Updated - Feb 28th, 2022
If you’re wondering, “Can my dog eat salt?” you’ve come to the right place.
Before you offer your dog a morsel of your salty snack, let’s look at the effects salt can have on your dogs’ health and discuss just how much is too much.
Salt and sodium
It’s no secret that salt is in almost everything we eat, and it’s generally understood that some sodium is vital to our dogs’ diets. However, salt and sodium technically reference different things.
Salt is sodium chloride, a crystal-like compound found in nature, whereas sodium is a dietary mineral found in salt. Salt and sodium make up two of the electrolytes our tail-waggers require in their daily diets.
When dogs ingest sodium, it turns into ions inside their bodies. Ions help regulate fluid levels, blood pressure, blood volume, as well as nerve and digestive impulse transitions.
The effects of salt and sodium on the canine body
When dogs have insufficient amounts of salt or sodium, Hyponatremia can occur. This happens when dogs lose fluids through vomiting or diarrhea and become lethargic.
On the flip side, when a dog consumes too much salt, salt poisoning can occur. We call this Hypernatremia meaning the sodium levels in the blood are too high. This happens when a dog ingests large amounts of salt, sodium, or has insufficient water intake. It triggers dehydration, which results from muscles and tissues releasing fluids to level out the sodium levels in your dog’s blood.
Tip: Some dogs that have Addison’s disease may be at higher risk for salt poisoning due to their inhibited ability to regulate electrolytes and fluids.
When a dog’s muscles lose too much fluid, it causes stiffness which may cause difficulty walking. When a dog’s brain loses too much fluid, you’ll notice incoordination, and may see tremors or seizures occur. All of these side effects are cause for concern.
This sounds scary, but usually only happens when an excess of salty foods or products are ingested. So the question is, what is a healthy salt intake for dogs?
Is salt safe for dogs?
The quick answer is yes, salt is safe for dogs in moderation. However, the difference between whether salt is safe or dangerous lies in how much they ingest. So balance the amount of salt in your dog’s daily diet and avoid any other sources of salt if you can. Instead of offering your some of your salty food, try carrot slices, or cucumber rounds, or even a blueberry or strawberry. My dogs love frozen green beans as their treats. They don’t seem to care that I get popcorn and they get those instead. They’re just happy I shared something with them.
Salty foods and products to be aware of
Manufacturers formulate most commercial dog food to meet the daily salt requirement needed for a dog’s health. When a dog exceeds that limit, by sharing your pretzels or salty chips for example, health problems can occur.
These problems can be anything from dehydration to salt poisoning (a.k.a. sodium ion poisoning), or salt toxicity, which can lead to death if left untreated for too long.
Here are some of the most common foods and products that are salt poisoning culprits:
- Ocean water
- Bath salts
- Sea salt-coated snacks
- Table salt
- Rock salt used on icy roads and sidewalks (this is a hazard when dogs walk on it and lick their paws.)
- Human foods such as:
- Fast food meals
- Snacks such as potato chips, fries, pretzels, and crackers
- Highly processed meat such as sausages, lunch meats, and hot dogs
- Some cheeses
- Canned vegetables, soups, or prepared canned meals
- Pizza (Not only does it contain large amounts of salt, it can also contain onions and garlic, which can cause severe anemia and deadly health issues.)
- Some dog treats – be sure to read nutrition labels!
How to spot signs of salt poisoning
When your sneaky snacker consumes an excessive amount of salt, the symptoms and damage can develop quickly. For this reason, you should act fast.
Signs of salt poisoning are:
- Excessive thirst
- Swollen abdomen or fluid accumulation
- Excessive urination
- Stiffness or incoordination – this happens when the muscles release fluids in an attempt to balance sodium levels in the blood
Call your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these symptoms and suspect they’ve ingested a large amount of salt. Be prepared to give information about your dog’s weight, age, and the quantity of salt ingested.
Flushing the excess sodium from the system is important. Be sure to offer your dog a lot of fresh drinking water to help restore fluid loss and prevent dehydration, to help minimize cell damage when salt poisoning occurs.
You can also call the Pet Poison Helpline or Animal Poison Control and they’ll be able to help you determine next steps if you aren’t sure about the amount of salt your dog consumed. If it’s a large amount, veterinary care may be needed.
Salt toxicity treatment
If salt toxicity is suspected, your vet will likely analyze blood count, blood gases, and blood chemistry as well as urine to determine the salt levels in your dog’s blood.
Your vet may also perform an EKG to measure electrical impulses in the heart as well as a CT Scan, MRI, or Ultrasound to assess potential damage to the brain, heart, and lungs.
When your dog’s results are in, they may need to be held for further monitoring and care. Care might include IV fluids, electrolyte monitoring, and any supportive medications the veterinarian deems necessary. Treatment and prognosis are determined by the health condition of the dog, sodium blood amounts, and the time since ingestion
If your dog needs to stay at the vet for further care, don’t panic: It can take time to heal from salt poisoning. When too much salt enters a body, getting rid of it is a slow process. If sodium levels drop too quickly, heart attacks or brain swelling can occur, so it’s best to let your vet observe your canine companion until they’re feeling better.
How to encourage your dog to drink water
Your dog should always drink plenty of water, but it’s an especially great way to avoid an overload of sodium. Some dogs will immediately go for a bowl of clean water, but others need to be coaxed.
Here are some tips and tricks to make water more enticing:
- Add sodium-free broth to their water
- Clean their water bowl
- Move their water bowl to a new location or add a few more throughout the house
- Use a syringe to encourage fluid intake
The bottom line
While all of this sounds nerve-wracking, (and it certainly can be) having the right information and resources at your fingertips can make all the difference.
When emergencies happen, knowing you have access to the best care can give you peace of mind. Pumpkin offers pet insurance plans that can help you cover the cost of illnesses and treatment, so you can get back to making memories with your furry friend. Get the scoop on our dog and puppy insurance plans here.