Is salt bad for dogs? The lowdown

Updated March 2024 by Kristina Johansen

Salt has a pretty bad reputation, but is it as bad as it’s made out to be?

For humans, high levels of dietary salt often lead to health problems like high blood pressure. It’s common for people to assume that what holds true for us also applies to our dogs. This means believing that, like humans, too much salt in a dog’s diet is harmful and will cause the same health issues.

However, this isn’t always the case. While there are similarities, humans and dogs are different, and the effects of dietary salt on human health may not directly translate to dogs.

Let’s explore what’s true and what’s false when it comes to salt in your dog’s diet.

Dogs need salt in their diet: TRUE

To stay healthy, your dog requires a certain amount of salt. When it is ingested and dissolves in the blood, salt plays a vital role in many of your dog’s daily bodily functions.

For example, salt helps regulate your dog’s heartbeat and nerve function. It’s also crucial for maintaining blood pressure and pH levels and plays a key role in hydration – managing water balance, urinary concentration, and thirst.

In short, salt is essential for your dog’s body to function properly.

Adding salt to your dog’s food increases palatability: FALSE

You may have read that pet food manufacturer add salt to dogu food as a flavor enhancer to increase its palatability, similar to how salt is used in human food. However, this is not true.

In humans, salt is known to enhance the flavour of a dish. This is because some flavour compounds can be too subtle to detect. However, neurological magic happens when we add a small amount of salt! It triggers our taste receptors, allowing them to identify flavours they couldn’t sense before.

For dogs, it doesn’t quite work that way. A dog’s sense of taste is different from that of humans, and studies have shown that dogs don’t prefer foods with high salt levels. In fact, some studies have shown that increased salt levels put them off.

How much salt a dog needs depends on the dog: TRUE

Factors such as breed, size, weight, age, and health conditions influence the amount of salt a dog needs to stay healthy.

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a dog’s diet should contain a minimum of 0.3% dry matter (DM) sodium for growth stages and 0.08% DM sodium for adult maintenance. It’s worth noting that AAFCO currently does not set a maximum limit for salt content in dog food. Many commercial dog foods exceed these minimum salt requirements, often several times the recommended amount.

The Nutritional Research Council (NRC, 2006) have an equation to calculate recommended allowances for dogs fed a home-prepared diet, which is:

For those preparing home-cooked meals for their dogs, the Nutritional Research Council (NRC, 2006) provides a specific formula to calculate recommended sodium allowances. This formula is based on the dog’s body weight and is calculated as follows:

Kg BW^0.75 x 26.2 mg (where kg BW represents the body weight in kilograms).

This tailored approach allows for a more precise determination of sodium needs based on the individual dog.

Additionally, the NRC has defined a safe upper limit for salt content in dog food, which is 15g/kg of dry matter.

High dietary salt will cause health problems in dogs: FALSE

In humans, persistently high levels of dietary salt can lead to health issues, including but not limited to high blood pressure, kidney problems, and heart disease. However, this is not entirely the case for dogs.

Healthy adult dogs generally have a good tolerance for dietary salt. They can adapt well to fluctuations in salt levels and maintain healthy blood pressure and blood salt concentrations. Salt toxicity in dogs occurs only above the National Research Council (NRC) levels. That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that individual dogs, like humans, may have varying tolerances based on factors such as age, breed, and overall health.

Salt restriction is recommended for dogs with heart disease: TRUE

Although there is limited data on the clinical benefits of salt restriction for dogs with heart failure, low-sodium diets have been associated with reductions in heart size and improvements in cardiac function. Because of this, many vets will suggest lowering or restricting salt in the diet of dogs with heart failure.

You can learn more about diet and heart disease in dogs by heading to this link:

Diet for dogs with heart disease

Now, the important thing to note here is that it’s a lowering – not omitting – of salt in the diet. And it’s not needed in all dogs. If your dog has heart problems, it’s best to speak to your vet before making any dramatic changes to their salt intake.

It’s also worth noting that in the case of home-prepared diets, there is less cause for concern because fresh foods without added salt provide the least amount of sodium possible.

Bottom line: Is salt bad for dogs?

Salt plays a crucial but often misunderstood role in a dog’s diet. The oversimplified belief that ‘salt is bad’ for dogs is misleading. Dogs have distinct salt needs and tolerances, which differ significantly from human requirements.

Contrary to popular belief, adding salt to dog food doesn’t automatically enhance its flavour, as dogs’ taste preferences vary from those of us humans. Recognising and respecting these dietary differences is essential, rather than overgeneralising based on human standards.

For dogs with health conditions like heart disease, careful management of salt intake is essential and should always be guided by veterinary advice. The key is understanding and appropriately adjusting your dog’s salt intake under professional guidance for optimal health and well-being.

Further reading