There’s more than a fair chance that a reduced-sodium diet is in your dog’s future, if it’s not here already. An estimated 10 percent of dogs develop heart disease that requires sodium restriction for proper treatment, and the proportion only goes up with age. At least another 10 percent develop chronic kidney disease, which also calls for limiting sodium.
You might think choosing a reduced-sodium food for your pet is easy. Nope. Nutrition Facts labels on foods for people list the number of milligrams of sodium in a serving. Dog foods don’t contain that information.
And checking the ingredient list might only prove misleading. It’s easy to assume that if the word “sodium” appears far down the list or doesn’t appear at all, the food has low or no sodium. But sodium can occur naturally in foods such as meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs. So even dog foods that don’t list sodium (or salt, which is sodium combined with chloride) may be too high in that ingredient to fit comfortably in a low-sodium diet. How do you decide, then?
Choosing the right diet
The veterinarian managing your dog’s disease should definitely be advising you on what food to feed. Some reduced-sodium foods, in fact, are available only by prescription. But there are also a number of lower-sodium foods for sale at supermarkets and other retailers — an important point if your dog doesn’t like the first reduced-sodium food picked out for him or if you want to look for a less expensive alternative than what you might get at the doctor’s office.
The Clinical Nutrition Service at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine lists more than 40 reduced-sodium foods — some available from veterinarians and others, off the retail shelf. Go to https://heartsmart.vet.tufts.edu/forms/ for a listing of both dry and canned foods that contain no more than 100 milligrams of sodium per 100 calories — and, in most cases, no more than 80. Your dog’s vet will be able to tell you the level you should be looking for.
Note that all the items on the list were chosen to be appropriate for dogs with heart disease. But since each dog is an individual, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian or veterinary cardiologist for specific dietary recommendations. Most of these diets are not appropriate for dogs with kidney disease, as they could contain levels of nutrients such as phosphorus or protein that would be inconsistent with requirements for failing kidneys. Consult with your veterinarian to make sure you are making the right choice for your dog’s condition.
Be aware as well that companies frequently change their formulations, so it’s important to verify the numbers you see by contacting the manufacturer’s Customer Service department. They should be perfectly willing to share the information. (An unwillingness to share nutrition facts is in fact a red flag about the company’s nutrition practices.)
Some dogs owners like to feed treats in addition to main-meal food. As with the diets, low-sodium treats are listed on the Cummings School’s HeartSmart website at https://heartsmart.vet.tufts.edu/forms/. Again, talk to your veterinarian about whether these treats are appropriate for your dog’s heart disease. For dogs with kidney disease, you can find ideas for treats on the Cummings Petfoodology website. Go to petfoodology.org and put “What treats can I give my dog with kidney disease?” in the search bar.
Going lower on sodium requires some rethinking but is totally doable. Working with your vet, you should be able to get your dog to the right sodium level for her condition.