Sodium for Dogs

Picture of a salt shaker

Every respectable pet parent is probably aware of the fact that humans have different sodium requirements compared to animals.

In fact, both dogs and cats are supposed to have as little salt in their diets as possible, especially since some commercial pet foods these days contain small amounts of it as a preservative. This means that your table scraps or the food you get pre-made from the supermarket is mostly unsafe to give to your dog.

In today’s article, we’re looking at how important sodium is for dogs, if our canine friends can suffer from sodium deficiency, and what symptoms can be expected when your dog has too much salt in their diet.

Why Is Sodium Important for Dogs?

Salt is an important nutrient for pretty much all mammals on the planet, and they can get it from a variety of sources. Sodium is essential for making sure that the pH levels inside your dog’s body are kept within normal limits.

Moreover, this nutrient makes it possible for water to be retained inside your dog’s body, therefore preventing dehydration. This can also backfire, of course, but we’ll get more into that in a section below.

If you haven’t studied chemistry or medicine, you might lack some physiology knowledge, so we’ll just note that there’s this mechanism called ‘the sodium-potassium pump’ that regulates the transmission of substances where cell membranes are involved.

It might sound complicated, but what you have to know is that when sodium levels drop or increase to dangerous levels, this pump cannot function properly, meaning that your dog’s tissues across its whole body will not receive the right nutrients. This is especially true for neurons, so your dog’s nervous system can be affected by changes in their sodium and potassium levels.

Can Dogs Be Sodium Deficient?

It doesn’t happen too often, and that’s because salt can be found pretty much anywhere these days. But if your dog does end up developing a sodium deficiency, some of the clinical signs that you might notice are the following:

Sodium deficiency can have other causes besides a lack of salt in your pet’s diet. For example, dogs that have hyperglycemia as a result of diabetes can have too little salt in their system, but so can those that have too much protein or fats in their blood.

Drinking a lot of water as a result of diabetes, too, can also decrease sodium levels in your dog’s body.

Salt can also be lost through the kidneys, meaning through urine and through feces, especially if the dog is experiencing diarrhea. Along with the liquids that are lost in these instances, there will be precious electrolytes eliminated, too.

Where Can Salt Be Found?

Sodium is a common ingredient of many pet food varieties these days, and if you aren’t aware of this or haven’t read the label before, you should do so. Feeding your dog a typical diet recommended by your vet will most likely not lead to any nutrient imbalances, including those involving sodium.

But salt can be found in other sources, even if you haven’t manually added to them. For example, it can be found in eggs, red meat, chicken meat, as well as seafood.

Any other processed human foods contain some amounts of salt, such as bacon, cheese, any type of deli meats, and even canned foods such as corn, tuna, or diced tomatoes. In other words, when you cook your food, you’re not just adding the salt that you measure using a teaspoon, for example — you’ll also be adding the salt contained in some of the ingredients, so that’s why giving table scraps to your dog is unhealthy.

Salt Poisoning in Dogs

Even though most dogs do not develop sodium poisoning right after having eaten something salty, they can still exhibit a number of unpleasant symptoms, such as the following:

  • Drinking a lot of water
  • A lack of appetite for any type of food
  • Disorientation
  • Weakness
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Very large amounts of salt can be fatal. If you have the least suspicion that your dog got into your cupboards and somehow managed to eat salty food (even peanut butter contains some salt, by the way!), call your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Depending on what your dog had, you might have to take him or her to the emergency vet clinic, where they could have their sodium levels lowered using a number of therapy choices. Warm water enemas and IV solutions are preferred.

Treating sodium poisoning can be a little challenging in that the levels have to be decreased gradually. We mentioned the cell membrane pump at the beginning of the article, but if significant imbalances happen too suddenly, your dog can slip into a coma as a result of developing brain edema.

Once the problem has been resolved, your dog might have to have their blood tested for a couple of days (during which they could be hospitalized) to make sure that their sodium levels remain normal.

Final thoughts

Even though many pet parents these days prefer to feed their dogs a homemade diet rather than a commercial one because of the number of additives present in the second, they have to do so under the guidance of a veterinarian.

Avoid using salt in your food if you know that there’s a chance you might give your dog some of the leftovers. Simply add salt to your plate and as per your preferences. This will make it very difficult for your dog to have too much sodium.

Despite its bad ‘reputation’, sodium is an important mineral that all dogs have to receive from food — but it’s present in many food sources, so you do not have to consider specifically adding it to your dog’s diet.

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