Salt poisoning in livestock

By Erastus Ngaruka|

Livestock nutritional supplementation is a complex and an expensive exercise on the farm. Livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats have varying nutritional requirements which are also influenced by age, production stage and physical activities amongst others.

The nutrients or feed components required by livestock for their physiological functioning and survival include protein, energy, minerals, vitamins, and water.

A deficiency or an oversupply of any of these nutritional components will affect the livestock health and performance.

The most feared and lethal components when oversupplied in an animal’s diet, are salt and urea. Overconsumption of the two leads to poisoning, referred to as salt poisoning and urea poisoning.

Salt is an important component in animal nutrition as it’s a source of two minerals: Sodium and Chloride. However, these minerals are required in minute amounts. In addition, salt is used in licks/feed mixes to regulate feed/lick intake. For example, intake is higher with low salt content, and lower with higher salt content.

Salt poisoning can result from several factors such as dehydration, or when an animal’s body is losing excessive water (e.g. through sweating in hot conditions), water restriction over a longer time, overconsumption of salt through lick supplements, drinking of saline or salty water from boreholes and water pans in saline soils amongst others. This leads to a higher concentration of salt content in the blood resulting in salt poisoning.

Salt poisoning affects the central nervous system; thus, an animal may go into a coma and die, however, the observable symptoms of salt poisoning include salivation, extreme thirst, circling, blindness, seizures, and partial paralysis amongst others.

Treatment of salt poisoning is not well defined; however, the basic practice is to rehydrate the affected animal by gradually providing small amounts of fresh water at intervals.

The animal should be kept under shade to prevent heat stress and further dehydration. Other remedies such as metabolic stimulants may also be given to enhance bodily functions.

Salt poisoning can be prevented by ensuring that animals have unlimited access to freshwater and are protected from potential heat stress. Excessive salt provision should be avoided, and adequate and well-mixed lick supplements should be provided all the time to avoid overconsumption, especially by animals with high salt craving (“salt hunger”).

Further, it’s advisable that farmers carry out water quality testing to ascertain the salinity levels, especially when drilling boreholes in unfamiliar locations or in risky areas.

In conclusion, livestock need the right nutritional supplements in sufficient amounts at the right time and production stage to enhance performance.

However, this is a costly and risky exercise if not well managed. It is therefore advisable to seek advice when purchasing lick supplements and mixing.

• Erastus Ngaruka, is Technical Advisor: Livestock & Rangeland at Agribank.