Merck Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Salt Poisoning


Larry J. Thompson

, DVM, PhD, DABVT, Nestle Purina PetCare

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2020 | Modified Nov 2022

Salt (sodium chloride) toxicity can result when animals eat too much salt and do not have enough water to drink. Salt toxicity is directly related to water consumption and is unlikely if fresh drinking water is available. Mechanical failure of waterers, overcrowding, unpleasant tasting medicated water, new surroundings, or frozen water can all result in animals not drinking enough water. Signs generally involve the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. Testing the blood and cerebrospinal fluid for sodium levels helps to confirm a diagnosis. Characteristic tissue changes in the brain and analyses of feed or water for sodium content are also useful for making a diagnosis.

There is no specific treatment. The offending feed or water must be removed immediately. Fresh water must be provided, initially in small amounts at frequent intervals. Drinking large amounts of water can worsen neurologic signs because fluid can build up in the brain. Severely affected animals should be given water via a stomach tube. The death rate may be more than 50% regardless of treatment. In dogs and cats, slow administration of fluids may be useful.

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