Is Salt Bad For Dogs?

Regardless of what you’re eating, your dog will want a bite of it. This is the rule of thumb, this is the rule of law. But not everything is suitable for dogs.

Take salt and sugar, for example. They are present in most snacks that we eat, and most snacks that our dogs beg for. And you might find yourself wondering: can my dog actually eat this? Is salt bad for dogs?

Can Dogs Eat Salt?

So, is salt ok for dogs? An important distinction to make here is between salt added in food and salt as a micronutrient: sodium chloride. Generally speaking, dogs cannot and should not eat salt the way that humans do.

Humans consume large amounts of salty food. In some cases, we actually add extra salt before eating to suit our taste buds. And often, our dogs insist on being given some of this food as well. So the question that we should be asking is: is this kind of salt content okay for dogs?

Present in very small traces in food coincidentally, salt is okay for dogs. But never as a condiment, never added to their food, never to augment taste so that their food ‘tastes’ better. Dogs do not taste salt the way we do, so adding it to their food does not change the taste, but definitely changes the sodium content.

How Much Salt Is Ok for Dogs?

The more accurate question is: how much sodium can a dog have per day?

Salt is required by the body to maintain electrolyte balance and regulate homeostasis. This is as true in dogs as is in humans.

However, most commercial food these days contains large amounts of added sodium. Canned goods, crisps, practically every packaged or dried savory snack, etc. Contains excessive amounts of sodium. And this holds true for doggy treats as well.

An ideal recommended amount of salt, for an otherwise healthy dog with no chronic diseases, is dry food that contains 0.3% sodium. Dry foods on an average contain less salt than wet or canned foods.

Or, this can be calculated as 0.25-1.5 g per hundred gram of food per day. This is the ideal range of salt consumption for a dog.

Do Dogs Like Salt?

Dogs can taste the same four major tastes as humans (salt, sweet, sour, bitter). In fact, they have a special extra taste bud just for water. Despite having a massively stronger sense of smell, their sense of taste is much less refined than that of humans.

However, dogs don’t have any unusual preference for salt. In the wild, canines derived their salt intake from the meat that they eat. Being carnivores, they had a diet that provided them with quite enough salt.

So even today, in the comfort of our homes, they won’t actively seek out salty food. Rather, they might actually avoid it, when they perceive that they are getting too much salt. This is like a natural in-built feedback mechanism to ensure that they don’t ingest too much sodium.

This is where it gets tricky. Dogs have been bred for generations as human companions and have somewhat adjusted their diet accordingly. So, a dog that grows up eating salty treats does not have the same sensitivity while recognizing excess salt intake, as his farmhouse cousins, or his wild ancestors.

This means that your dog can comfortably have had overshot his salt requirement for the day and still be hounding you for yet another slice of salami. This gradual desensitization of salt taste receptors from eating too much salt regularly can make things difficult.

Which is why it’s a good idea to be careful about your dog’s diet from the beginning. Left to his own devices, your dog will sense that his food is too salty for him, and stop eating. But sweet stuff, though- that’s a treat!

Is Salt Harmful to Dogs?

In excess, salt can cause mild to moderate temporary issues like hypertension, diarrhea, headaches, etc. to extremes like potentially fatal organ failures and death.

An upper limit of 1.5 g salt per pound body weight in dogs is considered the highest level, the largest megadose of salt that any dog can safely ingest. And even here, this is not a limit that a dog can safely reach on multiple days.

1.5 g of salt per pound body weight is the kind of salt intake that happens because of a dog swallowing large amounts of salt or salt water. Anything beyond this value can have fatal consequences or dogs.

A little extra salt will only make your dog dehydrated, which he will most often self-correct by drinking enough water to balance it out. However, in dogs who have compromised renal systems, older dogs, dogs with renal failure or kidney failure, etc. these values can be highly variable.

Initial symptoms of salt poisoning can be very vague. Dogs may seem lethargic, excessively sleepy, look like they have a bloated stomach, and may excessively drink large amounts of water, to the point of retching. They may even show stiffness, because their muscles are rapidly dehydrating.

Mild salt poisoning may self correct, but anything beyond this may progress rapidly into a serious condition. Dogs with moderately severe salt poisoning may show edema, swelling, vomiting, loose motions, behaviors like repeatedly drinking water and urinating, shivering, etc.

Tremors can also occur, and if uncorrected, it can proceed to comas, and death. 

Salt poisoning requires immediate veterinary care. If you aren’t sure and don’t want a normal vet visit it’s always possible you can get your answer online from an actual vet too; for example this site. If the amount of salt that was eaten is not known, testing will need to be run to get an idea of your dog’s condition.

If caught early, intravenous fluid supplementation, electrolyte correction, and symptomatic treatment help maintain your dog while his body excretes excess salt. In most cases, this means a short hospital stay.

Is Salt Safe for Dogs with Health Issues?

In certain conditions, dogs’ benefit from a low salt diet. Or, more accurately speaking, from a low sodium diet.

This includes dogs that suffer from kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, problems and circulation imbalance, have comorbid conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism, or are very small or very old.

In these dogs, the processes by which fluid is eliminated from the body are compromised, in kidney failure, for example. So, when a dog cannot excrete enough water, it accumulates in his body in the organs and tissues, and causes more health issues. Small dogs may require salt restricted diets from the mere fact of their being very small, and therefore requiring only tiny amounts to meet their daily quotas.

It’s always a good idea to ask your vet about any salt restrictions on your dog’s diet. Because of how essential salt is, you cannot risk restricting your dog’s diet yourself without medical advice, and potentially depriving him of the electrolytes that he needs.

Naturally occurring low salt foods like skinless chicken, turkey, beef and pork in lean cuts, nuts and seeds safe for dogs (with no added salt), vegetables, beans, etc. all make great low salt additions to dogs’ diets.

The fact that low salt dog food is commercially available makes the management of salt intake in dogs’ diet much easier these days. But, this also includes treats, so you might have to be a little more careful about what your dog is snacking on.

Do Dogs Need Salt in Their Diet? 

Yes, they do! Salt is sodium chloride chemically, which is an essential nutrient for the function of cells in the dog’s body. Salt is required to maintain both intracellular and extracellular processes in the body.

Dogs need a minimum of 2.5mg per pound body weight of sodium chloride in their diet. However, a minimum of 6.5mg per pound body weight is recommended, to accommodate for any deficits in absorption. When dogs eat high cellulose or high fiber foods, for example, their stomachs do not absorb sodium from their food very well.

In the cell, salt as both sodium and chloride ions maintain basic cell function, movement of fluid inside and outside the cell, transmission of nerve signals, ion exchange at the cell membrane, cellular processes, and signaling between cells. It also maintains acid-base balance both inside and outside the cell.

Outside the cell, salt is required for maintaining larger processes such as ionic concentrations, fluid movement between tissues, indeed, between systems, maintaining circulation, assisting in digestion, and ensuring that the brain receives enough oxygen and nutrients.

Salt is also essential in making sure that dogs’ neurons retain the capability to transmit signals at a normal speed through their body. When dogs don’t have normal sodium levels, this in turn disrupts their other electrolyte levels as well, for example, potassium.

Not to mention, just the ‘chloride’ from salt is one of the most important negatively charged ions consumed through diet. Any disbalance in either sodium or chloride levels disturbs the body’s homeostasis. Chloride also helps in formation of hydrochloric acid, which is the stomach acid responsible for digestion of food. Low salt intake can actually have very detrimental effects on a dog’s health.

What Human Snacks Are Too Salty for Dogs?

So!  Salt is important- but not too much salt. This means that certain items that belong on our plate or a big no-no for our dogs. These include:

  • Chips and crisps
  • Baked savory treats
  • Processed meats
  • Cheese
  • Junk food
  • Fast food

These of course are just the food the dogs should not eat because of their salt content. There are plenty of non-salt containing human foods such as onions, chocolate, raisins etc. that are also completely forbidden for dogs. For even more human foods that dogs shouldn’t eat check this article – 20 Foods People Eat that your Dog Absolutely Can’t.

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