Too Salty for Fido? The Hidden Dangers of Feeding Cat Food to Dogs


In today’s age of specialized diets and gourmet pet foods, many pet owners find themselves wondering if human food trends apply to their furry companions as well. One common question is whether cat food contains too much salt for dogs. While dogs and cats have some similarities in their nutritional needs, there are also key differences that impact their ideal dietary profiles.

According to a 2019 study published in BMC Veterinary Research (, the sodium content in wet cat food is on average 2.5 times higher than wet dog food. This significant gap is due to physiological differences between felines and canines.

In this article, we’ll explore the science behind cats’ higher sodium needs, look at potential risks of excessive salt intake in dogs, and provide tips for transitioning your dog to a cat food diet safely.

Salt Content Differences Between Cat and Dog Foods

Research shows that cat foods often contain higher levels of sodium compared to dog foods. One study analyzed the sodium and phosphorus contents in commercial wet foods for cats and dogs. It found that wet cat foods had significantly higher sodium levels, with an average sodium content of 0.344% compared to 0.085% in wet dog foods (

Another source confirms this difference, stating that some pet foods designed for cats may have more salt than a cat actually needs. Whereas dog foods aim to meet the minimum sodium requirements for dogs (

This discrepancy highlights that cat food recipes tend to rely on higher sodium contents. Knowing this difference is important when considering whether cat food may be too salty for dogs.

Why Cats Need More Salt

Cats evolved as desert animals and they have adapted ways to conserve water and retain salts and minerals. Their kidneys are very efficient at retaining sodium, so cats have a higher requirement for sodium than most other mammals. Unlike humans who lost their taste for salt as they moved away from hunter-gatherer societies, cats have retained a taste for salt due to their desert origins.

The heightened salt appetite in cats is an evolutionary adaptation that allows them to seek out and consume more sodium to replace losses from fluid conservation. Research shows that cats have a preference for sodium even when sodium intake is adequate. Their desert-adapted kidneys allow cats to tolerate higher levels of sodium than humans and dogs.1 This is why cat foods are formulated with higher levels of sodium than dog foods.

Sodium is an essential nutrient for cats. It helps regulate fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. Cats on very low-sodium diets may show signs of sodium hunger like increased water consumption, food intake, and urine output as their bodies try to replenish sodium levels. For optimal health and to satisfy their evolutionary drive, cats need diets with adequate sodium content.

Potential Dangers of Too Much Salt for Dogs

Consuming excessive amounts of salt can be dangerous for dogs and lead to serious health issues. According to the AKC, ingesting high levels of sodium can cause a condition called hypernatremia or salt poisoning in dogs [1]. The effects of too much salt include:

Hypertension: Eating too much salt causes the body to retain water in an attempt to dilute the excess sodium. This increases blood volume and pressure on the arteries. Over time, hypertension can place strain on the heart and blood vessels.

Kidney problems: Salt causes the kidneys to work harder to filter out the excess sodium. This strains the kidneys and can exacerbate existing kidney disease. According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, dogs with kidney disease already have trouble regulating fluid and electrolyte balances, so added salt burden’s the kidneys further [2].

Heart disease: Hypertension caused by high salt intake puts added pressure on the heart. In dogs with pre-existing heart conditions, this pressure can worsen symptoms of heart disease.

In severe cases, salt toxicity can also lead to vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, and even death. That’s why it’s critical to limit sodium intake in dogs prone to any of these health issues.

Signs Your Dog May Be Getting Too Much Salt

There are several signs that may indicate your dog is consuming too much salt from cat food:

Increased thirst and urination – Excessive salt causes dogs to become dehydrated, leading them to drink more water and urinate frequently in an attempt to dilute the salt in their system (1).

Vomiting – Consuming too much salt can cause nausea and vomiting in dogs as their bodies try to get rid of the excess sodium (2).

Diarrhea – Along with vomiting, diarrhea is another way a dog’s body may try to expel excess salt. Severe diarrhea can lead to dehydration (3).

Lethargy – High salt intake causes cellular dehydration in dogs, which can result in lethargy, weakness, and lack of energy as their bodies try to conserve water (2).

Tips for Transitioning Your Dog to Cat Food

When transitioning your dog from dog food to cat food, it’s important to go slowly to allow their digestive system to adjust. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, cats may need up to 40 days to fully transition to a new food1. For dogs, plan on transitioning over 2-4 weeks.

Start by mixing a small amount of the new cat food in with your dog’s regular dog food, with at least 75% of their old food. Slowly increase the proportion of cat food over the next 7-14 days, until your dog is eating 100% cat food. If your dog shows signs of an upset stomach like vomiting or diarrhea, slow down the transition.

Watch for signs that your dog may be getting too much salt like increased thirst and urination. Limit salt intake by choosing low-sodium cat food options. You can also make homemade low-salt cat food for your dog using unseasoned meat, rice, and vegetables.

With gradual changes and close monitoring, you can successfully transition your dog from dog food to cat food. Just be patient and adjust based on how well your dog handles the new diet.

Choosing Low-Sodium Cat Foods

When looking for a low-sodium cat food for your dog, it’s important to read labels carefully. Look for cat foods labeled as “low-sodium” or that indicate a lower salt or sodium content. Some cat food brands that offer low-sodium options include Hill’s Science Diet, Purina Pro Plan, and Blue Buffalo.

Pay attention to the guaranteed analysis or nutritional information on the packaging. This will tell you the maximum percentage of sodium in the food on a dry matter basis. Look for cat foods with less than 0.25% sodium for a low-sodium option.

You can also look at the first few ingredients listed. Avoid cat foods that list salt, sodium, or ingredients high in sodium like broths and by-products within the first 5 ingredients. Instead, choose recipes with whole meats, healthy grains, fruits, and vegetables high up in the ingredients list.

Homemade Low-Salt Cat Food for Dogs

Making your own low-sodium cat food is a great way to ensure your dog gets the nutrients they need without excess salt. Here are some simple recipes to try:

Chicken and Rice


  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped spinach


  1. Cook the chicken breasts until fully cooked, then shred or chop into small pieces.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the rice and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes until rice is tender.
  3. Add the cooked chicken, carrots, and spinach to the rice and stir to combine.
  4. Allow to cool before dividing into portions. Refrigerate extras.

This simple recipe gives your dog the protein they need from chicken, paired with complex carbs and nutrients from rice, carrots and spinach. By making it yourself, you control the salt content.

Turkey and Sweet Potato


  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup green beans, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


  1. In a skillet over medium heat, cook the ground turkey until fully cooked and browned, 5-7 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the sweet potato and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and mash.
  3. Add the cooked turkey, mashed sweet potato, green beans and olive oil to a bowl. Mix well to combine.
  4. Portion out into servings and store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Turkey provides lean protein, while sweet potato gives complex carbs. Green beans add vitamins and fiber. Leaving out added salt keeps this recipe low-sodium.

Other Considerations

When transitioning your dog to cat food or any diet higher in sodium, it’s important to ensure they stay hydrated by having access to plenty of fresh water. Increased sodium levels lead to increased thirst and urination, so a constant water supply is key.[1]

Providing opportunities for exercise and play can also help flush excess sodium and prevent dogs from becoming lethargic or gaining unhealthy weight on a higher-calorie cat food diet. Regular physical activity keeps the cardiovascular system working well and kidneys functioning properly.[2]

It’s a good idea to schedule regular veterinarian checkups if your dog is eating cat food long-term. The vet can monitor your dog’s bloodwork to watch for signs of kidney dysfunction or other issues that may arise from excess dietary sodium. Senior dogs and those with health conditions require extra vigilance.[3]

The Bottom Line

In summary, cat food tends to have higher sodium levels than dog food because cats have a higher sodium requirement. While small amounts of cat food are unlikely to harm your dog, feeding cat food long-term or in large quantities can put dogs at risk of potentially life-threatening sodium ion poisoning. Look for low-sodium cat food options if you need to feed your dog cat food. Slowly transition them to the new food over 5-7 days. And never exceed the maximum sodium recommendations for dogs, which is around 2,000 mg per day for a 50 lb dog. Ultimately, it’s best to feed pets food formulated specifically for their species. But with some care and consideration, dogs can occasionally eat cat food safely.

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