Decipher the role of SALT in your pooch’s diet

Something as simple as salt can become a matter of great concern for your beloved pet. Salt is nothing but sodium and chloride, but there are innumerable myths surrounding salt in dog’s diet. So, grab your cup of coffee and embark on this enlightening journey.

Dr. Sunita Patel

Why salt is important?
“Sodium chloride is required to main tain blood pressure, blood volume, transmission of nerve impulses and maintain the acid base balance in the body. Sodium aids in the transfer of nutrients to cells and removal of waste products. While, chloride is required for production of hydrochloric acid for digestion of protein in stomach,” said Dr Sunita Patel. Dr Gautam Anand told, “The excretion of sodium and chloride is a rather slow process in dogs, they need very limited amount of salt in the daily diet.”
Humans lose a great amount of salt by sweating. For those of you who didn’t know, dogs sweat from their paws and nose. Dr Prabhjot said, “Since dogs don’t sweat as much as we humans do, their salt intake should also be limited.”
Problems related to high salt and low salt diet
We all know that excess of everything is bad, but there can also be a problem if the required intake amount is not met.
Problems related to high salt intake: “While, high sodium or hypernatremia causes Untitled-14increased thirst, confusion, disorientation, seizures and coma. It can also result in vomiting, diarrhoea and water loss through urine,” told Dr Sunita Patel.  “Excessive intake of either of these two minerals is filtered through kidneys and released into urine. Seizures, blindness, dehydration, loss of appetite and sometimes death are some of the signs of sodium chloride toxicity in dogs. Always ensure your dog has access to clean drinking water,” told Dr Makarand Chavan.
Problems related to low salt intake: A low sodium diet may also cause a lot of problems. “Low sodium or hyponatremia causes lethargy, weakness, seizures and coma,” explained Dr Sunita Patel. “Difficulties in maintaining water balance, fatigue, dry and flaky skin, hair loss and exhaustion are some of the effects of a low sodium diet,” said Dr Gautam.
Dr Makarand Chavan told, “Prolonged diarrohea or severe vomiting could be major reasons of such deficiency and it is advisable to consult a veterinarian before the condition gets serious.”
Home-cooked food
What about home-cooked food? Is it balanced? “Home-cooked food is difficult to balance the protein, carbohydrate and fats required by body and needs supplementation with vitamins and minerals,” told
Dr Sunita Patel. “Their intake should be a balance of animal protein and fat, carbohydrates. Home meals must contain a balance  of cooked meat without bones (70 percent) with carbohydrates like rice or wheat  with certain vegetables like carrots, beans, pumpkin, bottle gourd (30 percent) – all cooked together,” she added.
“Home-cooked food can provide good nutrition, if rightly formulated by qualified veterinary nutritionist,” told Dr Manvir. There are a lot of dogs who are given home cooked food. In such cases it becomes the pet parent’s responsibility to see that the dog is getting appropriate nutrition. It is important you consult the vet for a proper diet chart and preparation of the same.
“The market is full of health supplements. If your pet eats only home-cooked food, then it is advisable that you give these supplements that would cater to their daily requirement of minerals and vitamins,”
added Dr Prabhjot.
Dog food
“Most of the responsible pet parents offer commercial pet food to their pets. They should ensure what they are feeding to their pets should meet the requirements of the pet. It can be ensured by seeing the label of nutrient composition at packet and consulting your veterinary nutritionist/veterinarian,” told Dr Manvir Singh.

On Dog Food
“Pet food has come into the market after a lot of research. It is a totally balanced meal,” said Dr Sunita Patel.

Foods that are a strict ‘NO – NO’
Cheese, bacon, ham, chips and sausages are some foods that have an excess amount of sodium. Thus you must always refrain from giving these to your pet. In case your pooch has some kidney, liver or heart disease there are chances that your vet may recommend a low sodium diet. This is done to decrease blood pressure and avoid accumulation of excess body fluids.
PS – Don’t fall prey to those soulful eyes, table scarps should go in the dustbin and not into your pet’s tummy. Be careful of what you make your pet eat. It’s your responsibility.

On human food
“Salty foods upset the electrolyte balance and table scraps are not advised,” explained Dr Sunita Pate

Salt Facts

Importance of salt: It helps in maintaining the balance between intra and extracellular fluids of body. It also helps in transferring nutrients to cells and removal of wastes. Na and Cl play important role in regulating blood pressure.
How much salt is required in dog’s diet? Almost all foods contain NaCl and it is integral part of commercial pet foods also. The minimum daily requirement of sodium (Na) for dogs is rather lower than Chloride (Cl) and not particularly challenging to meet. AAFCO dog nutrient profiles which might be viewed as somewhat representative of Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), list a recommended Na content of 0.2 percent on dry matter basis for both growth and maintenance OR 0.86 gm per 1000 kcal ME (Metabolisable Energy) for growth and 0.17 gm per 1000 Kcal ME for adult maintenance.
Problems related to low/high sodium intake: Problems related to low salt intake are extremely rare because all foods contain sodium chloride (salt). It may occur in case of severe diarrhoea and vomition that may lead to excess loss of Na and Cl from the body. Symptoms may include dehydration, disorientation and stupor. In case of your pet is suffering from certain ailments related to kidneys, liver and heart, you must take advice from a veterinarian who can recommend decreasing sodium intake for the pet. This will help decrease the pet’s high blood pressure or accumulation of excessive body fluid.
If salt or salty food is ingested in large quantity and sufficient drinking water is not available to dog, then salt toxicity may occur. Symptoms of salt toxicity are dehydration, vomition, seizures, blindness, loss of appetite, thriftiness and death if not treated. Generally extra salt (NaCl) is extracted from body through urine.

(With inputs from Dr Sunita Patel, Veterinary Surgeon, All India Animal Welfare Association and President, Pet Practitioners Association of Mumbai; Dr Gautam Anand, Dr Anand’s Pets Clinics, New Delhi;  Dr Prabhjot, Triguna Dog Clinics, New Delhi; Dr Manvir Singh, MVSc(IVRI) and Veterinary Nutritionist, College of Veterinary Sciences, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand and Dr Makarand Chavan, BVSc &AH, MVSc, Dogs and Cats Veterinary Clinic, Mumbai).


Is salt really bad for dogs?

It is assumed that salt products are bad for dogs, causing problems such as high blood pressure or kidney failure or even skin diseases and hair fall. But, is salt really bad for dogs?

The facts…

  • Salt is present in our pet products to ensure the essential nutrients sodium and chloride are present at nutritionthe required levels.
  • It is not a flavour enhancer for dogs and is not added to increase palatability.
  • It provides the essential nutrients – sodium and chloride. The sodium requirement of dogs has been defined by the National Research Council (NRC), which sets a safe lower and upper limit.
  • Dogs are semi-carnivores. This means that they evolved to eat meaty diets that are naturally rich in sodium. Because of this they have not developed taste systems that respond to sodium, hence it is not a flavour enhancer as it is for humans.
  • There is no evidence of a link between high salt (sodium) diets and risk of high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney or skin or hair coat disease in healthy dogs.

Why do dogs need salt?

Salt has two constituents – namely sodium and chloride – both of which are crucial for the maintenance of body’s fluid balance and blood volume, as well the functioning of nervous tissues. Deficiencies in sodium and chloride result in problems with nervous signal transmission, low blood pressure, restlessness, increased heart rate and pasty or thick mucus.

Research has indicated a diet low in sodium can induce reductions in blood pressure regulating hormones during prolonged sodium deficiency, fatigue , exhaustion , inability to maintain water balance, decreased water intake, retarded growth, and dryness of skin and loss of hair.

How much salt do dogs need?

Adult dogs require a daily sodium intake of around 13 mg/kg body weight, which corresponds to a minimum dietary level of 0.2 g/1000 kcal. Requirements are 2-3 times higher in puppies and during pregnancy and lactation, and five times higher in very highly active dogs such as greyhounds or sled dogs.

How much salt is there in dog foods?

The sodium content of dog foods is in fact similar to that of prey consumed by dogs in the wild, including small deer, rabbits and chickens, which contain between 2.5 and 10 g/kg of dry matter. By contrast, cereals, fruits and vegetables are low in sodium and typically contain less than 1g/kg DM (around 200mg/1000 kcal). Thus dogs as semi-carnivores have evolved to tolerate high levels of dietary sodium. Likewise they show limited ability to detect dietary sodium levels and do not use salt as a driver of food selection and consumption. Omnivores such as man respond to dietary sodium, presumably to enable selection of foods with adequate sodium levels for health.

Commercially available dog foods provide intakes of sodium that are comfortably in excess of minimum requirements and typically have between 0.5 and 2.5 g/1000 kcal or 2-10 g/kg of dry matter. Studies on the sodium requirements of dogs have shown a wide range of tolerance. The minimum requirement for health in adult dogs is 200 mg/1000 kcal and the maximum is approximately 4 g/1000 kcal. Mars pet-foods (Pedigree) are formulated within the Waltham guidelines, which define an even safer range of 0.5 to 3 g/1000 kcal. Dry foods tend to contain less sodium than wet formats, including canned, tray and pouch products, because they contain fewer meat products that are naturally rich in sodium. Sodium levels are similar across brands, with no significant differences between mainstream and premium products in either wet or dry formats.

Processed human foods that are frequently offered to dogs in the form of table scraps – such as bacon, sausages and cheese – have sodium levels well in excess of those of dog foods and hence should be avoided.

Is dietary sodium harmful to dogs?

Healthy dogs are perfectly tolerant to large amounts of dietary sodium and adapt well to substantial fluctuations in intake. Adverse signs are seen only once intakes are more than twice those found in even the most sodium-rich of dog foods. The recommended upper limit, which includes a margin of safety, is currently set at 15 g/kg dry matter.

There is no evidence that sustained high levels of salt intake in dogs are linked with high blood pressure, renal failure or coronary heart disease in dogs, whereas high salt intakes are implicated in the aetiology of all these diseases in humans. Furthermore, excessive salt intakes do not contribute to disease progression in dogs with either kidney or heart failure.

In fact, increasing dietary salt levels within the NRC range, may have benefits including the risk of calcium oxalate stone formation. Studies have shown that the increased dietary sodium promotes the formation of dilute urine with no net increase in calcium concentrations.

(This article is contributed by Mars India International, with inputs from Dr Tim Watson BVM&S, PhD, MRCVS, Townhead of Aber, Gartocharn, Dunbartonshire, G83 8NQ)