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We grow up with the knowledge of salt and sodium being harmful, but few stop to think about whether it is true also for our dogs. It can be hard to resist those puppy eyes when they start begging for a taste of our French fries, the potato chips we bought for the weekend, that piece of pretzel you weren’t going to eat anyway or the leftovers from dinner.
All these food items – and most others – contain salt, and it is essential to know whether it is okay to give our pups salted foods, or if it could potentially be dangerous for them. The good news is that a small amount of salt is unlikely to cause problems for a dog, and the importance lies in regulating the amount.
Dogs & Salt
We know that salt in excess is bad for us humans and that it can lead to raised levels of sodium, but is it the same for dogs? There is a common belief that salt should be avoided at all costs, but when it comes to our canine friends – this isn’t necessarily true.
Research shows that dogs do not react the same to high sodium levels, and they may, therefore, be more tolerant than humans. This, however, does not mean they should eat salt in excess, and it is important to regulate how much our furry friends consume, as too much could have negative health consequences.
Dogs do in fact need salt in their diet, and it helps regulate the levels of fluid in the body; but more on the benefits below. So, can- and should dog eat salt? The quick answer is yes, they can, and they probably should too, but only in regulated forms such as the sodium levels found in dog food. You don’t want to be feeding extra salt, as it is unlikely to have many health benefits for your dog.
Sodium chloride, which is essentially what salt is, helps the cells work properly, it regulates the fluid balance, balances the acid-base in the body and it also aids the nerve system by promoting functional signal transmission. Chloride can also improve digestion, as the dog’s stomach needs it in order to produce hydrochloric acid – a necessary component for a healthy gut.
The benefits are much like how humans benefit from small amounts of salt, so it is not a good idea to cut out salt entirely. However, it is rare for there to be a need to add additional salt to a canine diet, and if you think your pup may suffer from a sodium deficiency – talk to your veterinarian before acting on it.
Too much salt can cause dehydration and damage to the kidneys, but the dog would usually have to consume large amounts regularly for this to happen. The occasional French fry or potato chip is rarely a cause for concern, so there is no need to freak out if your pooch ate a couple that happened to fall and land on the floor.
Excess salt could potentially rob the muscles of essential moisture – basically dehydrating the muscle – which could, in turn, cause the dog to twitch and jerk in an unnatural manner.
Such a condition would be considered serious, as it can lead to irreparable neurological damage, and in severe cases even death. These are extreme cases and a result of what would be considered “salt poisoning,” but it is important to be aware of the risks.
How Much Salt is Okay?
Anything over 1.5 grams per pound of body weight is generally considered a lethal dose of salt for a dog, and it is highly unlikely that any dog would survive to consume that much salt. This is why it is important not to leave saltshakers out where a curious dog might get to it, and you want to keep large bags of salted snacks stashed somewhere safe just in case. The deadly doses are far beyond the quantity your dog actually needs to stay healthy, so as long as you moderate the salt intake – there is no real cause for concern.
The best way to prevent a salt overdose is to moderate how much human food and snacks a dog is given access to and to perhaps skip sharing the saltiest treats we have lying around. There are so many good and nutritious dog treats that you could reward your pup with instead, so perhaps just keep the human treats for yourself, and let your pooch get salt from the regulated levels in their dog food.
Salt in Leftovers
When we cook, we almost always use salt, pepper, and other condiments – to add flavor, and the truth is that most of us use a lot more salt than we need to. If you have ever watched a professional chef salt their food, they use significantly less than the average home cook.
It may seem like a good idea to throw those last pieces of meat to your dog after dinner or to let them have the stew you would have otherwise thrown out. If you want your dog to eat food cooked by you, it is better to cook it separately for them, and without any added salt or condiments.
Salt in Dog Food
The salt levels in dog food differ depending on the brand, and low-quality dog food – also known as commercial dog food – will usually contain higher overall levels of sodium. If you want to make sure that your dog is getting just enough salt, then your best bet is to invest in a premium and high-quality dog food, made by a dog food company that cares about the health of your dog.
Learning to recognize a high-quality dog food an take some time at first, but it is worth the effort. Salt levels are something not everyone thinks of when shopping for kibble or wet dog food, but it does make a significant difference.
Dogs with liver conditions, heart problems, and kidney failure may require dog food with extra-low salt content, and a veterinarian can help you determine whether this is necessary, and advice you on what dog food to choose.
Dangers of Road Salt on Winter Roads
Salt does not only come from the food and snacks we give our dogs, but they could also pick it up outdoors! In many areas, salt is used to melt and remove ice from winter roads, and it can become a real issue during the cold parts of the year.
Not only can the salt irritate the dog’s paws, but they could also make it a habit to lick it off once they get inside, and if they spend a lot of time outdoors – this could quickly escalate and have them ingest much more salt than what is considered healthy.
The best way to prevent problems is by washing your dog’s paws after every walk and whenever you come inside. Keep a bucket with water and a towel by the door and teach your dog to patiently wait while you remove any road salt from those adorable little furry paws.
Beach Trips & Saltwater
If you spend a lot of time by the ocean, or if you are planning a summer trip to the beach – you will also have to think about the salt in the water! This may come as a little surprise, as it is easy to look past this, but ocean water contains large quantities of salt.
You might want to stop your pup from drinking too much of it, because while most dogs will refrain on their own (as it probably doesn’t taste that good), other dogs seem completely oblivious to the strange flavor, and will happily slurp up as much liquid as they can.
Now, there are not too many risks associated with this, but it could lead to an upset stomach and even salt poisoning in extreme cases, and there are also other problems with drinking salt water such as the risk of algae poisoning depending on the quality of the water.
Symptoms of Salt Poisoning
While it is unlikely that your dog would get salt poisoning, it is important to know what the symptoms are and to call a veterinarian the second you realize that something is wrong. A serious sign is if you notice your pup getting stiffer in their movements, as this could be the result of the muscles losing moisture. Other symptoms associated with salt poisoning are:
+ Accumulation of fluids
+ Increased thirst
+ Increased urination
Salt is not bad for dogs when it exists in dog food, or when the occasional salty treat is consumed, but it comes down to knowing how much salt is okay. Keep your pup away from any larger quantities of your favorite salty snacks and opt for healthy dog treats as a better alternative!
If you suspect your dog might have ingested too much salt or if you see signs of salt poisoning – it is time for an urgent trip to the vet! Don’t make the mistake of waiting, as these kinds of issues can progress rapidly, and before you know it – it could be too late.
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