Anything in excess tends to be bad for us, and it's no different for our four-legged pals. Commercial dog food does contain sodium, whether salt is an ingredient or the other ingredients contain sodium. Dogs can typically tolerate the sodium content in their dog food and treats, but too much salt can lead to serious health issues and even death.
Everything in Moderation
Sodium is an essential mineral in the balanced diet of every dog. It helps your pup’s body maintain an ideal balance of fluid in his cells. Sodium also helps conduct nerve impulse generation and transmission.
How Much Is Too Much?
Healthy dogs weighing 33 pounds should consume no more than 100 mg of sodium a day, according to the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, a division of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council. Talk to your veterinarian about adjusting the amount depending on how much larger or smaller your dog is. Some dogs, such as those with heart disease, might require lower amounts of sodium, but your vet can help you find the right amount.
What to Look Out For
Because salt absorbs water in the body, a dog that has consumed too much of it will become extremely thirsty. He will drink more water than usual to accommodate his thirst, which will lead to him urinating more, as his body struggles to process the salt quickly. As his circulatory system and kidneys try to cope, they will become strained and cause his body to swell. Your dog may even vomit, have diarrhea or seizures. These are all symptoms of sodium ion poisoning. If you suspect your dog has ingested too much salt and is showing any of the symptoms of salt intoxication or poisoning, take him to the emergency veterinarian immediately.
Too Little Is Just as Bad
Dogs become dehydrated when they lose too much water and the minerals in the water, including sodium and potassium. When his body doesn't have enough of these minerals, his organs and systems can stop functioning. The veterinarian will replenish your dog's fluids and electrolytes gradually to give his body time to readjust. Simply getting your dog to drink water may make him vomit or have diarrhea, and the idea here is to stop the loss of fluids. However, giving him a small amount of water -- making sure he doesn't drink too much too fast -- can help keep him more comfortable while you make your way to the vet.
Check food labels. Ingredients are usually listed by weight. Because dry food is lower in moisture, it may seem that it should have less sodium than wet food does, but this is not necessarily true. Whichever food you feed your furry pal, make sure that salt is never in the first five ingredients listed. Avoid giving your pooch table scraps, especially salty foods, such as beef jerky, potato chips, and pretzels. Dog owners who prepare homemade food for their dogs should not add salt to it, as ingredients typically already contain sodium in them. When in doubt, talk to your veterinarian and work out a diet that is ideal for your best friend.
- Division of Earth and Life Sciences: National Academy of Sciences: Your Dog's Nutritional Needs: A Science-based Guide for Dog Owners
- IngentaConnect: Salt Intoxication in a Dog: Survival and Complications
- The Humane Society of the United States: Foods That Can Be Poisonous to Pets
- Cornell University: Interpretation of Serum Sodium Results
- John Howard/Lifesize/Getty Images