A sprightly house-sitter will tell you that cats can’t eat salt. I’ve heard that they should only have wet food, and the only treats they should get are a little bit of tuna or a few catnip leaves.
But I’m going to go ahead and disagree with those assumptions. Sure, some foods should be avoided because they can give a cat stomachaches or diarrhea — but a little bit of salt every now and again won’t hurt them.
Cats don’t really need anything else (besides water) besides their food to stay healthy. Salt is especially important to them, however, because it helps maintain their electrolyte balance.
Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge and regulate body processes like motor activity, digestion, and heartbeat. Cats’ bodies require a particular balance of sodium and potassium to work optimally.
According to the Oxford Academic Journal of Nutrition, the minimum daily amount of salt a cat needs to stay healthy is 0.8-1.6 grams per 1 kilogram of diet.
Why Do Cats Need Salt?
Salt is a source of sodium and chloride, which are both essential to a cat’s diet. These electrolytes help maintain a cat’s body fluid balance by regulating their blood pressure and help to transport nutrients throughout the whole body.
Cats also use salt to help regulate their nervous system and digest their food properly. If they don’t get enough of it, they can’t produce tears and saliva properly and might even start vomiting. They may also experience cardiac arrest if they don’t get enough salt in their diet. Dogs can also benefit from added salt in their diets too, but most dog foods already include plenty of it.
How much salt can a cat have?
A normal healthy cat can safely get about 0.5-1 grams of salt (about 1/4 teaspoon) per day, but more than that and they may start getting sick.
When we say that cats need a certain amount of salt, we mean how much is too much for them. If you’re feeding your cat a portion of dry food and he’s constantly licking his chops and not feeling well, it’s probably too much salt. It doesn’t matter if the label says the food has “sea salt” or “kosher salt” or “healthful sea flavored flavor.”
If your cat is licking constantly and not feeling good after eating, he’s probably getting too much salt.
The most common symptoms of salt toxicity in cats are your kitty licking and drooling excessively and having stomach upsets. If you notice either of these symptoms, try cutting back on the amount of salt in your cat’s food.
I don’t think that it’s necessarily bad to give your cat a tiny bit of salt every now and then. I like to sprinkle a little salt on my hamster’s treats (and he loves them) and I’ve given my cats a few pinches of it over the years.
It really depends where you get your salt from. Table salt isn’t very good for you, but sea salts or kosher salts are better choices.
Related: Can cats eat beans? It depends
How much salt is too much for cats?
Every cat has different reactions to food. Some cats are more sensitive than others and need less salt in their diet. Some require more salt due to existing health conditions or age.
There’s no way to tell how much salt is too much for your cat based on the criteria above. The only way to know if he has eaten too much is by keeping an eye on him after eating.
If your cat shows symptoms of salt toxicity, you’ll need to cut back on his diet and take him to the vet for a checkup. If you don’t, he might suffer from low blood pressure, heart failure, or extreme fluid buildup in his lungs.
Any of these symptoms can kill your kitty within three days [SOURCE]. If they’re caught early enough though, they can be treated at home with fluid therapy and surgery.
Can salt make cats sick?
In a way, yes. While salt is a necessity to a cat’s diet, overconsumption can cause a kitty to become dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to a variety of dangerous health conditions in cats, including low blood pressure and fluid buildup in the kitty’s lungs. You can avoid this by keeping an eye on your cat’s salt intake.
If your kitty has eaten too much salt and you rush him to the vet the next day, he may suffer from gastric dilation volvulus (GDV). This is where the stomach “buries” itself down into the intestines.
If this happens, the inflammation can block blood flow to the intestines and cause your kitty’s intestines to die. Without the intestines, your kitty will die.
Lucky for us, if you catch your kitty in time, he might only need surgery to correct the problem. Otherwise, he’ll need intensive care for several days before his body can rest and recover.
Can cats eat table salt?
No. The ASPCA says that cats can’t eat table salt, because it contains iodine — an element cats don’t need. Because of the iodine, table salt is also much denser than regular seawater — it has 10 times more sodium chloride compared to seawater. This means that if you overfeed your cat with table salt, he will ingest way too much sodium and/or iodine which can upset his stomach or even kill him.
It’s important to remember that cats do need some amount of sodium in their diet though. Their bodies can’t function without it. Seawater is full of sodium, but your kitty can’t just drink it or he’ll get too much iodine. To avoid this, there are special low-iodine salt blocks for cats available online.
Related: Can cats Eat Chocolate? A Straight-up Answer
What happens if a cat has too much salt?
Cats who ingest too much salt can develop nausea, excessive thirst, and fluid buildup. They may also experience heart arrhythmias, seizures, or even go into a coma.
If you suspect your cat has eaten table salt or another type of richly-sodium diet, give him lots of clear fluids to drink and take him to the vet immediately. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear. If he gets too much sodium in his system all at once, he might die — so don’t take any chances.
Salt Poisoning in cats
What to do if your cat has salt poisoning
If your kitty is licking and drooling and feels generally unwell, cut back on the amount of salt in his diet and contact your vet immediately.
When we say “the amount of salt in his diet”, we mean how much is bad for him — not how much salt he eats every day. Just like humans need a certain amount of calories every day, cats need a certain amount of sodium every day.
It’s fine if they eat a little more every now and then, but if they overindulge over time (you don’t know how much they’re eating and eating and eating), it could really upset their stomachs.
Once you notice your cat has salt poisoning, immediately take him to the vet. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear. If you can, bring a little bit of whatever he ate with you to the vet so they can properly diagnose him. He’ll need fluids and an antibiotic for this.
How long does cat salt poisoning last?
If you catch your kitty in time, he should be fine after a few days of recovery.
If he doesn’t get cured though, the blockage of his intestines can become fatal. This can lead to death within three days if no treatment is given. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, by the time symptoms are noticed, “the prognosis is poor”.
How can I prevent salt poisoning?
The easiest thing you can do is limit the amount of salt in your cat’s diet — especially sodium chloride (table salt). Whenever you’re serving him something salty, make sure it only has natural salts in it.
Things like salmon, tuna, or herring (if your cat will eat them) are all full of sodium that will help keep him healthy. Remember that too much salt isn’t good though — so pay attention to how much he eats every day.
If your cat is picky and doesn’t like natural meat sources of salt, you can ask the vet about adding a little bit of low-iodine cat salt block to his diet. You can also try low-sodium chicken broth as a base for some recipes as well since it’s full of sodium!
A cat can’t just drink seawater because it would give him too much salt. If he drinks too much, he’ll start licking his chops or vomiting. The best way to help your cat get the right amount of sodium in his diet is to feed him food that’s designed for your fluffball.
Some foods are better than others though, so watch out for added salt and be aware of how much you’re giving your kitty. You can also give your cat a little bit of table salt every now and again if you want, but don’t overdo it.