High Cholesterol: Not Just a Human Problem

An overview of hyperlipidemia in dogs

Watch that fat intake!

Hyperlipidemia occurs when there is an elevation of lipids, or fats, in a dog’s blood. These fatty substances can take two forms: triglycerides, cholesterol, or both. You can think of it as the doggy version of high cholesterol.

Normally, when an animal eats a meal, the fat from that meal is broken down and absorbed within 30-60 minutes. This can cause a natural increase in triglyceride and cholesterol levels for approximately three-10 hours. However, if the fats aren’t broken down and absorbed properly, the increase in fat levels can last for more than 12 hours. When that happens, there’s a goodchance a dog has hyperlipidemia.

Signs and Symptoms
Often, hyperlipidemia is caused by an underlying condition such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, liver disease, kidney disease, and high fat diets. Other times, however, it is a hereditary condition that affects certain breeds, such as:

Miniature Schnauzers

Symptoms of hyperlipidemia include:                                                                              

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Seizures
  • Fat filled bumps on the skin

To diagnose hyperlipidemia, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and take a detailed history of your pet.  Tests are required to help arrive at a definitive diagnosis, as well
 as to screen for underlying disease that might be a factor. These tests include:

  • Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
  • Electrolyte tests to ensure your dog isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
  • A CBC (complete blood count) to screen your pet for blood-related conditions
  • Urine tests to screen for urinary tract and kidney disorders and to evaluate kidneys function
  • A thyroid test, which determines if the thyroid gland is functioning properly
  • Cortisol tests to evaluate your pet’s blood cortisol levels (a hormone produced by the adrenal gland)      
  • Pancreas-specific tests to diagnose or rule out pancreatitis
  • Radiographs and ultrasound imaging  

Treatment really depends on your pet’s symptoms and the underlying cause of the hyperlipidemia, so treatment is specific to each individual case. Options include:

  • Switching to a low fat diet
  • Medication to lower  the levels of triglycerides and/or cholesterol in the blood
  • Additional medication and treatments for the underlying disease contributing to hyperlipidemia

It’s important to follow all of your veterinarian’s recommendations closely. Keep an eye on your dog: if his symptoms worsen, contact your veterinarian immediately.

One of the most effective ways to lower your dog’s risk for hyperlipidemia is to ensure he is on a healthy, low-fat diet. However, because hyperlipidemia is often caused by an underlying or hereditary condition, you can’t always prevent it. Fortunately, the condition often resolves itself with effective treatment. If it’s an inherited condition, it’s important to follow all dietary recommendations and give your pooch all medications exactly as indicated by your veterinarian.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Related symptoms: