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Key takeaways

Salt toxicosis occurs when dogs consume too much sodium.

  • Can be caused by lack of water access, playing in bodies of saltwater, or consuming objects high in salt, such as playdough
  • Salt toxicosis leads to dehydration, and in severe cases can cause severe brain swelling. Symptoms include vomiting, weakness, diarrhea, and seizures
  • Diagnostics include a physical examination, bloodwork, and urinalysis
  • Treatment usually consists of gradual rehydration, although inducing vomiting may be indicated in some cases
  • Prognosis is poor in cases where dogs develop severe symptoms, but is otherwise good with appropriate treatment
  • Toxicosis can be avoided by ensuring animals have access to fresh water, and by preventing dogs from eating excessive sodium
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A closer look: Salt Poisoning in Dogs

Excessive salt intake can be toxic as it results in severe dehydration. Salt toxicosis typically presents very suddenly in dogs, with more severe symptoms if an excessive amount of sodium is consumed in a short time. Similar symptoms occur with improperly balanced fluid therapy.

Cases of prolonged dehydration resulting in salt toxicosis usually have mild or no symptoms initially, until access to water is returned. During the dehydration period, the sodium level in the brain increases. When given access to water, dogs consume large amounts of water rapidly to restore hydration. The high sodium level in the brain pulls water into the brain tissue, causing severe brain swelling. At this point, dogs present with sudden onset of severe symptoms including seizures, uncoordinated movement, loss of consciousness, and death.

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Risk factors

Salt toxicosis is uncommon in dogs, although it is more common in dogs that have limited access to fresh drinking water. It is also more common during winter months in areas where rock salt deicing is common practice, as dogs can consume excess sodium through licking salt off of their paws.

Severe cases of salt toxicosis results in fluid accumulation within the brain, causing severe swelling. Dogs benefit from immediate veterinary intervention if excessive salt consumption is observed, or if dogs have had restricted water access for long periods of time.

Possible causes

Salt toxicosis is most commonly caused by excessive salt intake, such as from:

  • Ingestion of table salt, water softener salt, or deicing salt
  • Swimming or playing in the ocean or other bodies of saltwater
  • Regular grooming behavior during winter months, through consumption of salt embedded in the fur from the environment
  • Ingestion of products made with table salt, such as playdough or ornament dough

In some cases, salt toxicosis develops when dogs have limited water access for long periods of time. Under normal circumstances, excess sodium in the body is excreted in the urine. When water is scarce, the body attempts to conserve fluid by producing less urine, resulting in reduced sodium excretion. Situations leading to limited water access include:

  • Frozen water containers in outdoor dogs
  • Water bowls that are not filled for prolonged periods of time
  • Becoming trapped in a building or area without water access
  • Lack of thirst due to an underlying disease

Salt toxicosis can also occur through administration of improperly balanced fluids during treatment for other medical conditions.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnostics include:

  • A physical examination
  • Bloodwork
  • Diagnostic imaging, including ultrasound and
  • X-rays
  • Urinalysis
  • Dietary analysis
  • Analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (spinal tap)

Steps to Recovery

Treatment primarily focuses on restoring normal sodium levels. If excessive consumption has been observed but the patient is not yet symptomatic, vomiting may be induced to remove the salt before absorption.

Note: induction of vomiting should only be performed by a veterinarian. There is no safe way to induce vomiting at home.

Otherwise, treatment is largely supportive, including:

  • Fluid treatments to restore hydration and adjust sodium levels slowly
  • Dietary changes

It is important that rehydration occurs gradually, as rapid treatment can cause brain swelling. Many patients are hospitalized to allow for continuous monitoring.

Prognosis is typically good, with full recovery anticipated after a few days. Repeated blood tests may be required during this period, to monitor recovery.

In severe cases where a dog develops seizures, uncoordinated movement, or loss of consciousness, and does not respond well to treatment, the prognosis is guarded to poor.


Salt toxicosis is not contagious.

Preventative measures include:

  • Cleaning dogs’ paws after a walk during winter months
  • Avoiding swimming or playing in bodies of saltwater
  • Preventing dogs from eating high salt items, such as playdough

Is Salt Poisoning in Dogs common?

Salt toxicosis is uncommon, although more common in dogs that do not have proper access to water.

The threshold for dangerous salt consumption is also lower in smaller dogs.

Typical Treatment

  • Gradual rehydration
  • Dietary changes
  • Inducing vomiting


Larry J. Thompson , DVM, PhD, DABVT - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, - Writing for PetMD
Catherine M. Kasai, DVM / Robert King, DVM, DACVIM (internal medicine) - Writing for Vetfolio

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