By: Kayla Kowalski, Certified Canine Nutritionist
Salt has been used for centuries around the world for flavor and electrolytes. While your pup may beg for a bite of your salty snack, does salt have these same benefits for them?
Can My Dog Eat Salt?
Salt (a.k.a. sodium chloride) is okay in small amounts for dogs. Just like in humans, it's needed for the nervous system to regulate fluids in the body and for organs to function normally. Often, dogs drink more to compensate for a higher sodium intake; however, ingesting excessive salt can cause an imbalance of fluid and electrolytes. This creates signs of salt poisoning and can be very dangerous for your pup.
Because of the risk of salt toxicity, I recommend never adding extra salt to your dog's diet. All commercially available dog foods should be balanced to give your pup the amount of sodium they need for optimal health.
What is Salt Toxicity?
Salt toxicity occurs from too much sodium being ingested. This causes hypernatremia — an electrolyte imbalance because of too much sodium within the blood. The body responds to this by drawing water from cells into the bloodstream to dilute the sodium within the blood and correct the imbalance. However, this movement of fluid isn't harmless. When the blood sodium exceeds the body's ability to regulate, this fluid movement leaves cells dehydrated, increasing your dog's blood pressure, which can potentially damage their organs. Yikes!
Salt toxicity generally occurs after a single ingestion of a large amount of salt. Thankfully, salt poisoning isn't common. However, as pet parents, we want to know what to look out for and avoid the risk of salt toxicity to our pups.
Sources of Salt Toxicity
Always be careful with giving your pup human food, which often contains much more salt than your dog needs. (And be sure to lock away any salty foods if your pup is prone to helping themselves!) Some common household food culprits include:
- Bacon, hot dogs, sausages, ham, salami, and deli meats
- French fries and other fast food items
- Salty snacks such as potato chips, pretzels, or salted nuts
- Table salt
- Soy sauce
Access to high amounts of salt can also occur from Himalayan salt lamps, enema solutions (containing sodium phosphate), rock salt (used for de-icing), or homemade play dough. Ingestion of paintballs can also lead to salt toxicity, so be extra wary if you store these in your home or walk nearby anyplace where they might be.
If your pup enjoys swimming at the beach, always be careful not to let them swallow the salt water. Avoid throwing a stick or ball into the seawater if they run with so much excitement that they forget to close their mouth!
Salt Toxicity Symptoms in Dogs
Signs of salt toxicity vary depending on the size of your dog, how much they've ingested, their hydration, underlying health conditions, and availability of fresh drinking water. If your pup has underlying kidney disease, heart disease, or hypertension, they'll have a lower threshold for toxicity and a higher risk of damage.
Signs of salt toxicity may include:
- Excessive thirst or urination
- Incoordination or wobbliness
- Muscle tremors or seizures
Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pup may have ingested a large amount of salt or are showing any of the abovementioned signs. Salt toxicity can be life-threatening, and your veterinarian will likely want to run some bloodwork to look at electrolytes and organ function. To avoid further damage, it's essential that any hypernatremia is corrected gradually and that your pup is monitored very closely. It may take several days for your dog to feel like themselves again.
Salt toxicity relies heavily on the kidneys to manage electrolyte and fluid balance, and the kidneys are directly impacted by any changes in blood pressure. In fact, the kidneys are essential for only a fraction of what we give them credit for! Consider adding a bladder-supporting supplement to boost your dog's urinary health.
Safe Savory Snacks to Manage Your Dog’s Salt Intake
Bone broth is incredible for many health conditions and overall health —not to mention being extremely tasty for your furbaby! Because human bone broth often contains high amounts of salt, try making your own at home or finding a dog-friendly bone broth formula.
If you're buying canned oysters or fish for your dog's diet, choose options canned in water with no added salt to avoid unnecessary sodium.
When preparing foods at home, never add salt during the cooking process. For example, you don't need to add salt when boiling pumpkin, cauliflower, or broccoli to feed your pup. Never feed your dog processed meats such as salami, bacon, or hot dogs.
The bottom line
While salt is excellent for seasoning our foods, dogs don't need this same flavor enhancement! In fact, a sudden salt overdose may end in a very stressful (and ahem expensive) trip to the vet. For such a common household ingredient, salt can have some powerful effects. So, it's best to steer clear of sodium for your pup.