Americans hear a lot about high cholesterol in humans, but it doesn't generally come up in conversation about dogs. Dogs, however, can get high cholesterol and face health risks just like humans do. Some of the risks are not troubling, while others are quite serious.
So, what should you know about your pet's cholesterol levels? Here's a short guide.
Dogs deal with excess fat in the bloodstream differently than humans do, which is why high cholesterol in dogs is more serious. While for humans, this condition is most dangerous for the heart, dogs generally don't suffer heart disease as a result of excess cholesterol. But it can cause other problems, including abdominal pain, intestinal troubles, and sometimes even seizures.
Symptoms can be distinct from human cholesterol issues as well. Whereas many people don't show any easily discernible signs of illness when they have high cholesterol, dogs may have a variety, including lack of appetite, hair loss, itching, vomiting, diarrhea, cloudy eyes, or bloating. Since these symptoms can come from a number of different conditions, though, they can be hard to distinguish in some pets.
High cholesterol is often found by veterinarians doing blood work — when investigating symptoms for this or other conditions or during a routine exam — in much the same way human doctors find it. The next step is generally to identify the underlying cause of this disorder, commonly called hyperlipidemia.
Hyperlipidemia can be caused by a variety of issues. Some breeds, such as beagles and miniature Schnauzers, are simply genetically prone to higher blood fat than others. Certain medications (like cortisol and steroid medications) can cause cholesterol problems. And if your dog is overweight or pregnant, this could cause higher cholesterol in the same way it does in humans.
The investigative stage can involve looking for other symptoms or doing additional medical tests to check for common causes. The doctor may run tests on the dog's blood, urine, kidneys, liver, and thyroid. They may further test the lipids and cortisol levels through specific tests.
Several chronic health conditions can also manifest hyperlipidemia as a symptom. Cushing's syndrome, a disorder of the endocrine system sometimes found in older dogs, can raise cholesterol levels. Pancreatitis, a disorder of the pancreas, and nephrotic syndrome in the liver can also be culprits.
Diabetes and hypothyroidism are some of the most common sources of hyperlipidemia in dogs. These disorders boost hormone-sensitive lipase activity, which controls enzymes that remove fats. And cholestasis affects the body's ability to excrete fats through the bile system.
Clearly, your veterinarian's recommendations for treating your pet's hyperlipidemia will depend on what's at the root of its appearance. The best treatment is to resolve the underlying condition and allow the high cholesterol to disappear on its own afterward. If caused by a serious condition, such as diabetes or cholestasis, this is most important and should be addressed immediately.
If cholesterol problems aren't being caused by a chronic ailment or if it isn't soon resolved once you begin treatment for one, your veterinarian may recommend a low-fat, high-fiber diet. Overweight dogs should lose the excess weight and get plenty of exercise. A follow-up fasting test in about two months can show if dietary and lifestyle changes are working.
If these treatments don't alleviate the concern, the doctor may also prescribe a medication that lowers the lipids in the bloodstream.
If you suspect your dog might have high cholesterol, meet with your veterinarian for a full physical exam as soon as possible. In the Kentucky and Indiana area, visit Blue Cross Animal Hospital for help with all your pets' health care needs.