Pet Food Ingredients

Salty Dog and Salty Cat

Salt is a required nutrient in pet food, however there does not appear to be any consistency in its use.   Some pet foods include a salt ingredient, others do not.  Some pet foods include salt as a supplement ingredient (same as added vitamins and minerals) but others include more salt than a food ingredient (a protein or vegetable or fruit).  In looking at the salt ingredient of 500 pet foods, I found an inconsistent mess.

The National Research Council feels excess salt in pet foods is a concern.  They state excessive salt can cause in dogs “Restlessness; increased heart rate, water intake, and hemoglobin concentration, dry and tacky mucous membranes” and excessive salt can cause in cats “Anorexia; impaired growth; excessive thirst and drinking; excessive urination”.

More…“Too much sodium in a dog’s diet can lead to increased thirst. It can also cause swelling throughout the body. This puts a strain on the circulatory system and the kidneys as the body tries to rid itself of the excess fluid. Too little salt can cause dehydration, which can be life-threatening. Vomiting, diarrhea and seizures may indicate sodium ion poisoning, which occurs when a dog eats too much salt.”

Pet food regulations have an established minimum for salt – but regardless to the above health concerns there is NO established maximum of salt content in pet foods.  And because there are no regulations holding manufacturers accountable, there is no consistency to the added salt in pet foods.

In 120 dry cat foods –

81 contained a salt ingredient, 39 did not contain a salt ingredient.

In 148 can cat foods –

76 contained a salt ingredient, 72 did not.

In 129 dry dog foods –

87 contained a salt ingredient, 42 did not.

In 115 can dog foods –

90 contained a salt ingredient, 25 did not.

It is assumed that those that did not include a salt ingredient in their pet food is either utilizing the natural salt content of the food ingredients (example: per the USDA nutrient database, one cup of roasted chicken breast contains 104 mg of sodium) or the company just didn’t include salt in the ingredient panel.

Before I go on, per pet food regulations – ingredients are required to be listed in order of weight (pre-cooking) – heaviest to lightest.  Thus, any ingredient listed after the salt would weigh less (less of the ingredient than all ingredients listed prior).

In most of the pet foods that did include salt, the ingredient was listed after ‘food’ ingredients (such as after meat and vegetable ingredients).  As example in this dog food…

Nutro Natural Choice Young Adult Dog Food Dry

Chicken, Chicken Meal, Whole Brown Rice, Brewers Rice, Rice Bran, Whole Grain Oatmeal, Pea Protein, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols), Dried Plain Beet Pulp, Natural Flavor, Sunflower Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols), Soybean Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols), Fish Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols), Potassium Chloride, Salt, Choline Chloride, DL-Methionine, Vitamin E Supplement, Zinc Sulfate, Niacin Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Copper Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Selenium Yeast, Biotin, Manganese Proteinate, Vitamin A Supplement, Potassium Iodide, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Rosemary Extract, Decaffeinated Green Tea Extract, Spearmint Extract.

…the salt ingredient is (basically) included in with the other supplements (vitamins and minerals) and after the food ingredients.

In cat foods, the same was found; in most foods that included a salt ingredient, it was listed within the supplement section of the ingredient list.  And the same for cat and dog canned foods.

But, in a surprising number of pet foods – the salt ingredient was listed before one or more food ingredients.

Examples from cat foods (dog food examples listed below)…

AvoDerm Salmon & Brown Rice Cat Food Dry

This pet food contains more salt than cranberries and blueberries.

Salmon Meal, Salmon, Ground Whole Brown Rice, Ground Whole White Rice, Egg Product, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Potato Protein, Oatmeal, Tomato Pomace (Source of Lycopene), Pumpkin, Avocado, Natural Flavor, Chicory Root, Salt, Whey, Cranberries, Potassium Chloride, Blueberries,…

Though not found on the Eukanuba website, Pet Food Direct lists a Eukanuba Kitten Food that has more salt than egg…

Eukanuba Kitten Entree with Gourmet Chicken Food Can

Chicken Broth, Chicken, Meat By Products, Liver, Chicken By Products, Natural Flavor, Flax Meal, Brewers Rice, Broccoli, Carrots, Dried Beet Pulp, Sweet Potatoes, Titanium Dioxide, Potasium Chloride, Guar Gum, Salt, Suncured Alfalfa, Brewers Dried Yeast, Dried Egg Product,…

GoodlifeRecipeCatFoodChicken - Copy




Here is a picture of GoodLife Recipe Chicken Cat Food that features images of apple, spinach, cranberries, and sweet potatoes on the label.  However…

This pet food contains more salt than each of these ingredients.

GoodLife Recipe Chicken Cat Food Dry

Chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, brewers rice, chicken by-product meal, animal fat, natural flavor, brewers dried yeast, potassium chloride, dried peas, salt, taurine, DL-methionine, caramel color, dried spinach, dried tomato, dried blueberry, dried sweet potato, dried apple, dried cranberry,…




By Nature Adult Cat Formula

This pet food includes more salt than fish oil, sweet potatoes, carrots, blueberries, cranberries.

Chicken Soup Kitten Formula Dry

This pet food includes more salt than kelp, carrots, peas, apples, tomatoes, blueberries, spinach, cranberries.

Evangers Pheasant and Whitefish Dry Cat Food

This pet food includes more salt than cranberries, blueberries, dried apple pomace.

Evolve Kitten Formula Dry

This pet food includes more salt than dried skim milk, dried kelp, dried cheese product, cranberries, blueberries, tomato, carrots, celery, beets, parsley, lettuce, spinach.

Canidae All Life Stages Cat Food Can

This pet food includes more salt than cranberries, kelp.

Halo Spots Pate Grain Free Ground Chicken Cat Food Can

This pet food includes more salt than spinach, flaxseed, suncured alfalfa meal, cranberries, sweet potato.

Natural Planet Organics Chicken Formula Cat Food Dry

This pet food includes more salt than broccoli, organic cranberries, organic dried kelp, organic carrots, organic pumpkin seeds, organic sunflower seeds, tomato.


Dog Foods

AvoDerm Dog Food Weight Control Chicken & Rice Formula Can

This pet food includes more salt than dried kelp, blueberries, cranberries, avocado meal, avocado oil.

Another picture…



The image of the Beneful Healthy Fiesta Dog Food Dry package includes a photo of carrots on the label.  However…

This pet food includes more salt than carrots, dried tomatoes, avocado.




Solid Gold Holistique Blendz Adult Dog Food Dry

This pet food includes more salt than salmon oil (source of DHA), kelp, blueberries, cranberries, apples.

Freshpet Vital Complete Meals Fresh Dog Food

This pet food includes more salt than broccoli.

Castor Pollux Natural Ultramix Adult Dog Food Dry

This pet food includes more salt than freeze dried peas, dried cranberries, and ground whole flaxseed.



By Nature Adult Dog Food Dry

This pet food includes more salt than cranberries, dried carrots (featured on the pet food label), raspberries, sweet potatoes, dried tomatoes.



Chicken Soup Adult Dog Food Dry

This pet food includes more salt than dried kelp, carrots, peas, apples, tomatoes, blueberries, spinach, dried skim milk, cranberries.

Dogswell Nutrisca Chicken Stew Recipe Dog Food Can

This pet food includes more salt than cranberries, blueberries, tomatoes, spinach.  


Because we (pet food consumers) are basically on our own with salt content in pet food – about the only thing we can do is carefully read the ingredient list.  Think – ‘pinch of salt’ – that’s all that is needed.


Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

Susan Thixton
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author Buyer Beware, Co-Author Dinner PAWsible
Association for Truth in Pet Food

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March 6, 2014

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10 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Salty Dog and Salty Cat”

  1. Pacific Sun says:

    Beneful Original ingredients : Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), rice flour, beef, soy flour, water, meat and bone meal, propylene glycol, sugar, tricalcium phosphate, phosphoric acid, SALT, animal digest, potassium chloride, sorbic acid (a preservative), dried peas, dried carrots, calcium propionate (a preservative), choline chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, Vitamin E supplement, zinc sulfate, Red 40, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate, niacin, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Vitamin A supplement, Blue 2, calcium carbonate, copper sulfate, Vitamin B-12 supplement, brewers dried yeast, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin D-3 supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), calcium iodate, folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite.
    I am the last person on the planet to defend Purina’s Beneful. (Ugh!) But I’m wondering. Does the placement of the salt ingredient represent the accumulation of all sodium from the preceding ingredients? Not that they “add” a lump of salt greater than the ingredients that follow. But that the salt gets leached from processing of chicken (-ish elements), the animal fat, beef, meat and bone meal? However … it is certainly telling enough ….that the picturesque carrots and peas on the package, are not only “dried.” But they are of less volume than the carbohydrates corn, wheat, rice and soy flours. And why the need for propylene glycol and food (yikes) coloring? Only so that the consumer will “believe” there’s an assortment of “whole” foods in the product ….by sight?
    Companies must think the consumer is pretty stupid. If in fact, they are including such a volume of salt that actually IS greater than all of the other elements that follow! In whole food diets there should be enough naturally occurring salt from chicken and beef protein. Also from adding cottage cheese, yogurt or other such ingredients.
    All I can say is that when my older dog ate only kibble, he drank SO much water (as in quarts) that he’d put on weight rapidly! Which must have been from retaining water. It must have made him uncomfortable, his joints hurt, he was more irritable. And I know that others in his litter did have seizure problems. Fortunately I’d take him off the kibble right away. None of those problems happen with whole food cooking. He’s at a natural weight. Light water drinker. Playful, engaged and content.

  2. mikken says:

    “But I’m wondering. Does the placement of the salt ingredient represent the accumulation of all sodium from the preceding ingredients? Not that they “add” a lump of salt greater than the ingredients that follow. But that the salt gets leached from processing of chicken (-ish elements), the animal fat, beef, meat and bone meal?”

    Pacific Sun, no, that salt is not from the ingredients, it IS an added ingredient. What you’re asking about is sodium content, not ingredient. Remember, they only have to list what they add – and in all of these cases, salt is an added ingredient.

    That said, I’m wondering what the actual sodium content of the final products is? Because I don’t know that it’s so much “they’re adding a lot of salt” as “they AREN’T putting in nearly as much of the food ingredients as they would lead you to believe”.

    In fact, the only reason those token amounts of ingredients are there seems to be to put the pretty pictures on the label! There isn’t enough of them to have any sort of nutritional contribution to the overall product.

  3. Josh says:

    Salt is definitely a concern and something I talk to my clients about when using commercial foods. A few years ago I read a study that tested a bunch of dog foods off the shelf to see how much salt was really in them and the tests came back in the 3-6% range and I believe a few even tested higher. As a comparison, the ocean is around 3% . That usually puts it in perspective for people. People are always amazed at how much less their dog drinks after switching to a raw diet. It isn’t just the 60-75% water in the muscle meat they are now eating, it is all that salt they are not consuming anymore! I sometimes will suggest to clients to actually put down two water bowls when on raw depending on the circumstances. One is their regular water, and the other being a salt mixture. It acts like a salt lick and the dog gets to regulate whether or not their body needs anymore salt.

  4. Hi Susan and fellow animal lovers.

    I would like to point out that there is also a significant difference in the type of salt that is used. Although the government has been advocating that salt is bad for us humans (and so presumably animals), the fact is that there is simply no scientific evidence to support this “warning.” Salt is essential for the body to function properly and is one of the five tastes we can…well, taste! Remember that an IV saline solution, which is given to people who are sick, is simply salt water. Namely, it is helps muscles and nerves function properly and is one of the factors involved in water regulation in the body. It helps regulate blood sugar and contributes to a healthy thyroid. Of course, it also has a long historical use in preserving foods.

    In fact, low sodium levels can lead to the exact diseases that the low sodium diet was supposed to prevent (see, the NY Times Article – health/panel-finds-no-benefit-in-sharply-restricting-sodium.html?_r=0. You can also google “salt and health” on, for those who like to read scientific papers.).

    However, there are vast differences in the health profiles of various salts – and concomitant price differences. The cheapest salt, which is used in human and pet food, is the type manufacture and marketed as iodized table salt which as been so processed as to virtually strip the salt of its minerals and hence health characteristics. In fact, those very same minerals are then sold to vitamin companies for a profit. This refining results in a bitter taste and is a reason why sweeteners are added along with anti-caking agent (that’s why your table salt remain grainy even when it’s humid outside), and then sprayed with iodine to make up for the minerals that were stripped.

    White sea salt is no healthier as it follows the same mineral-stripping process as the common table salt with the added “insult’ that no iodine is generally added though you’re likely to pay 2-3 times the price as a result of it being marketed as a “premium salt.”

    Unrefined sea salt (i.e., non-processed) has 84 minerals in it. This healthy salt usually comes in all kinds of colors with shades of pink, grey, or brown depending on the source. This salt provides our bodies, and that of our pets, the healthy balance of minerals intended by either God or evolution, as you prefer. Without endorsing any specific product (and I do not get any financial or other type of remuneration from any of these companies) unrefined sea salt is made available by companies like “Real Salt”, “Celtic Sea Salt” and “Himalayan Salt.”

    • Pacific Sun says:

      Very informative Jean-Pierre Ruiz, …Josh and mikken too. Thank you for taking the time to explain. What we learn about our pet’s nutrition can certainly be helpful for human nutrition!

    • Sasha says:

      I have an epileptic dog who is required to be on a low salt diet – I am working on switching food and I am wondering if a little bit of unrefined sea salt is okay for him.
      Also any ideas if any kibble foods would be good for him? I plan to do a half raw half kibble food.

  5. Love this post–really excellent work, Susan! This is extremely important for people to understand. Sodium and chloride (salt) are both required ingredients, but salt is also used as a flavoring because pets like the taste. A really salty food is likely to be masking inferior ingredients. So once again, Buyer Beware!

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