s what you need to know about dogs and salt intake.
Can Dogs Eat Salt?
Yes, dogs can eat salt, but too much can cause salt toxicity.
Just like people, dogs need a certain amount of salt in their daily diet. Salt, also known as sodium chloride, helps regulate body fluids and aids in the normal functioning of the organs and nervous system.
Most standard dog food formulas deliver the appropriate amount of salt for a dog’s body, so any salt they have on top of that is not necessary. When there’s too much salt in the system, it can lead to increased fluid load, causing elevated blood pressure and worsening the signs of heart disease. As the amount of salt increases, this leads to salt toxicity (hypernatremia).
Water deprivation may also be the most common cause of salt toxicity seen in most veterinary hospitals. It’s a large concern in the winter months when the water dish freezes over, or the water dish is spilled and not refilled, or if you’re on vacation and your house-sitter forgets to put out fresh water. Fresh water must be continually available to all pets.
Salt poisoning is a very frightening and severe emergency that is much better prevented than treated. Keep your dog away from rock salt, homemade play dough/ornaments, soy sauce, table salt, salty foods, and sea water. But should the worst happen, call your veterinarian immediately for advice--don’t wait for symptoms to develop or worsen.
Can Dogs Eat Salty Human Foods?
As tempting as it is to share your salty snacks with your canine companion, it’s best to avoid giving your dog high-salt foods like potato chips, salted nuts, pretzels, and table foods with any type of salt added (including garlic salt).
In all likelihood, if your dog snatches a pretzel that you’ve dropped on the floor, they will probably be fine. However, if your pup has hypertension, kidney disease, heart disease, or any other condition that recommends low salt intake, it is especially important to keep them from getting anywhere near salty human foods. In fact, your veterinarian may specifically recommend a low-salt dog diet in these cases.
Can Dogs Drink Salt Water?
Does your dog ever intentionally drink salt water at the beach? Unfortunately, this is not safe for them.
When a dog drinks salt water, the excessive salt content can draw water out of the bloodstream and into the intestines. This has two unfortunate consequences. First, it dehydrates the dog by pulling water out of the blood. Second, it will likely trigger vomiting, which increases dehydration.
So how much salt water is too much? This depends on the size of your dog. When in doubt, call your veterinarian immediately, because getting treatment sooner is better than later.
It takes a lot of seawater to cause true toxicity (about a cup of seawater per pound dog), but even lesser amounts may result in symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. A few sips aren’t likely to cause a problem, and most dogs don’t like the taste, but you should discourage your dog from drinking it.
Common Products That Can Cause Salt Poisoning in Dogs
You may only be thinking of salty foods like pretzels, chips, soy sauce, or table salt, but other products also have large amounts of sodium chloride that can result in toxicity for dogs.
Other common causes of salt toxicity are homemade play dough and homemade ornaments made from dough. The ingredients in these doughs can be appealing to dogs, so they might eat large quantities, which quickly leads to trouble.
One unexpected item that can also result in salt toxicity is a paintball. Worse yet, paintballs can give a false positive blood test for antifreeze, so be sure to notify your veterinarian that you think your dog ingested a paintball and not antifreeze.
At-home enemas are also on the list because they contain sodium phosphate. This is one reason (other than the fact that it is possible to do severe damage to the colon) that at-home enemas are not generally recommended for pets.
You should also be concerned with rock salt, such as the type often used as a de-icer. Sometimes, dogs can get this stuck in their paws and inadvertently ingest a large amount of It while grooming.
Signs of Sodium Poisoning in Dogs
The signs of salt poisoning in dogs vary depending on the stage of the disease and the amount of salt ingested. However, salt poisoning is always considered an emergency, even if the clinical signs are mild.
Some of the early signs include:
As the disease progresses, neurologic signs may develop, which include:
Lack of coordination
Excessive thirst and urination
As the signs worsen, so do the seizures, which can progress into a coma. At this point, the dog generally dies from the disease.
What To Do if You Suspect Your Dog Had Too Much Salt
Every animal is unique, and your pet may not exactly follow the progression of signs listed above. It is important to contact your veterinarian as soon as you realize or suspect that your dog has eaten too much salt or been deprived of water.
Note what your dog got into and how much they ingested, as well as when. This info can be very helpful, but even if you aren’t sure, call your vet right away.
Unfortunately, although it seems intuitive, you can’t just “dilute” out the salt by giving your dog water. The electrolytes involved in salt toxicity also help regulate the fluid balance in the body. Changing that fluid load rapidly can lead to even more serious problems, such as swelling of the brain and heart failure.
Rebalancing the fluids must be done very carefully and with continuous monitoring of blood parameters. It can take days to get a poisoned animal back in balance in the hospital. So although it seems logical to give your pet lots of water if you know they’ve had a lot of salt, this is usually the wrong approach.
Call your veterinarian or poison control hotline, and they can help you figure out a plan of action that is safe for your pet. Most times, this will involve hospitalized care.
How Do Vets Treat Dogs With Salt Poisoning?
Once your pet is in the hospital, your veterinarian will probably run a series of tests to determine your pet’s fluid balance and which organs are involved. In many cases, this will include bloodwork (especially an electrolyte panel) and a urinalysis.
More severely affected animals will probably need a cardiac exam, such as an EKG, and neurologic exam as well. Each case will likely be a little bit different, depending on the cause and severity of symptoms.
Once it is determined that salt toxicity is the problem, your dog will likely be admitted for IV fluid therapy to start to slowly bring their sodium levels down. Many dogs also need oxygen therapy and electrolyte therapy to manage dehydration.
Working through salt toxicity is a gradual process that must be done very carefully, because there are risks to changing a dog’s fluid balance too quickly or too slowly. Most commonly, the treatment plan will be guided by repeated blood tests and re-evaluation of clinical signs. Dogs can survive a case of salt toxicity, but it will take quick action by the pet parent and careful treatment by the veterinary staff.
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