Can Dogs Have Salt?
We all have varying tastes based on our age, culture, and palate, but there is one flavor that every human being on Earth loves: the taste of salt. Throughout much of human history, salt was one of the most valuable goods that we traded around the world. Because all the underground salt caves were far out of reach of our less technologically advanced ancestors, salt was hard to find, and it was highly prized. Salt was used for currency in many different places and many different times. In some periods, the price of salt (by weight) was equal to the value of pure gold. In the days before refrigeration, salt was also an important part of preserving food.
Today, salt is cheap and widely available—we can run down to the local grocery store and get enough salt to last us a year for just a couple bucks. This food is delicious on almost everything, and safe for just about everyone in moderation. Indeed, some would argue that salt has transcended its ingredient status to become a way of life. In the United States, we put salt on absolutely everything, including popcorn, steamed veggies (whether it be broccoli and cauliflower, potatoes, or edamame), nuts and seeds, and even watermelon. The best part: unless you have high blood pressure, you can enjoy salt (within reason!) on a regular basis without harming your health.
But can the same be said for our canine companions? Since salt plays such a huge role in our kitchens, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s in any table scraps we decide to share with our pets. Are we hurting them by offering them a bit of salted popcorn, or is it no big deal? Can you give your dog salt?
Technically, yes, dogs can eat salt, but it would be wise to keep their added salt intake to a minimum. As with most things, the dose makes the poison—despite what some sources would lead you to believe, salt is not a deadly poison, and sharing a couple of salty carrot slices with your pooch will not kill them. Small quantities of salt are not only acceptable, but actually healthy. Just like ours, canine bodies require a certain amount of salt in order to function properly.
Table salt is made up of two minerals that are necessary for health: sodium and chloride. They work within your dog’s body to regulate the ratio of fluids inside and outside of body cells. Sodium plays a role in transferring nutrients into cells throughout the body, as well as removing toxic waste products in a timely manner. Chloride, on the other hand, aids in regulating blood pH and producing hydrochloric acid (otherwise known as stomach acid!).
Without consuming adequate sodium and chloride, your pooch could end up with a potentially fatal electrolyte imbalance. Electrolyte imbalances often result in symptoms like muscle weakness, depression, extreme fatigue, disorientation, vomiting, seizures, coma, and death. Your dog’s chloride needs are almost 50% higher than their sodium needs, but never fear—this is the ratio that exists in table salt.
Fortunately, salt deficiencies (otherwise known as hyponatremia) are very rare in domesticated dogs who eat fortified kibble. The bags of dog food sold in stores have been carefully formulated to fulfill all of your dog’s nutrient needs, which is why it is so important to make sure that it makes up a large part of your dog’s diet. Dogs who rely on homemade food for most of their calories are at a much higher risk of becoming deficient in many vitamins, amino acids, and minerals—including salt!
If you suspect that your pet has any sort of nutritional imbalance, consult a veterinarian before changing their diet. This is especially important if the nutrient in question is salt, because too much salt is just as dangerous as too little. Eating too much salt can cause a dangerous condition called hypernatremia, otherwise known as sodium ion poisoning. In mild cases, dogs who eat salty foods will only experience increased thirst; after eating some salty popcorn, for example, your pooch will probably empty their water dish.
Things to Consider
More severe cases of salt poisoning can cause life-threatening side effects. When there is too much salt in the body, body cells release water in order to balance out the amount of salt in the blood. These dehydrated cells (including brain cells) can become seriously damaged. Symptoms of salt poisoning include confusion, loss of coordination, muscle spasms, excessive thirst, swelling in the limbs or face, headache, fever, rapid heartbeat, lethargy, poor appetite, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, weak muscles, and swelling in the tongue. Some dogs also experience breathing problems and anxiety.
Salt poisoning is a medical emergency that requires veterinary care. If your pooch is diagnosed with sodium ion poisoning, their vet may administer electrolytes, intravenous fluids, or supplementary oxygen as needed. As long as they receive treatment promptly and there is no permanent damage to the brain, kidneys, or liver, the prognosis for hypernatremia is usually pretty good.
For dogs with kidney and liver problems, added salt is not a good idea— if your vet has recommended a low sodium diet, avoid giving them any salted popcorn, vegetables, or potato chips.
In conclusion, while salt is a necessary nutrient for your dog in small quantities, it can be incredibly dangerous when given in excess. If your dog doesn’t have any organ damage, they can usually handle eating the occasional salty snack, but make sure not to overdo it. If your dog shows any symptoms of sodium ion poisoning, seek veterinary help immediately.