Dogs and salt poisoning: How to recognise it and how to avoid it

Dogs and salt poisoning: How to recognise it and how to avoid it

Health & Safety

Dogs are very much a species of animal to eat first and think later, and this means that for some dog owners it is a perpetual challenge to keep their dogs from eating something they shouldn’t have, or that might be dangerous.

This means that all dog owners should have an awareness of the types of things that are toxic to dogs and that dogs might be willing to try to eat, and this is quite a long list of things.

To further complicate matters, some foods that we as humans very much enjoy and regularly eat without problems are toxic to dogs too; like chocolate. Another foodstuff that most of us eat in some shape or form every day whether we realise it or not is salt; and whilst too much salt is bad for humans, it is worse for dogs and ingestion of anything other than a small amount of salt can lead to salt poisoning in dogs.

Salt is of course a common ingredient in many meals, and this is just one reason why dogs shouldn’t be given table scraps; but a small amount of salt used as seasoning in a meal is not likely to make your dog ill. However, greater amounts of salt such as may be found added to or part of a number of other food and non-food items you might have at home can be dangerous for dogs.

In this article we’ll talk about dogs and salt poisoning, covering how dogs might come to ingest enough salt to be toxic, how to recognise salt poisoning in dogs, and how to keep your dog safe. Read on to learn more about dogs and salt toxicity.

What makes salt poisonous to dogs?

Salt is one of those substances where it is the amount eaten that dictates whether or not it is poisonous. Salt absorbs water from the body’s cells, and if your dog eats just a little salt and is well hydrated and has free access to enough fresh water, this won’t cause a problem.

However, if your dog is dehydrated, cannot get a drink, and eats a significant amount of salt or more than their bodies can counteract with water, their cells will release their own water to try to balance things out. This results in the cells of the brain being destroyed as they don’t retain enough water to maintain their function, leading to a range of acute and serious side effects that can be fatal.

Too much salt in the bloodstream is called hypernatremia, and this is a veterinary emergency.

How might a dog ingest enough salt to be poisonous?

There’s highly unlikely to be enough salt in anything you cooked to eat to cause hypernatremia in your dog, although salty food is not good for dogs full stop.

However, there are a number of things that you might have or bring into the home that your dog might eat and that could well contain enough salt to be dangerous.

Perhaps the most common of these is salt dough, which people often make with children to create ornaments and models from; particularly ornaments to paint and hang on the Christmas tree.

Rock salt, which many people use to grit paths with, can be appealing to dogs who often enjoy salty tastes, and that might put their tongue into it or lick it from paths; and salt licks for cows and horses if you live in rural areas can have the same effect.

What are the symptoms of salt poisoning in dogs?

Salt poisoning in dogs is an acute emergency, and so it is important to be alert to the signs of salt poisoning and contact your vet promptly if you know or suspect that your dog has eaten salt.

The symptoms of salt poisoning in dogs may include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Excessive need to urinate
  • Fever
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sickness or vomiting
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Swollen tongue
  • A staggering or unbalanced walking gait
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Coma

Symptoms will tend to spread and worsen as the condition becomes more acute, and so prompt veterinary intervention is vital as salt poisoning in dogs can lead to death.

Can salt poisoning in dogs be treated?

Managing and successfully resolving salt poisoning in dogs can be tricky, as your vet will need to work to gradually reduce the level of salt in the blood in a controlled manner, as a rapid drop in salt levels can cause acute problems of its own.

Your dog will usually require IV fluids and electrolyte therapy and an inpatient stay of several days, along with a range of other palliative and supportive treatments depending on their symptoms.

Not all cases of salt poisoning in dogs can be cured fully and even in dogs that recover, there is the potential for a level of brain damage to remain; but prompt intervention can help to give the dog the best possible chance of going on to make a full recovery.



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