We examined body fluid regulation by weanling (21-25 days) and adult (>60 days) male rats that were offspring of dams fed chow containing either 0.1, 1, or 3% NaCl throughout gestation and lactation. Weanling rats were maintained on the test diets until postnatal day 30 and on standard 1% NaCl chow thereafter. Ad libitum water intake by weanlings was highest in those fed 3% NaCl and lowest in those fed 0.1% NaCl. Adult rats maintained on standard NaCl chow consumed similar amounts of water after overnight water deprivation or intravenous hypertonic NaCl (HS) infusion regardless of early NaCl condition. Moreover, baseline and HS-stimulated plasma Na(+) concentrations also were similar for the three groups. Nonetheless, adult rats in the early 3% NaCl group consumed more of 0.5 M NaCl after 10 days of dietary Na(+) deprivation than did rats in either the 1% or 0.1% NaCl group. Interestingly, whether NaCl was consumed in a concentrated solution in short-term, two-bottle tests after dietary Na(+) deprivation or in chow during ad libitum feeding, adult rats in the 3% NaCl group drank less water for each unit of NaCl consumed, whereas rats in the 0.1% NaCl group drank more water for each unit of NaCl consumed. Thus gestational and early postnatal dietary NaCl levels do not affect stimulated water intake or long-term body fluid regulation. Together with our previous studies, these results suggest that persistent changes in NaCl intake and in water intake associated with NaCl ingestion reflect short-term behavioral effects that may be attributable to differences in NaCl taste processing.