Dogs require copper in the diet to form strong bones, nerve coverings and connective tissue. It also aids in iron absorption. Some dogs aren't able to properly metabolize copper in the liver, usually resulting from a genetic metabolic disorder. These dogs might develop copper storage disease, also known as copper toxicosis. These animals require special low-copper diets in order to remain healthy.
Copper Storage Disease
Symptoms of copper storage disease include vomiting, appetite loss, lethargy and yellowing of the mucus membranes -- a condition known as jaundice. The urine of affected dogs might be unusually dark. As the disease progresses, dogs might eat and drink excessively, developing abdominal swelling because of fluid buildup. Feces become black and tarry from internal bleeding. Eventually, neurological disorders develop because of the liver's inability to break down ammonia. Certain breeds are predisposed to copper storage disease. These include the Bedlington terrier, West Highland white terrier, Labrador retriever, Doberman pinscher, cocker spaniel, keeshond, Skye terrier, Anatolian shepherd and Dalmatian.
Although it is possible to provide an appropriate home-made diet for the dog diagnosed with copper storage disease, don't do this without veterinary advice and supervision. It's important that your dog's diet is nutritionally balanced. While you might feed your dog a diet containing little or no copper, other deficiencies could put his system out of whack. Your vet can recommend the proper foods for your dog, along with any necessary supplements, such as zinc and B vitamins.
Veterinary Prescription Diet
Commercial dog foods generally contain more copper than a dog with copper storage disease can handle. For that reason, your vet will likely prescribe a special veterinary diet designed for dogs diagnosed with copper toxicosis or other liver ailments. Both Hill's Pet Nutrition and Royal Canin manufacture canned and dry dog foods suitable for dogs with copper storage disease. In addition to low amounts of copper, these foods are also low sodium and contain protein and carbohydrate sources that the liver can easily process.
Foods to Avoid
Foods high in copper include fish and liver. Avoid giving your dog any commercial foods containing these ingredients. Other foods with a high copper content aren't generally found in dog foods, but they're common in table scraps and snack foods. Don't allow your dog to consume beans or other legumes, mushrooms, shellfish, sesame seeds or cashews. Other foods high in copper are toxic to dogs generally, such as chocolate, avocado, raisins and olives.
- PetMD: Liver Disease (Copper Storage) in Dogs
- American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation: Copper Toxicosis
- Westie Foundation of America: Topic 15 -- Copper Toxicity in the Canine Liver
- PetMD: Diets for Dogs with Copper Associated Liver Disease
- Patterson Veterinary: l/d® Canine Hepatic Health - Hill's Pet Nutrition
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.