It can be challenging to ignore your furry friend’s cute eyes looking up at you, asking to taste what you’re eating. But what if what you’re eating has salt on it? Is it okay? Is salt safe for your cat?
Generally, cats should not eat human food (but there are some exceptions), but what are the human food exceptions that cats can eat? Salt is not one of those exceptions. Salt in high doses is toxic to cats – just as it is for humans.
Can Cats Eat Salt?
Imagine trying to measure 41 mg of salt. That’s the amount a cat is allowed to have without consequences. However, 41 mg of salt is such a small amount that it’s safe to say that you would be wise to avoid giving them salt.
If your cat ingests salt or salt sources, it may experience dehydration, or you may notice them returning to its water dish more than expected. Other symptoms of dehydration include:
- Using the litter box more frequently
- Lazier than normal
- Eat less frequently
Dehydration, if not treated, will lead to more severe problems like kidney disease and hyperthyroidism.
How Much Salt is Too Much?
A few sprinkles of salt here and there will not harm your cat. However, feeding your cat everything you eat daily may significantly impact its health. Because there is salt in almost everything we eat, and then feeding what you eat to your cat daily is too much salt.
If you’re going to feed your cat anything from your plate, make sure it is mainly plain with no added spices or additives. Overeating salt can be fatal for your cat and should be avoided as much as possible. More than 42 mg daily will increase the risk of your cat getting sick.
Why is Salt Toxic to Cats?
Cats have a lower tolerance to salt than humans, so their consequences are very damaging and likely fatal. Sodium draws out the fluid in cells, resulting in an electrolyte imbalance leading to dehydration.
A condition called hypernatremia can result in your cat if they eat excessive amounts of salt. Hypernatremia is a disease where high amounts of sodium get found in your cat’s bloodstream. If left untreated, hypernatremia will cause blood cells to stop working efficiently and will lead to liver and kidney failure.
Do Cats Need Salt?
As mentioned, salt in small doses is entirely safe, but do cats need salt? Since most cat food gets formulated to fit their dietary needs, their food already contains as much salt as they need daily. Therefore, you don’t need to add more sodium to their diet than their food contains.
Cats need a minute amount of sodium to keep them healthy and active. However, cat food never contains more than .27 mg or 2% salt content and should not be given more unless directed by their veterinarian.
In any case, ensure your cat always has unlimited access to water, as they are notorious for being curious creatures and may accidentally ingest salt sources on their own.
What To Do If You Suspect Your Cat Ate Salt
Foods that are high in sodium must be avoided in your cat’s diet. However, if you notice your cat stealing a potato chip or a spiced and seasoned piece of meat off your plate, you may be worried that they will get sick.
It’s dangerous for your cat to ingest over 1 gram of salt per 2 pounds of their weight, so if you suspect your cat has eaten a dangerous amount, the first thing to do is watch their behavior. If there is any symptom that shows your cat is unwell, such as vomiting or slight diarrhea, you must call a vet.
On the other hand, if your cat has eaten more than one chip or a large amount of something salty, it’s best not to wait and to call your vet or the ASPCA poison control immediately.
Sodium in your cat food is safe as it gets formulated to fit their dietary needs. However, knowing which salt sources are the most toxic to cats is best. If you notice your cat has eaten any of the following sources, you can decide whether to call ASPCA or observe their behavior – depending on the quantity they ingested:
- Rock salt
- Salt dough such as playdough
- Sterilizing equipment
- Stock cubes
- Dishwasher fluid or dish soap
- Salt lamps
- Sea water
Signs of Salt Exposure
It used to be recommended for owners to give their pets salt to induce vomiting, but it has more modernly been proven harmful and should be avoided. While some symptoms of salt toxicity have gotten mentioned, such as vomiting, lethargy, and dehydration, other symptoms include:
- Appetite changes
- Disorientation or confusion
- Tremors and seizures
Salt toxicity is life-threatening and needs to be assessed by a vet immediately. While comas and tremors are uncommon, salt toxicity can lead to more severe complications if left untreated.
Salt-Friendly Feline Treats
Most cat (and dog) treats are high in sodium, so we recommend feeding your cat treats in moderation and not replacing them as the primary food course. Store-bought treats such as temptations, bursts, wilderness, and greenies are safe options for your feline.
More natural treats that are entirely safe for your cat and are free of or have small amounts of sodium include:
- Fish (but don’t overdo it. Fish contains mercury and other metallic compounds).
- Unseasoned cooked meat such as beef, chicken, or turkey.
Treating Salt Poisoning in Cats
Treatment for salt toxicity in cats requires a visit to the vet. After diagnosis, your cat will get put on IV fluids which will help flush out salt toxins and dilute the sodium in their blood. In most cases, an IV fluid treatment will cure salt toxicity.
However, if there are underlying causes, your vet may have to take other precautions. You may consider long-term drug management and antibiotic therapy if your cat’s high sodium content is due to chronic disease.
What To Expect at a Vet Visit
The vet will administer a blood test upon bringing your cat into the veterinarian’s office. A blood test should be enough to tell your vet a proper diagnosis. If your vet suspects salt toxicity, they will advise you with options for treatment.
However, if your vet suspects hypernatremia, it means your cat has more than 160 mg of salt content in their body and is life-threatening. Although hyponatremia is rare, your vet may do other tests to find the underlying cause, such as checking for:
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Hormone imbalance
- Chronic renal disease
- Thyroid dysfunction
Other common questions regarding salt toxicity are:
What is sodium?
Sodium is the scientific name for salt. Sodium gets found in many foods, including preservatives, dairy, baked goods, and processed foods.
Why is sodium important?
Sodium helps balance body fluids and is essential for muscle and nerve functions.
Does canned wet or dry food have more salt?
Wet food contains more sodium than dry food.
Do cats like salt?
Yes, cats like salt. However, their body will let them know when enough is enough.
Regarding cats and a salty diet, it is best to avoid feeding your cat salt-filled content, such as food from your plate. There is enough sodium in a cat’s dry or wet food to keep them healthy and balanced.
If you suspect your cat has eaten salt, watch for signs, and under concerning circumstances, call a vet or ASPCA poison control immediately.