Salt Toxicity in Animals- Surprising Sources of Poisoning

Salt is widely used in food to prevent spoiling and to provide taste. In small quantities, it is not harmful to humans or animals. But consuming large amounts can be deadly. Dogs, cats, horses, cattle, pigs and birds can become poisoned. When large amounts of salt are ingested, the salt is absorbed into the bloodstream. A sudden increase in Na+Cl- attracts fluid from other places in the body back to the bloodstream causing dehydration. Organs shrink in size due to the loss of fluid. When the brain shrinks, blood vessels inside the skull can tear and bleed. Intracranial hemorrhage is a life-threatening condition that must be corrected immediately to prevent coma and death.

Clinical signs in the early phase of salt poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and lethargy. As the condition worsens, the animal walks like it is drunk which is called ataxia then starts to tremor. Depending upon the amount of salt ingested, the animal may progress to seizures, coma and death. It is an awful way to die. Sadly, if the animal survives the initial toxicity, kidney disease may occur.

Besides the shaker filled with table salt, there are many other sources of salt that aren’t readily apparent. The list includes:

  1. Rock salt used to de-ice sidewalks and roadways during winter.
  2. Homemade playdough. Dogs love to eat ornaments made of dried playdough hung on the tree.
  3. Sea water. Please bring fresh water to the beach for your dogs.
  4. Paintballs are loaded with salt. Please clean up all the remnants after a party to prevent toxicity. Also, do not allow dogs off leash in areas used for paint ball.
  5.  Jerky when excessive amounts are consumed.
  6.  Sodium phosphate enemas.
  7. Rawhide when excessive amounts are consumed. I heard about a women who gave her Labrador retriever 12 raw hides in one day to keep him busy when she worked. The dog developed salt toxicity.
  8. Canned foods including soup and vegetables. Soup contains a lot of salt. Some canned varieties contain up to 60% of the recommended human daily dose of salt. Use fresh or low salt frozen vegetables with pets.
  9. Packaged breakfast cereal contains a surprising amount of salt. Pot bellied pigs have been known to break into the pantry and become poisoned after eating as little as two packages of breakfast cereal.
  10. Pretzels and crackers in birds. Birds, especially parrots, love crackers and pretzels. Please use salt free products to prevent toxicity.


-Salt, Pet Poison Helpline.

-Shell, Linda. “Hypernatremia” VIN Associate, Last update 07/20/2007.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.