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Can Cats Eat Salt? Here’s What You Need to Know

Luxifa Le

By Luxifa Le

salt on a wooden spoon and all over the black clothe

Cats cannot have table salt. Period. A high sodium intake can be lethal for cats. Pet parents of cats need to be vigilant about their cats’ salt intake. Many foods cats love to snack on have high sodium indexes that could potentially be lethal to cats.

Cat Nutrition Made Easy

Cats are part of a classification of animals known as “hypercarnivores” or “obligate carnivores.” That means their wild diet must be made up of at least 70% animal proteins. In the wild, cats hunt and eat other animals. Cats don’t leave much left of any animal they eat; they even eat the bones of their prey.

Obligate carnivores lack the necessary enzymes in their stomachs to break down plant matter, and they don’t derive the same amount of nutrients from them that omnivorous animals like humans and dogs do.

Because they’re obligate carnivores, cats have different nutritional needs than people. However, one thing is not in a cat’s nutritional profile: added sodium. Any human-grade food you feed your cat should be free of added sodium.

Epsom Salt
Image Credit: andreas160578, Pixabay

How Much Sodium Should Cats Have?

Despite the warnings, sodium is necessary for a cat to thrive. The amount of sodium appropriate for a cat’s diet depends on their life stage. On average, a cat should consume no more than —in a day. Gestating queens and growing kittens can consume more, while adult cats should consume less.

Sodium is required for life to exist, and cats are no different than the rest of life. However, because they’re so much smaller, their tolerance for sodium is much lower than humans.

The average healthy human is 136 pounds compared to a cat’s 10 pounds (and that’s a generous estimate…) which means that a human is equal in mass to about 13.6 cats. So, a human should be able to eat at least 13.6 times the salt of a cat just based on weight alone. (For reference, a human can eat about 2,300 mg or approximately one teaspoon—about 56 times the amount a cat can eat—and maintain good health, though most humans consume more than that on average.)

Cats may see an even more significant necessary reduction in salt intake as they age. Kidneys and other organs can start to fail as they get older, even if they’ve never experienced any serious illnesses. When this happens, your vet may suggest that your cat goes on a low-sodium diet to help control its aging symptoms.

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Hypernatremia is a rare condition where the sodium levels in the blood increase above a certain level. This is very rare in healthy animals and generally isn’t brought on by eating salty foods alone.

Hypernatremia is caused by an imbalance of electrolytes in the bloodstream. It’s a severe condition that can be fatal if left untreated. Untreated hypernatremia can cause the cells to cease to function, leading to kidney and liver failure.

The most common symptoms of hypernatremia are lethargy, excessive thirst, excessive urination, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you suspect your cat has had too much salt, take them to the veterinarian right away. Too much salt can be deadly within 24 hours.

cat vomiting
Image Credit: Tunatura, Shutterstock

Symptoms of Hypernatremia

  • Anorexia
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Dyspnea
  • Head tremors
  • Lack of response
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Weakness

How Is Hypernatremia Treated?

Hypernatremia is treated with intravenous fluids that help dilute the sodium levels in the bloodstream. In cases where the cat experiences excessive urination, IV fluids are also used to replenish water sources in the body. This treatment method is highly safe and conservative in medical intervention.

The sooner you can get your cat in treatment, the easier it will be to restore the sodium-water levels in the body. Swift treatment will also help prevent long-term damage to the internal organs due to dehydration or high sodium levels.

cat on a drip in a vet clinic
Image Credit: PRESSLAB, Shutterstock

What Contains Sodium?

Sodium is in most food, especially human-grade foods. Salt is a common preservative that is present in most foods. However, because animals have such low tolerance for salt, other preservatives are used in their food sources. Always check before offering your cat any human snacks to see if there is any added salt and avoid giving any foods that contain extra salt.

Canned foods and other foods meant to be preserved for long periods often have high amounts of added salt to help the food stay edible for as long as possible. If you’re going to give your cat a little lick out of your tuna can, make sure that you correctly account for the added salt in their diet.

Some people take their cats to the beach as well and if you happen to see your cat sipping from a saltwater pool, make sure that you monitor them over the next few hours to ensure that they aren’t experiencing any signs of Hypernatremia.

Should I Use Salt to Induce Vomiting?

Inducing vomiting is an essential first aid trick for poisons and toxicity. In years past, salt was commonly used to cause vomiting in cats who had eaten something they shouldn’t have. However, more recent veterinary science warns against this practice and encourages you to use other methods of inducing vomiting if you need to do so.

The safest way to induce vomiting is to have a veterinarian do it. Veterinarians have access to medications like Xylazine to induce vomiting in cats and have the equipment to respond should something go awry.

Additionally, if your cat has gotten into something they shouldn’t have, inducing vomiting may do more harm than good. A veterinarian will know when it’s appropriate to induce vomiting.

Final Thoughts

While cats may hunger for human food often, we shouldn’t give them too much, and the sodium levels of our food are just one reason! We have to stay vigilant about what we feed our pets since the onus of their care is on us. Salt is hazardous for cats and should be avoided wherever possible.

Always consult your veterinarian if you are worried about your cat’s health. If you suspect your cat may have sodium poisoning, the sooner they get into treatment, the more likely they will survive with minor long-term damage.

Featured Image Credit: mkupiec7, Pixabay

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