Chances are you know somebody in your family or circle of friends with high cholesterol. But did you know your furry, four-legged friend may be subject to it, too?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance in the fats, or lipids, in a dog’s blood. While a dog’s body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, too much is never a good thing, as high levels can increase the risk of heart disease.
High cholesterol is a common and underdiagnosed problem in dogs. Find out more about this health problem and what you can do if you suspect your dog has high cholesterol.
High Cholesterol in Dogs: What Are the Risks?
High cholesterol, also known as hyperlipidemia, is rather common in dogs. After a dog eats, triglycerides
and cholesterol levels rise but typically return to normal within three to ten hours. In a dog with hyperlipidemia, however, fat levels remain high for 12 hours plus.
Although high cholesterol puts dogs at risk for heart disease, it does not normally lead to it. It can, however, decrease the dog’s lifespan and lead to obesity along with issues in the brain and metabolism.
The Different Types of High Cholesterol in Dogs
There are two different types of hyperlipidemia in dogs: physiological and pathological.
Physiological hyperlipidemia occurs when lipid levels increase due to a recent meal. This is referred to as a normal increase of levels. Pathological hyperlipidemia involves an abnormal increase of lipid levels. It occurs when the dog’s body cannot clear fats from the blood; is synthesizing lipoproteins; or, is stabilizing lipoproteins so they cannot be broken down.
Hyperlipidemia can be primary—genetic or of unknown origin—or secondary: caused by an underlying disease.
What Causes High Cholesterol in Dogs?
There are several possible causes of high cholesterol in dogs, including:
- High-fat diets
- Genetic predisposition: Like humans, dogs can also be genetically predisposed to this condition. Of all breeds, Miniature Schnauzers and Beagles are the ones most inclined to hyperlipidemia.
- Obesity: Higher levels of body fat than normal and the issues tied to it
- Diabetes: Diabetes in dogs can cause an increase in hormone-sensitive lipase activity: the enzyme responsible for breaking down dietary fats
- Hypothyroidism: Just like diabetes, hypothyroidism can cause an increase in lipase activity, as well as an increase in the LDL serum. LDL is typically referred to as “bad” cholesterol.
- Cushing’s syndrome: An endocrine disorder typically found in older dogs, Cushing’s syndrome can also lead to increased, hormone-sensitive lipase activity responsible for high cholesterol in dogs
- Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas
- Steroid medications: Steroid medications such as progesterone or corticosteroids have been found to cause high cholesterol in dogs
- Cholestasis: The body removes excess fats through excretion of bile. Cholestasis is the reduction or stoppage of bile flow, which can occur with disorders of the liver, bile duct, or pancreas.
- Nephrotic syndrome: A collection of symptoms from kidney damage, kidney disease can also cause increased hormone-sensitive lipase activity
- Pregnancy: High cholesterol levels during pregnancy are necessary to make steroid hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. If the dog had high levels before conception, however, these levels may compound and lead to hypertension plus other risks.
What are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol in Dogs?
Now that you know what causes high cholesterol in dogs, how can you tell if your dog has it?
The following symptoms are common in dogs with hyperlipidemia. Symptoms may be absent or may correlate with an underlying cause.
Symptoms of high cholesterol in dogs:
- Decreased appetite
- Abdominal pain, or bloated abdomen
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Cloudiness in the eyes
- Fatty deposits beneath the skin
- Hair loss
What Do I Do if My Dog Has High Cholesterol?
The first step to treating high cholesterol in dogs is proper diagnosis. If you notice symptoms associated with hyperlipidemia, schedule a visit with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause. Your vet will want to know a full history of your pet’s health. He may also conduct a physical exam and order tests to help diagnose your dog.
In the meantime, your vet may suggest a low-fat, high-fiber diet for your dog, as food and diets high in fat can cause hyperlipidemia. Results from dietary changes can take anywhere from six to eight weeks to observe.
If tests come back positive, your veterinarian may prescribe lipid-lowering medications, or secondary condition medications, depending on the underlying cause.
With the right mix of diet, treatment, and quality care, your dog will be well on his way to healthier living.