Hyperlipidemia in Dogs
What Is Hyperlipidemia in Dogs?
Dogs can experience high cholesterol, similar to humans. However, unlike humans, the condition rarely leads to cardiovascular problems. Instead, dogs with hyperlipidemia are at greater risk for pancreatitis and other illnesses. Since hyperlipidemia is common in dogs, pet owners should better understand the condition, recognize its signs, learn its causes, and know the treatment options to help prolong their dog’s quality and span of life.
Dogs with hyperlipidemia, also called lipemia, have abnormally excessive amounts of fat or fatty substances in the blood. Specifically, they have higher than normal amounts of lipids called triglycerides and cholesterol in their bloodstream. Triglycerides and cholesterol are formed during the normal digestion of fats from food and remain in the blood for three to 10 hours after a meal. One of the main indications of hyperlipidemia is elevated cholesterol or triglyceride levels for more than 12 hour after a meal.
What Signs Suggest Hyperlipidemia in a Dog?
Some dogs with hyperlipidemia show no clinical signs or symptoms. But some dogs become quite sick from this illness. Symptoms of hyperlipidemia can include:
- Fatty deposits in tissues
- Eye problems, such as inflammation or cloudiness in one or both eyes
If hyperlipidemia is caused by another medical condition, then signs of the underlying illness might include:
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased appetite
What are Possible Causes of Hyperlipidemia in Dogs?
Hyperlipidemia in dogs most commonly occurs secondary to other diseases, such as pancreatitis, obesity, high fat diets, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, diabetes, nephrotic syndrome, and liver disease. Extensive use of corticosteroids also can increase a dog’s risk for developing hyperlipidemia.
Primary hyperlipidemia, in which the disease occurs independently of any other medical condition, is much less common. In the United States, the most common type of primary hyperlipidemia appears in miniature schnauzers, who seem to be genetically predisposed for the condition for unknown reasons. Other breeds genetically predisposed for hyperlipidemia include collies, beagles, cocker spaniels, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, Shetland sheepdogs, and poodles.
How Will the Veterinarian Diagnose Hyperlipidemia?
Hyperlipidemia is diagnosed through blood tests. Because elevated blood lipid levels is a normal physiological response to eating a moderate- to high-fat meal, the first step a veterinarian will take in response to a blood test with high fat content is to retest the dog after the dog fasts for 12 hours. If fat levels in the blood remain high after fasting, then the veterinarian will conduct an extensive physical exam and order a thorough work-up of lab tests to rule out other diseases.
What Are the Treatment Options for a Dog With Hyperlipidemia?
Because even asymptomatic dogs with hyperlipidemia have a higher than average risk of developing a very serious form of pancreatitis, fat levels in the blood should be reduced. The veterinarian will develop a customized treatment plan based on the dog’s unique health needs.
If a primary health condition causes the hyperlipidemia, then treatment will target controlling that health condition. In primary hyperlipidemia, management of the condition typically involves a low fat-high fiber diet, possibly a prescription diet. If dietary changes are not sufficiently effective, then the veterinarian might recommend adding lipid-lowering supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, chitin (a fiber supplement sourced from shellfish), niacin (a type of B-vitamin), or gemfibrozil.
To preserve a longer life span for the dog with hyperlipidemia, the dog’s underlying condition and blood fat levels must be monitored through regular blood testing.