Erastus Ngaruka, Technical Advisor: Livestock & Rangeland
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 is 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.