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Salt Intoxication

Other Names: Salt Poisoning, Salt Toxicity, Hypernatremia, Water Deprivation–sodium Ion Intoxication

Salt intoxication is caused by ingestion of excessive amounts of salt (sodium chloride, NaCl). The severity of clinical signs and mortality in flocks differs depending on the amount of excess salt ingested and the age of birds. Younger chicks are more sensitive to the adverse affects caused by salt intoxication, and have a higher risk of death than older birds. Low salt intoxication levels (0.4% of diet) causes increased water intake and wet litter, where when high levels (0.9 to 1.2% of diet) of salt are ingested, more severe clinical signs are observed as well as high mortality.

The recommended salt levels in poultry feed are 0.2%. It is usually associated with chickens not having access to fresh drinking water, but there have been an increasing number of incidents that have occurred due to feed mill mixing errors, resulting in improperly mixed poultry feeds.

In 2015, there were several cases of salt toxicity incidents reported in multiple broiler and breeder flocks in Isreal that were caused by a mechanical problem in the salt dispensing system at the feed mill, resulting in excess salt in some batches of poultry feed. Another issue that occurred during this incident, is that when feed samples were sent off to the laboratory feed mill for testing, the concentration of salt in the feed was off, as their calculations were based on the chlorine (Cl) content (a test that has reduced sensitivity to salt detection), as opposed to calculating based on sodium (Na) content (which is how independent testing laboratories, accurately calculated the salt levels within the toxic feed batches).

Summary of 2015 salt toxicity incidents due to improper mixing at feed mill
Flock typeBird ageHistoryClinical signsFeed test results
Broilers10 to 30 daysSigns appeared 3 days after changing feed from pre-starter to starter. Total mortality rate reached about 5%.Increased water intake
Chicks on backs and pedaling their feet
Severe depression
Severe respiratory distress
Salt levels of 0.9%
Broilers6 to 9 daysSudden increase in mortality. Total mortality reached 20% and returned to normal within 10 days after withdrawal of the suspected feed.Chicks on their backs on the floor, pedaling feet
Severe depression
Severe respiratory distress
Salt levels of 1.2%
Breeders24 weeksChickens were not laying eggs yet. No mortality incidents.Increased water intake
Wet litter
Salt levels of 0.6%
Breeders45 weeksDrop in egg production of about 8% in 4 days. Slight increase in mortality.Increased water intakeSalt levels of 0.7%

Clinical Signs

Increased thirst
Difficulty walking
Severe depression
Lying on back and pedaling with their feet
Twisting neck backwards
Gasping, from difficulty breathing
Swollen shanks


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Feed analysis
  • Histopathology

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Salt toxicity in a Broiler chickens Salt toxicity was diagnosed in a 17-day-old flock of broiler chickens. Twelve birds were submitted to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) in Center. Clinical history noted increased mortality starting at 2-weeks-old. At necropsy examination, all the birds had an edematous brain with poorly defined cerebellar folia and cerebrum lobes, thin blood, and darkened livers; one bird had moderate accumulation of a clear, gelatinous material in the subcutaneous tissue of the abdominal area. Histologically, there were areas of vacuolation in the cerebellar white matter and cerebrum. Toxicology analysis on five brain samples revealed high levels of sodium in all of them, with a range from 8,810 ppm to 14,300 ppm. Sodium levels above 7,600 ppm in the brain of chickens are considered toxic. Ref


Removal of source of saltRemove water and feed sources and replace with fresh water from a non-contaminated source.
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.



Feed a balanced diet without excess salt.

Scientific References

Age Range

Newly hatched chicks are more at risk than adults.

Risk Factors

  • Recent change in feed type or new bag of feed purchased



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