Hyperlipidemia in Dogs

Simple blood tests can confirm hyperlipidemia and its potential underlying cause.
Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Just like humans, dogs can have high cholesterol, or hyperlipidemia. Unlike in their human family members, hyperlipidemia does not typically pose cardiovascular risks. The greatest threat of untreated hyperlipidemia in your furry friend is a potentially fatal attack of pancreatitis as a result of excessive levels of fat in the bloodstream. Hyperlipidemia is often the result of an underlying metabolic disease, but it can be genetic in some breeds. Understanding this condition and monitoring your dog’s health in accordance with your veterinarian’s recommendations will ensure a longer, healthier life for your canine companion.

Hyperlipidemia Defined

Hyperlipidemia is the general term used to describe an elevated level of lipids in the blood. Lipids are the insoluble fat molecules that circulate through Buddy's bloodstream and form lipoprotein complexes. Chylomicrons, made up of triglycerides and protein, are the largest example of lipoprotein complexes. Triglycerides and cholesterol are the most important lipids in dogs and cats. If your dog is healthy, lipid levels rise after his meals and then return to normal levels as they exit the bloodstream. When the lipids are unable to drop back to normal levels and they remain in his bloodstream, the condition is called hyperlipidemia. If your dog’s triglyceride level exceeds 150 mg/dL and/or his cholesterol level is higher than 300 mg/dL, then he will be diagnosed with hyperlipidemia. Although your feline friend can be diagnosed with hyperlipidemia, the condition is more prevalent in dogs.

Causes of Hyperlipidemia

While consuming a meal within 10 hours of blood testing will reveal an elevation in lipid levels, the results from a recent meal alone are not increased enough for your veterinarian to issue a diagnosis of hyperlipidemia. Hyperlipidemia is usually secondary to other health conditions, including hypothyroidism, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, pancreatitis, obstructed bile ducts, liver disease and nephrotic syndrome. Extensive use of corticosteroid medications can increase the risk for developing hyperlipidemia. Your furry friend's breed may play a factor as well. Certain breeds are genetically predisposed to hyperlipidemia, including miniature schnauzers, collies, beagles, Shetland sheepdogs, cocker spaniels, Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers, poodles and briards.

Signs of Hyperlipidemia

Not all patients with hyperlipidemia present signs or symptoms. If the condition is secondary to a medical condition, you likely will notice the signs of the underlying illness, such as severe abdominal pain, decreased appetite, vomiting or diarrhea with the presence of pancreatitis. If your dog has diabetes, you may have noticed that his water bowl needs to be filled more often and that he asks to go outdoors more frequently. Some patients do exhibit signs of hyperlipidemia that include fatty deposits in bodily tissues, inflammation and cloudiness in one or both eyes and neurological signs, such as seizure activity.

Diagnosis of Hyperlipidemia

If you bring your furry friend for his veterinary checkup shortly after he devours his breakfast, then his blood results probably will reveal elevated lipid levels. To accurately diagnose hyperlipidemia, your dog will be required to fast for 12 hours. He may drink water during this period, so only banish the food bowl. Your veterinarian will order a chemistry panel that includes cholesterol and triglyceride levels, a complete blood count and a urinalysis to diagnose hyperlipidemia and to rule out potential underlying metabolic causes. A thyroid profile and a blood screening for Cushing’s disease also may be performed if no other underlying cause is revealed on the chemistry panel, complete blood count or urinalysis. Additional specialized blood tests may be run to evaluate your dog’s lipoprotein lipase activity and the presence of chylomicrons.

Treatment of Hyperlipidemia

When hyperlipidemia is the result of a primary health condition, the goal of treatment is to control that health condition. For example, if your veterinarian has determined that Buddy is a diabetic, then efforts to regulate his insulin levels and manage his diabetes will be the priority. A low fat-high fiber diet may be recommended in combination with increased exercise and playtime to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Avoid his pleading gaze at the dinner table; dogs with hyperlipidemia should not be fed table scraps. Make sure that Buddy's toddler housemates do not share their treats with their furry friend. Deter him from raiding the enticing kitchen wastebasket. In some cases, fish oil dietary supplementation may help to lower blood lipid levels. Based upon the results of your dog’s blood work, your veterinarian will put together a tailored treatment plan that will be the most effective for his unique health status. Regular blood testing to monitor his blood lipid levels and his underlying illness will be essential in preserving a longer life span for your furry friend.