Much as with human diets, the diets of cats and dogs are healthiest when proteins, fat and fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals, are taken in a balanced fashion. Sodium is a key component of this mix of nutrients. Humans and animals ingest sodium chloride to keep a balance between the internal and external fluids in and around cells of the body. Although the sodium chloride levels in cats are easy to maintain--provided the cat gets plenty of water and a good quality commercial pet food--sometimes cats suffer from low sodium or hypernatremia, an unusually high level of blood sodium.
Sodium and Chloride
Nutrients make their way into the cat's cells, and waste products are discarded in short order, thanks to sodium's powerful role. It falls to chloride to find the correct balance between acid and alkali in the feline's body. Sodium also takes part in the creation of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach. HCl is important in the breakdown and digestion of proteins in food.
Sources of Sodium
Sodium chloride is found in nearly every food. Salt serves as a flavor enhancer in pet foods, making it a frequent additive, as it is in human food products. It's also common to find sodium and chloride affixed to minerals such as potassium, says PetEducation.com. You'll probably never run the risk of giving your cat insufficient salt, unless you put it on an extreme diet. However, it's easier than you might think to set up the conditions of salt overdosing, especially if you feed your cat lots of canned salted tuna fish.
The ratio of chloride to sodium is a matter of concern. The amount of chloride should be one and a half times that of sodium to keep the salt quotient in check. Foods (the dry form) for kittens and cats need to contain about 0.2 percent sodium and 0.3 percent chloride, explains PetEducation.com. If you check your pet store shelves, however, you'll find levels far greater than these.
According to the website AssistFeed.com, normal blood serum levels in a healthy cat are in the general range of 142 to 164 mEq/L.
Low sodium blood levels are most frequently caused by diabetes medications, such as chlorpropamide, and diuretics (water-retention remedies) to your cat. Also, an excess intake of water can significantly dilute sodium levels. What's more, if your pet were to suffer from a prolonged dehydrating illness that resulted in severe vomiting and diarrhea, its sodium levels could bottom out. In the case of illness, the administration of saline is the immediate treatment and the prognosis is highly favorable.
Hypernatremia and Treatment
Hypernatremia is the term used to describe sodium toxicity, although it is extremely rare in dogs and cats. When a cat's serum sodium concentration reaches 165 mEq/L, the animal's blood is considered toxic. Extreme water loss coupled with excessive salt intake can cause too much salt in the blood. Sometimes the effects of certain types of diabetes can induce hypernatremia. Symptoms include blindness, seizures, dehydration and death, if left untreated. Swift administration of fluids is often efficacious.