Salt is an important nutrient for all animals. It’s responsible for many functions in your dog’s body, just as it is in humans. However, just like people, too much salt is bad for your dog. Are salt licks just a new fad, or do dogs need salt licks? 

Do dogs need salt licks?

Nutrition has long been an area of conflicting information. When you look at human nutrition advice, it’s often in direct opposition. Keto claims that carbs are the enemy. Other diet plans say that a high carbohydrate intake can help you lose weight, and proclaim fat to be the source of weight woes.

When it comes to nutrition for dogs, you’ll find the same theme of conflicting information. As an owner who only wants what’s best for your dog, it can be difficult to know what the best is, including whether your dog needs a salt lick. 

The Risks of Too Much Salt

Too much salt is bad for your dog’s health. It can cause dehydration, diarrhea, and vomiting. Excessive salt can lead to seizures and brain swelling, which can be fatal. 

When the body has too much salt, the cells release their water in an attempt to balance the salt in the blood. Other symptoms include lethargy and excessive thirst. 

Salt Safety

Salt in large amounts is toxic to dogs. It’s a danger most pet owners never consider. If you leave your table salt within reach of your dog, they could poison themselves. Be sure to put any type of salt out of reach of your canine companion. 

Another overlooked danger is salt melt. It’s often used in the wintertime because the salt melts ice. Trucks spread it on roads, and home and business owners apply it to parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks. 

Most dogs accidentally ingest salt because they lick slushie snow. However, some dogs enjoy the taste of salt and will seek it out on the ground or in bags. 

Pets can also ingest too much salt from licking it off their paws after going outside. In addition to monitoring your pet when outside, wipe their paws to remove any salt. 

Are Salt Licks Safe?

The problem with a salt lick is that dogs enjoy the taste of salt. It’s unlikely they will ingest enough to get severe salt poisoning. However, too much salt can cause gastrointestinal distress, dehydration, and problems with the heart and kidneys over time. 

Your dog may not know when enough is enough. Salt licks are not something naturally found in a dog’s environment, so they may not be able to regulate their intake when it’s offered to them. You wouldn’t put a large bowl of treats in front of your dog, and expect them to stop eating when they’ve had enough. Giving them a salt lick is a similar scenario.  

Should I put salt in my dog’s water?

Because salt is important for your dog’s health, you may be considering adding salt to your dog’s water. Is this a good idea?

Dogs Don’t Sweat

When you get hot, your body sweats to cool you down. Salt is a key component of sweat, so it’s important to get a healthy intake of salt when you are sweating. 

Dogs, however, don’t sweat to cool themselves off. They sweat in minor amounts on the pads of their feet, but panting is their main cooling mechanism. This means that dogs do not lose a significant amount of salt when they get hot. 

Ocean Water Sickness

Many dogs enjoy swimming. When dogs swim in the ocean, it’s important to make sure they aren’t drinking ocean water. The high salt content can make them sick, and in rare cases, it is fatal. 

The easiest way to prevent ocean water sickness is to ensure your dog is well hydrated with fresh water. You’ll also need to watch them closely to be sure they aren’t ingesting salt water. 

Signs Your Dog Is Low in Salt

Low salt isn’t a common issue for dogs, but it is possible. This usually happens when the dog is sick and vomiting or experiencing diarrhea. This leads to dehydration, as well as a loss of salt. 

Signs your dog may have sodium deficiency include lethargy, weakness, confusion, seizures, and vomiting. 

Should You Give Your Dog Salt Water? 

In most cases, no. If your dog is experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, you can give them salt water temporarily. Once they are eating normally again, discontinue the salt. 

Another option is to give them Pedialyte. In fact, this is often recommended for sick dogs. The ingredients and proportions for the child’s electrolyte drink are similar to your dog’s requirements. Again, this should be a temporary measure. 

If you suspect your dog is low in salt, particularly if there isn’t a discernable cause like gastrointestinal illness, take them to the vet. They will perform a blood test to check the levels of vital vitamins, minerals, and salt. They can then advise you on what your dog needs to feel better. 

Is salt important for dogs?

Yes. Salt is essential for dogs. It keeps cells from dehydrating and maintains nerve and muscle function. However, balance is essential. Salt also regulates blood volume and maintains healthy blood pressure. Dogs also need salt to digest their food. Dogs use salt to create stomach acid which breaks down food. Without it, they can’t digest the food properly and access its vital nutrients. 

How Much Salt is Enough?

How much salt your dog needs depends on a range of factors. Activity level, age, size, and how much water they drink. Most commercial dog foods are .3% sodium or higher. 

The body of a healthy dog can actually adjust the salt level in the body. They do this by excreting excess salt out in their urine. This is why dogs who consume too much salt will drink lots of water. 

Dogs without sodium restrictions should consume food that is .5% sodium or higher. However, some dog treats and table foods can have higher sodium levels, which will raise your dog’s overall intake. 

Dogs with mild sodium restrictions should have food that is .3%-,4% sodium. Dogs with moderate restriction will need a diet that’s .2%-,3% sodium. Dogs with extreme restriction need a diet .075%-1.5% sodium. 

Unfortunately, many dog food manufactures do not include sodium information on the label. They aren’t legally required to do so. However, you may find the information by looking on the website or calling the company. You can also choose food that does include this information. 

Low-Sodium Diet

Some dogs require a low-sodium diet. As you can see, there are different levels of restriction based on your dog’s health and conditions. These diets are often recommended for dogs with heart failure, high blood pressure, and kidney failure. 

Why do dogs lick salty skin?

The most obvious answer is because they like the taste of salt! However, there are many reasons dogs lick salty skin. 

Salty Taste

Dogs like the taste of salt just as humans do. It’s not surprising that they would enjoy licking salty skin. Sweat contains salt, which helps cool your body. So your dog may become particularly enthusiastic about licking if you’ve been sweating recently. 

However, if you haven’t broken a sweat, your dog can still enjoy the taste of salt on your skin. Their sensitive taste buds can pick up on traces of salt that are always present on the skin. 

Affection

Dogs lick as a sign of affection. Mothers lick their puppies to comfort them and stimulate their nervous systems. As puppies grow, they learn to associate licking with affection. 

Grooming

Mothers also lick their puppies to groom them. When your dog is licking you, they may be attempting to groom you. This may happen particularly if your dog notices something strange on your skin. It could be salt, dirt, lotion, or even water. To your dog, this is something that doesn’t belong, so they will lick it off to groom you. 

Curiosity

Dogs explore the world with their mouths and noses. When they smell a new smell like salt on your skin, they will lick it to get a better understanding of what it is. If you have a puppy, this could be the reason they like your salty skin. It’s new to them. 

Comfort

Licking is a stress-relieving behavior for dogs. It releases endorphins, which help them feel calmer and happier. Dogs with anxiety issues will often lick themselves as a comfort mechanism. 

OCD

Because licking is comforting to dogs, it can become an obsessive behavior. If your dog seems to always be licking you, themselves, or objects, they may have a behavioral issue. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.