Low sodium dog food: Feeding an optimum diet for your canine

If you would like to find out more about how low sodium dog food benefits your dog, this may be helpful for you. A low sodium diet helps your canine to achieve a balance in electrolytes as well as normal muscle and nerve cell functions. 

Can dogs eat salt?

Yes. In fact, according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a dog requires at least 0.8g of sodium per 1000kcal ME during its growth and reproduction stages. This decreases to a minimum of 0.2g when it reaches adulthood. 

A 2018 study showed that healthy dogs do not actually have any issues coping with varied amounts of salt in their diets. There is also no concrete evidence that a high amount of sodium in their diet adds to the risk of hypertension. 

low sodium dog food for your dog
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How much sodium does your dog need?

The sodium content of a diet is usually expressed in milligrams (mg) per unit of caloric energy. 

Category

Allowable Sodium (mg) per 100kcal Metabolizable Energy

Allowable Sodium as a % of Dry Matter

Mild Sodium Restriction

80 to 100

0.3 to 0.4

Moderate Sodium Restriction

50 to 80

0.2 to 0.3

Marked Sodium Restriction

40 to 50 

0.15 to 2

Extreme Sodium Restriction

20 to 40

0.075 to 0.15

Source: vermontveterinarycardiology.com

According to the table above, most senior and middle aged dogs should be introduced to a mild sodium restriction in their diet unless their medical conditions suggest otherwise. 

The daily recommended allowance of sodium for a canine is 200mg. Any deficiency in salt will result in an increased heart rate, water intake concentration, hemoglobin concentration, restlessness as well as dry mucous membranes.

Benefits of a low sodium diet

Dogs with health conditions such as high blood pressure and heart diseases or issues are typically asked to follow a low sodium diet to prevent strokes and heart issues respectively. Some of the health benefits of a low sodium diet include

  • Hydration - aids in removing the excess salt through urine to prevent from affecting the kidney function and circulation system.
  • Managing blood pressure - better regulation of blood pressure
  • Improving senior health - prevent muscle problems and poor nerve function from worsening 

What does too much sodium do to a dog? 

Too much sodium (more than 154 mEq/L) in a dog’s blood is a condition called hypernatremia. This can cause seizures, disorientation, diarrhea, vomiting or coma. 

Hypernatremia can be caused by low intake of water and extreme loss of water through the gastrointestinal tract. These will affect the regulation of sodium concentration in blood. Treatment may involve balancing the electrolytes through fluid therapy. 

Conditions that require a low sodium diet

Most of the time, the need for a low sodium diet for dogs stems from the issue of accumulation of fluid in its body. The reduction of salt in the dog’s diet can combat the water retention properties of salt and excrete its excess via the urine.   

You should note that restricting the intake of salt unnecessarily can cause it to signal the body to reserve sodium from all sources. 

Low sodium in food also reduces the palatability of the food taste. Your pet will then lose its appetite, thus not getting balanced nutrition. You should try to maintain a balance between its health conditions and preferences in order to provide your dog the best low sodium foods that it needs

Heart Disease

The inability to get rid of additional sodium causes additional water retention. The bloodstream will have additional fluid that increases pressure on the heart and other organs, such as the kidneys and lungs. 

Heart disease can lead to congestive heart failure (CHF) in dogs. Watch out for symptoms like fatigue, breathing difficulties or excessive coughing due to the accumulation of fluid in the heart. It’s a sign that your dog’s heart has difficulty pumping blood to other parts of the body.

CHF is more common in senior dogs, with about 20% to 25% of those between 9 to 12 years of age affected. The recommended intake of sodium decreases depending on the severity of a dog’s heart disease: 

  • Moderate heart disease with enlarged heart should follow a moderate sodium restriction diet 
  • CHF canine should consume a diet with marked sodium restriction 
  • Dogs with refractory CHF potentially require extreme sodium restriction to make them feel more comfortable. This is relevant when medication and moderate sodium restriction cannot control their symptoms well.

Ultimately, dogs with CHF require a diet which is tailored to their condition to mitigate it. The best dog food for heart health should also consist of the following besides low sodium:

  • Amino acids (namely Taurine and Carnitine)
  • Magnesium and B-Vitamins
  • Coenzyme Q10 
  • Vitamins A, C, and E 
  • Potassium and Magnesium
  • Omega 3 fatty acids

Kidney Disease

Dog kidney failure is one of the major causes of death in older dogs. Dogs with chronic kidney disease are unable to filter the surplus sodium and other minerals that are usually expelled through the urine. This causes water retention and negatively affects its health.

Based on AAFCO’s recommendation, 60% to 90% of dogs with serious kidney diseases also have hypertension or high blood pressure that harm the kidneys even more. The best renal diet for dogs are low in sodium and phosphorus and moderate to high in quality protein and fat.

Liver Disease

The liver functions to remove waste and toxins while producing bile for digestion. It also plays an important intermediary role in the digestion of fat, carbohydrate, and protein. When the liver function is affected, waste and toxins start to accumulate and impact other functions in the heart and brain. 

Part of the nutritional management in dogs with liver disease include maintaining a suitable level of sodium on top of other minerals to avoid overworking the liver. They should not be fed with dry food that has a higher level of sodium. It is also not easily digested compared to protein, thus increasing pressure on the digestive system and liver. 

bone broth

Serving your dog bone broth with an appropriate level of sodium is an alternative to tap (unfiltered) water which contains toxins that the liver has to process. 

Salt Toxicity

Salt poisoning or toxicity can happen to dogs who consume excessive amounts of salt within a short time period. It could be fatal if their intake is approximately 4g/kg of body weight. 

Symptoms of excess salt intake include vomiting within a few hours of ingestion, which can develop into diarrhea, weakness, seizures and muscle tremors. However, this condition rarely happens unless there is an accidental intake of extremely salty food. 

Intake of warm water at a few hours intervals can help to reduce acutely increased levels of sodium. You should also get prompt medical care for your dog if this happens.

Ascites

CHF and liver failure can cause blood and other fluids to leak into the abdomen, a condition referred to as ascites. The additional liquid gathers in the abdominal cavity and exerts pressure on the organs.  

Some symptoms of ascites include breathing difficulties, extreme tiredness or decreased appetite.

Treatment for this condition is restricting your dog’s sodium intake to  100mg sodium/100kcal diet (25mg/kg/day; or less than 0.1% of dry matter in food). This requires further monitoring as limiting the intake alone may not be sufficient. Diuretics may be needed to raise sodium excretion through urine. 

Seizure prone dogs 

Dogs that are prone to seizures should be fed a low sodium diet. This is because too much salt can lead to salt toxicity or poisoning, which in turn, increases the risk of seizures. 

What is considered low sodium in dog food?

Low sodium dog food is nutritionally similar to a normal diet, but with less salt content in it. The main ingredient should always contain high quality, properly labelled animal protein (at least 18%) instead of meat from general sources like poultry and fillers. There should also be no additives or preservatives.

Low sodium wet dog food

Low sodium wet dog food has similar nutrition as normal wet dog food. Petcube’s raw dog food collection offers a well-balanced nutritional diet that your dog needs. Wet dog food that is low in sodium content can help to increase the appetite of a dog suffering from conditions such as heart disease. 

Because low sodium wet food comes with gravy or sauce, it is more tasty and appetising but still caters to dogs who need a low salt content diet. Wet food is good for dogs who dislike drinking water as the high moisture content keeps it hydrated and makes it easy to chew.

raw food

Low sodium dry dog food

AAFCO mentioned that the dry dog food should contain a minimum of 0.3% sodium. Dry kibbles are famous for having low sodium as well as lower fat and protein compared to wet food. 

Low sodium canned dog food

Low sodium wet food usually comes in cans. They have higher fat and protein contents compared to dry kibbles. The moisture content in wet food is higher (75% to 78%) than dry dog food (10% to 12%) making it easier to chew and swallow. 

Low sodium raw dog food

Low sodium raw dog food is a healthy option for dogs who need less salt in their diet, especially if you choose those that are unseasoned. It is high in protein and full of nutrients and minerals that your dog needs to maintain their health. 

You can feed your dog raw chicken as it is one of the most common ingredients in many dog foods. Other proteins in low sodium raw dog food you can give your dog include venison, kangaroo, and beef.

Low sodium freeze dried dog food

Since low sodium freeze dried dog food is minimally processed, it is able to maintain most of its original nutritional values. At the same time, it does not contain added preservatives or additives which makes it ideal for a low sodium diet. 

Flash frozen dog food is also able to preserve its nutritional content, flavor and moisture without the use of preservatives Thus, it is equally beneficial to a dog who requires a low sodium and high quality protein diet. 

Low sodium dog treats 

Low sodium treats can be in a soft, chewy or crunchy form. You can avoid treats which have added salt by checking the nutritional labels on their packaging. 

Petcubes’ natural dry dog treats collection uses 100% whole food ingredients that are free from preservatives as well as artificial colours and flavors.

Low sodium grain free dog food

The best low sodium grain free dog food contains higher protein and less salt compared to those with grain content. Grain ingredients such as corn, wheat, rice and other cereal grains are typically replaced by potatoes and sweet potatoes which are high in carbohydrates. 

Legumes like chickpeas, lentils, peas and soybeans are also widely used. These plant based food proteins have some missing essential amino acids that are otherwise present in animal proteins. Thus, when choosing grain free dog food, always ensure that the meat is still the main source of protein. 

Unless your dog is allergic to any grains, it is not advisable to switch to grain free dog food, due to the excess soluble carbohydrates. Too much carbohydrate can cause obesity, bad bacteria in the gut, and a deficiency in energy. 

Low sodium organic dog food

Low sodium organic dog food not only has less salt, it also uses safe and nutrient-rich ingredients that are not artificially synthesized. Organic dog food ensures less digestive issues due to higher quality proteins used and does not contain contaminants which may irritate the gastric lining. 

Low sodium vs no sodium diet

It is not advisable to eliminate salt completely from your dog’s meal because salt is vital in the regulation of fluid volume in cells and ensures proper functionality of nerves. By removing sodium entirely from its diet, your canine’s body systems will be strained whilst trying to conserve sodium. 


Restricting the sodium intake for healthy dogs is also not recommended for the same reason. Additionally, healthy dogs are able to regulate the sodium level in their bodies based on their needs.

How do I know how much sodium is in dog food?

To determine the amount of sodium in the food you are purchasing, you can 

  • scan the label for the sodium content 
  • contemplate choosing brands made in countries that have better guidelines for manufacturing and quality control, such as Singapore, Australia, USA, Canada, and New Zealand 
  • inspect the list of ingredients for presence of salt or preservatives
  • opt for heart health or weight management food as they normally have low sodium

Conclusion

Besides paying attention to the sodium content in food, you have to ensure that it provides your dog with a well-balanced diet. Check the label for ingredients before purchasing for your canine. You can serve it with weight management food as they commonly have less salt than kibbles. Before deciding on changing your dog’s diet to low or no sodium, you should discuss with the veterinarian on the sodium requirement for your dog.
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