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Is Salt Bad for Cats?

Cats have a dreadful habit of trying to eat things that they really should not be eating. Rubber bands, plastic bags, paint — and, of course, whatever you’re eating. There are lots of things in human food that are very bad for cats. Some things, like onion or garlic, might be immediately poisonous. Others might be okay in small quantities if they’re only consumed once, but should still be kept away from cats. One of these ingredients is salt. While very small amounts of salt might not be immediately toxic, larger quantities can be quite dangerous.

Is salt bad for cats? Yes, salt is generally unhealthy for cats. In small amounts, salt can make your cat dehydrated and uncomfortably thirsty. In larger quantities, salt can actually be toxic. Salt poisoning in cats can be very dangerous. It’s important not to let cats eat salty foods, or lick up spilt salt or brine.

You’ve arrived on this page because you’re concerned about your cat consuming salt. Maybe your cat has eaten food containing salt, and you want to know what you should do. Maybe your cat is simply pestering you for a food that you know to be high in salt, and you want to know if it’s safe to offer some as a treat. Perhaps you are thinking of getting a cat, and you want to know which foods you should keep away from your new pet. Whatever your concerns, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to find all the answers you’re looking for.

Is Salt Bad for Cats?

There are some substances that cats should not ingest. One of them is salt. Most cats won’t try to eat pure salt, but it’s quite common for them to try and eat foods that have a high salt content.

In very small quantities, salt probably won’t have any serious effects. Your cat can, for example, nibble a small piece of processed meat foods like sausage (as long as it doesn’t contain garlic or onion) without becoming unwell. Even in small amounts, though, salt can contribute to dehydration. Since many cats are already in a state of mild dehydration due to the feline propensity to forget to drink, anything that exacerbates the situation is to be avoided.

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A cat who has consumed salt may show a number of symptoms. She may urinate more than usual (sometimes missing the litter-box). She may be thirsty and want extra water. Generally, the problem will resolve itself as the cat drinks more water and her system flushes out the salt.

If a cat eats more than a small amount of salt, though, things can be more serious. A cat who has eaten too much salt may become dizzy, disoriented, lethargic and sickly. Vomiting or loose stools are possible. The cat’s appetite may be decreased.

While it’s unusual in healthy animals, a cat can develop a condition called hypernatraemia. This means, essentially, too much salt in the blood, and is commonly called salt poisoning. It’s not common for a cat without any underlying medical conditions to develop salt poisoning purely from consuming salty foods. That said, if a cat already has high levels of salt in her blood due to some medical issue, consuming extra salt is only going to make matters worse.

Symptoms of salt poisoning include those listed above. As the cat’s condition deteriorates, she may become uncoordinated, develop tremors, or even have seizures. If salt poisoning isn’t addressed, the cat may fall into a coma and eventually die.

Cats with salt poisoning need professional veterinary attention. Typically, the cat will require a course of intravenous fluids. If the hypernatraemia is related to an underlying condition, this will also need to be treated.

Salt Sources to Watch Out For

The most obvious sources of salt are “people foods” that a cat might consume. Preserved meat, such as jerky or salami, is a common source. Tuna packed in brine is another. Cats may also try to eat foods like potato crisps or salty snacks. These are especially bad, as they tend to contain other ingredients besides salt that are very unhealthy for cats. Condiments like soy sauce are also high in sodium, so make sure your cat doesn’t lick your plate or “clean up” any spilt sauces.

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Less obvious sources include things like table salt, salty water leftover from cooking, and seawater. Rock salt used for de-icing paths and pavements can end up on an outdoor cat’s paws or fur, and be ingested when the cat licks it off. (Yet another reason to keep your cat indoors.) If you give your children homemade salt dough (playdough) to play with, make sure it’s kept away from cats; for some reason, a few cats really want to try and eat it. While not a very common hazard, it might be worth mentioning that the paint used in paintballs (the kind used for war games) can be high in salt and very bad for cats.

Another source that you might not immediately suspect is those pretty pink salt lamps that are popular in many homes. My friend had to get rid of hers after her cat decided to use it as a salt lick.

Safe Foods for Cats

When choosing food for your cats, the best and safest option is to just give them wet cat food. I hear cat guardians state that, well, they wouldn’t want to eat tinned food every day, so why should their cats?

This is a misconception. Cat food isn’t an inferior option. Good brands formulate their cat food so that it’s nutritionally complete, containing all the elements that your cat needs for optimal health. While it’s possible to make your own cat food at home, I prefer not to. It’s a labour-intensive business, and I’m not convinced my little team of shorthair kitties would be any happier or healthier than they are on the tins and pouches I give them.

That said, it’s important to choose your cat’s food wisely. I avoid giving my cats dry food, even though it’s cheaper. Cats are adapted to get their fluid from their food, rather than from drinking, and a diet consisting chiefly of dry food can lead to dehydration. You should also avoid cheaper brands of food, as they tend to use cereal and other vegetable ingredients to bulk them out. Cereal ingredients don’t add anything of nutritional value and contribute additional calories that your cat probably does not need. Other vegetables, like tomatoes or courgettes, are perfectly fine, but they don’t provide any nutrients in a form that your cat’s digestive system can absorb. They do provide fluid, however, which is useful, and some cats like them.

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For preference, I choose a high-protein food with named ingredients. I like to offer poultry or rabbit, as these are the closest ingredients to a cat’s natural diet of birds and rodents.

Low Salt Treats for Cats

The best treats for cats are those formulated and prepared specifically for felines. While it might be tempting to feed your pet a sliver of jerky or salami, it’s not a good idea to do this more than once in a blue moon. Instead, keep a supply of actual kitty treats around to use as rewards or pick-me-ups for your cat. Note that treats and snacks should make up less than 10 per cent of your cat’s daily calories.

While I normally advise against ever giving your cat “people food”, there are one or two exceptions. One is baby food. Quality baby foods, made with no added salt or other toxic ingredients, make great treats for your cat. Choose meat or poultry flavours — preferably poultry. My shorthair cats go absolutely wild for a dollop of chicken baby food, and it makes a great reward for training programmes.

Cooked, unseasoned meat or fish is acceptable. I don’t really like to give my cats raw animal products, due to the risk of food poisoning. Make sure that anything you give your cats is completely free from bones and hasn’t been flavoured with salt, herbs or spices.

I recommend against feeding your cat from your own plate. This just encourages them to beg for your food or try to steal it.