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How Does High Cholesterol Affect Dogs?

Written by: Adri Sandoval
Adri Sandoval is the Special Projects Manager for iHeartDogs and iHeartCats. Her work has deepened her love for animals, fostering a strong passion for rescue and animal advocacy.Read more
| Published on October 23, 2017

The word hyperlipidemia means “excessive fats,” and is a condition in which your dog has higher levels of fats in his blood than he ought. Fats like cholesterol and triglyceride are commonly found in the blood, but in excessive amounts can be dangerous to your dog’s overall health and longevity.

Hyperlipidemia is pretty common in dogs. After a meal the triglycerides and cholesterol levels in your dog’s blood rise, but come back down to normal after a few hours  (3 – 10.) In dogs affected by hyperlipidemia, the fat levels remain high for more than 12 hours. Some dogs are genetically predisposed to the condition, but it can also be caused by diseases like diabetes, hypothyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome. If left unchecked, hyperlipidemia can decrease your dog’s lifespan, and cause obesity, neurologic and metabolic issues.

Symptoms of High Cholesterol in Dogs

Your dog may not show any symptoms at all, or show symptoms of an underlying cause. You may see some of the following:

– Decreased appetite
– Vomiting
– Diarrhea
– Abdominal pain
– Bloated abdomen
– Cloudy eyes
– Fatty deposits under the skin
– Hair loss
– Itching
– Seizures

Causes of High Cholesterol in Dogs

 – High-fat diets – dietary intake of fats is a common cause of hyperlipidemia
 – Obesity – common in dogs, can cause hyperlidemia and several other issues
 – Steroid medications – progesterone and corticosteroids
 – Diabetes – can cause increased hormone-sensitive lipase activity
 – Hypothyroidism – can cause increased hormone-sensitive lipase activity and increased serum LDL
 – Cushing’s syndrome – can cause increased hormone-sensitive lipase activity
 – Pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas
 – Cholestasis – your dog’s liver produces bile and passes it to the duodenum, which is the primary way it excretes excess fats. Cholestasis occurs when this process becomes impaired, and it can lead to hyperlipidemia.
 – Nephrotic syndrome – kidney disease can cause increased hormone-sensitive lipase activity
 – Pregnancy – hyperlipidemia may be seen temporarily during pregnancy
 – Genetic predisposition – Miniature schnauzers and Beagles tend to be genetically predisposed to hyperlipidemia.


Hyperlipidemia can be physiological or pathological

 – Physiological – high fat levels due to having recently eaten a meal (which is a normal increase)
 – Pathological – The body is either unable to clear fats from the blood, is synthesizing lipoproteins (which carry the fats through the blood), or is stabilizing lipoproteins so they cannot be broken down. (abnormal increase)

Hyperlipidemia can involve one or more of the following:

– Elevated blood triglycerides
– Elevated blood cholesterol
– Elevated blood chylomicrons (protein-coated triglycerides)

Diagnosis of High Cholesterol in Dogs

If you see any of the symptoms listed above in your pet, you’ll need to make a trip to your veterinarian to find out what’s causing them. A thorough exam and a full history will let your vet know which tests need to be performed. These could include

– a blood cell count (to detect abnormalities in the blood)
– biochemistry (to examine kidney and liver function)
– urinalysis (to examine urinary tract function)
– a thyroid test (to measure thyroid production)
– a CPL/Canine Pancreatic Lipase (to measure the pancreatic enzyme that helps breakdown fats)
– lipid tests (to examine the levels of lipoproteins)
– a cortisol test (to measure adrenal gland function)

Should your vet determine that a cortisol test is necessary, they may ask you not to feed any food or treats for 12 hours to perform it accurately.

Treatment of High Cholesterol in Dogs

Dietary Change

No matter how much your dog loves his table scraps, it might be best to eliminate all of them. You may want to gradually switch him over to a low-fat, high-fiber diet, as diets high in fat are a common cause of hyperlipidemia. Even if you don’t feed your dog any table scraps, some dog foods can be too high in fat for some dogs. Be sure you’re feeding the correct amount for your dog without overfeeding, getting the proper amount of daily exercise, and don’t over-do it on the treats. Results from diet changes can take up to 8 weeks to show.

Any changes to your dog’s diet should be made gradually to avoid upsetting his stomach. Listen to your vet’s recommendations for changing your dog’s diet. They may recommend mixing foods and using less and less of your old dog food until he’s ready for just his new food.


Lipid-Lowering Medications

There are medications available that can lower the triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the blood. Remember, drugs for humans are not safe for your dogs – use only medications prescribed by your vet.

Secondary Condition Medications

Your dog’s hyperlipidemia may be the result of some other, underlying condition. Treatment of that condition (diabetes, cushing syndrome, hypothyroidism) with appropriate medication may resolve your dog’s hyperlipidemia.

Recovery of High Cholesterol in Dogs

Depending on what caused your dog’s elevated fat levels, he will need to be on a blood monitoring schedule to see that he’s responding to treatment. Your vet may request weekly or monthly follow ups until medication is adjusted to the appropriate levels, but once established, blood tests may be conducted only every 6-12 months.

Let friends and family know that your dog has a condition, so that well-meaning people don’t pass him table scraps and excessive treats.

Your vet’s instructions for any medication and dietary changes must be followed to be effective. Discontinuing treatment can be dangerous – acute pancreatitis is potentially fatal, and can result from a dog eating fatty foods after being on a low-fat diet for an extended period of time.

Treatment is usually successful in resolving hyperlipidemia, and is often required for the remainder of the pet’s life.


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