Salt Poisoning in Dogs
Most dog owners have some idea of what is or is not toxic to their pups.
If you’re one of them, take that list of possibilities and multiply it by a few hundred. There’s arguably an unlimited number of things that can be poisonous to your dog.
Did you know eye drops can be toxic to dogs? How about acorns?
Of course medications like Xanax or Nyquil will be harmful in large quantities, but have you ever thought about the rotten meat topped with maggots that your dog may gobble up while you’re not looking?
Some will be things you’ve never heard of and which you and your pup will never encounter—luckily.
One of the things that you may encounter is Epsom salt. Epsom salts are a common household item, primarily used for treating body aches and detoxing the body. In less common (and recommended) cases, the salts can also be used as a laxative.
What do you do if your dog ate Epsom salt?
Salt of any kind is poisonous to dogs and can be potentially fatal. However, it’s essential to understand the distinction between table salt and Epsom salt, as they interact with your dog’s body in slightly different ways.
If you enjoy taking the occasional soak in scented salt baths or use foot soaks on cold Winter evenings, it’s best to keep your dog out of the bathroom until it’s finished, drained, and the tub is rinsed.
Epsom Salt Vs. Table Salt
Table salt is a mineral made up primarily of sodium chloride. Scientifically speaking, it is composed of the elements sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl).
If your dog consumes too much sodium chloride (for example in its dog food), the effects can range from neurological impediment to gastrointestinal stress- and even cardiovascular damage.
It will also cause extreme thirst and urination which can result in severe dehydration. This then needs to be combated with drinking large amounts of water or injection of IV fluids.
It should also be noted that if your dog is suffering from severe (table) salt poisoning, water won’t be enough to save him. If you think your dog has salt poisoning, call your veterinarian or pet poison control immediately.
Epsom salts, on the other hand, have a different chemical structure. It comes from a naturally occurring magnesium sulfate mineral, also known as Epsomite. Its chemical components are magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S), and oxygen (O).
Thanks to these chemical components, Epsom salts work wonders for the human body, even in a small amount.
The sulfur acts as a powerful antibacterial agent. The magnesium soaks right into the skin, drawing out toxins and giving the immune system a boost. The oxygen boosts circulation, helping to regulate certain bodily functions.
Unfortunately, the same isn’t true when it comes to your dog- at least not internally.
The Causes of Epsom Salt Poisoning in Dogs
Unless you leave your dog unattended with or in an Epsom salt bath, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll come across it regularly.
Unless, of course, he grows opposable thumbs, opens up your bathroom cabinets, and decides to snack on your Epsom salt stash.
(Obviously, that would never happen! But just in case, you may want to keep it towards the back of the cabinet.)
So, how does Epsom salt poisoning end up happening in dogs?
The main culprit is a salt water bath that your dog decides to lap up in large amounts. If your dog drank Epsom salt water with a high concentration of salts in it, that is a prime recipe for poisoning.
The other, rarer, possibility would be leaving an untrained puppy or dog around an open bag or carton of salt.
You’re probably thinking, “But why would I do that?”
Here’s the thing: Veterinarians often recommend Epsom salt soaks for dogs.
People give their dogs Epsom salt baths to help soothe arthritic pain, stiffness, or problem areas from an injury. Soaking your pup in a diluted salt bath can also help to kill fleas since it dries them out completely.
Salt poisoning becomes an issue when your dog ingests large amounts of their salted bathwater. If they lick the tub once or twice and have a small amount, they’ll most likely be fine.
However, this is part of the reason why it’s only recommended to soak their problem areas and not to fully immerse them in the treated water.
What Happens When A Dog Eats Epsom Salt?
Excessive intake of Epsom salts can result in metabolic alkalosis. Metabolic alkalosis refers to elevated pH levels, which can be incredibly serious.
The most common signs and symptoms of metabolic alkalosis include the following:
● Irregular heartbeats
● Muscle twitching and spasms
● Ileus—complete intestinal arrest
The other signs and symptoms that may occur are similar to salt poisoning. They include:
● Confusion or delirium
● Extreme thirst and urination
● Fluid retention/build-up
● High fever
● Tachycardia or increased heart rate
● Loss of appetite
● Nausea and vomiting
● Respiratory distress
● Stomach pain
● Swelling of the tongue
● Visible signs of “intoxication,” i.e., walking off-balance
● Watery diarrhea
Very serious cases of metabolic alkalosis and salt poisoning can result in coma, and eventual death.
Not all of the above signs will be obvious. For example, you may have no idea that your dog has a severe headache.
However, there are plenty of ways to tell if your dog is in pain, such as if it is panting heavily. You just have to know what to look for as your dog shows it, especially if he’s not vocal.
Diagnosis of Epsom Salt Poisoning
To know for sure if your dog is experiencing salt poisoning, you’d either have to have caught him gulping it down, or have taken him to the vet for testing.
Your vet will perform a thorough physical examination. That includes checking your dog’s reflexes, temperature, pulse rate, height, weight, blood pressure, and respiration. They’ll also conduct a quick vision and hearing test to check for all the possible symptoms.
It’s essential to bring any medical information you have for your dog, including his vaccination records and any relevant information about previous injuries and illnesses.
If there are any abnormal behaviors you have noticed in your dog, such as a loss of appetite or energy, you will need to describe them to your vet in detail.
You’ll also have to let your vet know what exactly your dog may have consumed, especially if they got their mouths on other things besides Epsom salts.
They’ll need to know how much of it you think he ate and how long it’s been since he ate it. If possible, write out a list of the symptoms you have noticed your dog exhibiting.
From there, your vet will prep your dog for tests. They’ll perform a complete blood count and test for blood gasses and blood chemistry. They’ll also do an urinalysis to check your dog’s magnesium, sulfate, and sodium levels.
The next set of tests will revolve around a complete cardiac diagnostic. This will include an electrocardiogram (EKG), which will measure the electrical impulses in your dog’s heart.
They may also take radiographs (X-rays), an MRI, CT scan, and an ultrasound to help determine the extent of damage in your dog’s brain, heart, and lungs.
Treatment For Epsom Salt Poisoning In Dogs
Once all the tests have been administered and concluded, your vet will begin treatment. Your dog will be given oxygen and IV fluid therapy plus electrolytes to help flush their system and manage dehydration.
The most important step is bringing down high levels of magnesium sulfate.
Excess magnesium can cause hypermagnesemia, which is what leads to a progressing loss of respiratory, nervous system, muscular, and cardiovascular functions. It can also lead to kidney failure, paralysis, endocrine disorders, and more.
Depending on how high your dog’s magnesium sulfate levels are, it can take anywhere from one to three days to lower them. This is typically done by flushing their systems with IV fluids, electrolytes, and warm water enemas if necessary.
If your dog is also exhibiting signs of extreme dehydration, it might be at risk for a heart attack or even brain swelling (edema). If edema is present, your dog will also be given a corticosteroid to reduce the inflammation.
Once the treatment has done its job, your vet will likely keep your dog in their care for up to 24 hours.
This is to keep him under observation to ensure they’re safe and healthy enough to return home. In some cases, your vet may want to keep your pup for up to 48 hours or longer if he’s not showing progress.
The Recovery Process
When it’s time to bring your dog home, he’s going to need plenty of time to recover.
Your vet will likely advise you on how his diet and activity levels should look over the course of his recovery period. It’s critical that you continue to monitor him and make sure he’s eating and drinking plenty of fresh water.
Recovery can take anywhere from a few weeks to a month. During this time, you’ll need to follow your vet’s care instructions very closely. He’ll likely need lots of fluids above all, and rest in addition to any medications your vet prescribes.
He’ll probably also have to follow a stricter diet to encourage healthy blood levels and chemistry. Your pet’s recovery diet should consist of lean meats, healthy carbohydrates, and vegetables.
It may be challenging to get your dog to eat and drink, especially during the first few days he’s home. Your vet should explain how to tempt him to eat and get him to drink water, and anything else you need to know to speed up his recovery process.
There will typically be a follow-up exam within 30 days. You will need to bring your dog back to the vet for another physical examination and blood test. This is to ensure that there hasn’t been any permanent damage to your dog’s brain, heart, liver, kidneys, or other organs.
Once your dog is cleared, you can resume your everyday lives—under your vet’s advice, of course. Depending on how severe the poisoning was, he may not gain his full strength back for a while.
What to Do if You Think Your Dog Drank Epsom Salt Water Or Ate Epsom Salts
If you happen to come home to find your bag of salt ripped open, or you walk in on your dog chugging your salted bath, you’re going to want to call your veterinarian or a pet poison hotline immediately.
If your dog ate Epsom salt, the first thing the professionals will want to know is how much of it did he ingest, and how long ago it happened. If he cleaned out an entire bag, they’re going to advise you to take him to your vet or local animal hospital right away.
If it doesn’t seem like he ate much, they’ll likely tell you to give him plenty of fresh water and some food to counteract the effects. You’ll also have to monitor him over the next 24 hours or so. How he’s affected will depend entirely on his size and the amount that he ate.
You may notice some diarrhea and vomiting, or he may start shaking and jerking. If the symptoms seem severe or he seems like he’s in pain, don’t hesitate to bring him to the vet. If all that happens is a little bit of diarrhea, he should be fine.
In the event that your dog has mild diarrhea, your vet may advise you to get him electrolyte powder to mix with his water from the pet store. Unless they advise you otherwise, refrain from giving your dog Pedialyte.
While Pedialyte may be okay in small quantities, there’s no scientific evidence of its benefit for dogs.
There are also a lot of risks associated with giving your dog Pedialyte. Pedialyte is specifically made for human consumption. It contains a lot of sugar and has a high sodium level—and we’ve already established the dangers of large amounts of sodium in dogs.
Even if your dog is fine after you’ve monitored him all day and night, you’re still going to want to bring him to the vet when you can for a comprehensive examination.
Be Aware of Epsom Salt Products
There’s a good chance that Epsom salts are lurking in other products around your house. This is especially true if you fancy yourself a crafty DIYer. The following are a list of products (homemade and store bought) that contain Epsom salts:
● Christmas ornaments
● DIY Glop for kids (it’s an unholy cross between playdough and slime)
● Bath bombs, salts, and oils
● Body lotions
● Dishwasher tablets
● Body scrub
● DIY window frost
● Gardening fertilizer
Epsom salts tend to end up in many unnecessary craft projects because of how it reflects light.
It creates a “snowy glow,” which is pretty, but also potentially deadly for dogs. It’s probably a good idea to remember that the next time you buy decorations from your local craft store or start a craft project at home.
If your dog ate Epsom salts, you have to watch out for possible signs of metabolic alkalosis and salt poisoning. This is especially likely if your dog has ingested a large amount of magnesium sulfate, either directly through eating the salt or by drinking a large amount of salty bath water.
The main signs that you need to watch out for can include dehydration, weakness, lethargy, muscle twitches and respiratory distress. If the dog’s condition is allowed to worsen without prompt treatment, it can progress to seizures, coma and even death.
Therefore, it’s extremely important to monitor your dog carefully the moment you suspect that it has eaten the salts. Depending on how much has been eaten and the signs shown, an immediate vet visit may be necessary.
Once at the vet’s office, they will be able to determine the best course of action after performing the obligatory tests. Treatment can include IV fluids and hospital stays if it is an especially severe case, but a full recovery should be possible if professional help is sought in time.
Heather Abraham is a professional blogger who owns two dogs, a cat, a parrot, and a leopard gecko. She has a connection with animals since she was a child. She shares her love for all pet breeds and provides information on pet food, toys, medications, beds, and everything else.
She is committed to learning about the internal workings of animals. Her work permits her to work closely with knowledgeable vets and obtain practical expertise in animal care. When she is not working, her love of animals continues in her writing. Her goal is to educate and uplift readers who also have a passion for animals through her writing.