The Low-Down on Salty Cat Foods
Sodium is an essential mineral for cats, maintaining proper muscle and nerve cell function and preventing cells from swelling or dehydrating by maintaining the cellular environment. A little sodium goes a long way, though, and too much salt can cause a host of health problems in your feline friend.
Common Sources of Salt in Cat Foods
Sodium is found in good amounts in meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, and these are often primary ingredients in cat food. It may also be added to commercial cat foods in the form of table salt to make the meal more palatable. Moreover, those tasty treats your kitty enjoys may be hidden sources of sodium. Read some labels next time you’re at the pet store. You may be surprised at just how much sodium your cat is consuming.
Dangers of a High-Sodium Diet
Healthy cats who eat food which does not normally exceed the sodium level of .2% recommended by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), will not generally experience any adverse health effects from the occasional consumption of excess dietary salt. In fact, consuming less than the recommended amount of sodium may result in poor growth and development. High sodium levels typically result in increased thirst and water consumption, resulting in the excess being excreted in your healthy cat’s urine.
A high-sodium diet becomes a serious problem when your cat is not healthy, and there are numerous health conditions that can be worsened by excessive intake of salt. Cats suffering from kidney, heart, or liver disease typically require greatly reduced salt intake, and excess sodium can cause severe illness in these cats.
Also, cat owners should remain aware of how much water their kitty consumes, as dehydration can quickly lead to unhealthy levels of sodium. Sodium toxicity can cause seizures, loss of appetite, dehydration, loss of coordination, brain swelling, blindness, and death within 24 hours. Sodium toxicity is a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention.
How Much is Too Much?
Although a minimum level for sodium intake has been established, there is no established maximum of salt content in cat foods. Because of this, there are no regulations holding manufacturers accountable, even though the National Research Council believes excess salt intake through pet foods is a concern and can cause anorexia, excessive thirst and drinking, excessive urination, and impaired growth in cats. Your best bet is to err on the side of caution and stay as close to the minimum recommended amount possible, unless your veterinarian advises you otherwise. Some experts believe levels below 0.35-0.50% DM are a safe range for healthy cats with no signs of heart or kidney disease.
The Journal of Nutrition notes average-sized cats require about 21 milligrams of salt per day, while the National Research Council recommends no more than twice that per day as a maximum.
How to Avoid Excess Salt When Feeding Your Feline
You shouldn’t avoid salt completely if your cat is healthy, and you should only restrict salt or make dietary changes if recommended by your veterinarian. As you can tell from the variety of opinions by experts cited in this article alone, not all experts agree that salt is a major concern for most cats. Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, noting a recent research paper on the effect of sodium on cats, states that researchers “determined that over a two-year period, a diet that was three times higher in salt had no adverse effect on kidney function, blood pressure, or cardiac function.”
Because there is no consistency in salt content from one commercial product to the next, it is important to read labels carefully. Only purchase foods that contain a balanced amount of sodium, calories, other minerals, proteins, fats, vitamins, and carbohydrates. And, if your commercial canned or dry food contains the maximum daily amount, be mindful of what snacks you feed your kitty. Avoid pickled foods, processed foods, chips and other human snack foods, most cheeses, and condiments.
Also note that food is not the biggest threat to cats when it comes to excessive sodium intake. Most cases of salt toxicity result from cats ingesting paint balls, sea water, spilled table salt, homemade play dough, and rock salt.
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