We often associate high cholesterol in either animals or people with a diet that’s too rich in fats. We also tend to associate high cholesterol with obesity, but the truth is that even thin people and dogs can have high cholesterol.
In today’s article, we’re looking at everything you should know about this health complication, its symptoms, its causes, how it is diagnosed, and how it may be treated. We’ll also include some information on how you can prevent your dog from getting high cholesterol levels.
Why do dogs get high cholesterol?
First of all, it’s important to note that high cholesterol isn’t as dangerous in dogs as it is in people. There are two main types of fat that veterinarians look at as part of regular examinations of pets – cholesterol and triglycerides.
The second level is far more important for dogs because triglycerides have a far higher chance of causing health complications in this species compared to cholesterol.
However, it’s not uncommon for both of these fats to experience an increase at the same time, leading to the symptoms we’ll describe in one of the following sections.
The increase of fat in a dog’s bloodstream is called hyperlipidemia, and it involves both cholesterol and triglycerides.
Some of the most typical causes of high cholesterol and hyperlipidemia in general are separate conditions, such as the following:
- Pancreatitis, where the pancreas becomes incapable of breaking down the fats in the dog’s blood
If your canine friend has been diagnosed with a liver health condition or their gallbladder isn’t functioning normally, an amount of fats could remain in the blood, too.
There is an undeniable link between hyperlipidemia and these health conditions that lead to its diagnosis – in the sense that while some dogs might not show specific signs of malaise or of these diseases, they will develop hyperlipidemia and experience clinical signs specific to it, which is how they will eventually be diagnosed with a pancreas complication or a hormonal imbalance.
In this case, high cholesterol can be caused by diseases and the other way around, too. The more fat in a dog’s blood stream, the higher the chances of their liver and pancreas not being able to function properly.
Another cause of high cholesterol in dogs is the breed. Some pets are genetically predisposed to develop hyperlipidemia, meaning high triglycerides and high cholesterol. Here are a few examples:
- Miniature Poodle
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Shetland Sheepdog
So, if you’re the owner of any of these dog breeds, you should make sure that your vet is testing the cholesterol and triglycerides as part of the biochemistry blood tests that they perform every year or twice a year.
Symptoms of high cholesterol in dogs
Dogs that have developed hyperlipidemia can exhibit a very wide range of symptoms depending on the exact condition that has caused the issue.
In fact, hyperlipidemia is often associated with one or more other complications, so the entire clinical picture can be composed of many symptoms:
- Abdominal discomfort
- A distended abdomen
- Cloudy eyes
A physical examination can sometimes lead your vet to perform certain tests that can determine whether or not your pooch is indeed suffering from hyperlipidemia.
Once the high cholesterol or high triglyceride level is discovered, the veterinarian will recommend additional diagnostic tests such as an ultrasound or any other imaging techniques, along with other blood tests that are used specifically for certain organs.
So, in general, dogs are diagnosed with hyperlipidemia and an underlying cause, which can consist of a separate health condition. There’s also a cortisol level test available that can be performed following a 12-hour period where the dog doesn’t eat anything, and that can also reveal high cholesterol along with hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease).
Treatment of high cholesterol in dogs
When it comes to treating high cholesterol in dogs, it all depends on what the animal has been diagnosed with. There are specific medications for diabetes, Cushing’s Syndrome, or hypothyroidism, for example, all of which can cause this complication. Treatment for pancreatitis needs to be given to dogs for long periods of time in order for it to have any effect.
Any medications that are used for lowering cholesterol in humans are not safe for dogs, at least not at this time.
Some examples of medications that your vet might recommend range from fibrates such as Bezafibrate and Fenofibrate to Niacin or statins such as Lovastatin or Fluvastatin.
It really depends on your dog’s specific hyperlipidemia, the range at which these fats are increased, and what they’re caused by – so the treatment can vary a lot from one animal to the next.
There are even complex medications such as 5-Aminolevulinic acid, which leads to the increase of mitochondrial activity inside the cells, therefore making it possible for fats to be digested faster and more efficiently – this is an option that is often suggested for treating hyperlipidemia in dog breeds that develop it as a result of genetic factors (and don’t necessarily have other conditions).
What food should your dog eat if they have high cholesterol?
High cholesterol and high triglycerides respond well to diet changes, so your veterinarian can recommend specific modifications or switches that can improve your pet’s health status.
It all depends on your dog’s health right now. If the syndrome itself and the corresponding conditions have not reached a severe level where the dog needs to take medication each day or even several times a day, diet changes can prove their worth.
Low-fat diets are highly recommended, but adding healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids separately is also a good idea.
Some dogs experience hyperlipidemia right after having a meal, but their cholesterol or triglyceride levels may return to normal just a couple of hours later, for example.
Pretty much any diet that has less than 10% fat and is made with healthy ingredients (not massive amounts of carbs coming from wheat or corn, for example) is a great option.
Preventing high cholesterol in dogs
The first and probably the best piece of advice we have for you is to make sure you take your dog to the vet once or twice a year so that a regular selection of blood tests is performed and any fat-related health conditions are diagnosed.
Sometimes, your dog’s body might not have started showing symptoms, but high cholesterol could be present in their blood. This is particularly true if you own a Miniature Poodle or a Miniature Schnauzer or any other breed that could develop hyperlipidemia all of a sudden, without an apparent cause.
Feed your dog a healthy and wholesome diet composed of the best sources of protein, fat, and carbohydrates possible. Avoid giving your dog table scraps, especially things like bacon, pork steak, pork crackling, or any other very fatty food.
Keep an eye on your dog’s weight. Although obesity doesn’t necessarily cause high cholesterol or hyperlipidemia in general, it can be a risk to both this condition and diabetes, especially after the age of 7 or 8.
Make sure you take your dog for enough walks and that you organize a hike every weekend or as often as you can. Exercise is healthy for dogs in many ways, and it also keeps their heart and brain in top shape. It’s also a very neat way of burning excess calories, especially for a heavily food-oriented dog.