High Cholesterol in Pets: Symptoms and Treatment

29 January, 2019
High cholesterol is a disease in which the bloodstream permanently has high levels of fat, and dogs can suffer from it as well as humans

Humans aren’t the only ones that can be affected by high blood cholesterol levels. Although it’s not as common, our pets can also suffer from problems caused by hyperlipidemia. In this article, we’ll help you understand the effects of high cholesterol in pets. We’ll also tell you the main causes of hyperlipidemia and the measures you should take to prevent it.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is one of the essential fats or lipids that make up our body. Although it has gained a bad reputation because of the problems that hyperlipidemia causes, our body produces it naturally. In fact, its molecules are present in all of our cells.

In addition to helping with food digestion, cholesterol also helps to synthesize vitamin D, as well as being involved with some hormone production. 

As you may know, there are two main types of cholesterol: HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. LDL has a low density and can accumulate in the arteries. That’s why it’s commonly known as ‘bad cholesterol.’

HDL, on the other hand, is high density, and it helps us maintain a balanced metabolism, as well as eliminating toxins and excess LDL from the body. So, that’s why it’s often referred to as ‘good cholesterol.’

High cholesterol in pets

A dog eating from his bowl.

Hyperlipidemia or hypercholesterolemia are characterized by the permanent presence of high fats levels in the bloodstream. Or, in simpler terms, it’s when your blood cholesterol levels are always high and exceed a healthy level.

So, it’s important to differentiate between recurring or occasional elevations of cholesterol levels. After eating certain foods or experiencing a stressful situation or strong emotions, it’s normal for cholesterol levels to rise. Logically, they should normalize after a short period of time.

People and pets with hyperlipidemia show permanently high cholesterol levels, even in normal, everyday situations. This is when it poses a health risk.

Causes of hyperlipidemia

The causes of high cholesterol in pets are very similar to those that cause hyperlipidemia in humans. Generally, it’s associated with an unbalanced diet, a sedentary routine, certain metabolic disturbances or congenital problems.

Next, we’ll look at the most common causes of hyperlipidemia and high cholesterol in pets:

  • A diet high in meats, dairy or fatty foods
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Pregnancy
  • Nephrotic syndrome (a degenerative disease that affects the kidneys)
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • Adrenal glands overfunctioning
  • Cholestasis (obstruction of the bile ducts)
  • Congenital abnormalities in lipid-removing enzymes or lipid-carrying proteins
  • Aging

Symptoms of high cholesterol in pets

Hyperlipidemia is a disease that usually moves silently through our pets’ bodies. Its first symptoms are general and hard to identify in animals. So, owners only notice there’s a problem when the disease is already advanced.

A dog comparing two plates of food.

That’s why it’s important to help to prevent this disease with a balanced diet. You can also control high cholesterol levels in pets by taking them for blood tests on a regular basis. These are the main symptoms of high cholesterol in pets:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Patches or bruises on their skin
  • Dermal xanthomas (yellowish or orange lumps on the skin filled with fat)
  • Convulsions
  • Changes in the nervous system

Treating high cholesterol in pets

After receiving a diagnosis of hyperlipidemia, the vet will recommend a treatment that will meet your pet’s needs. The health professional will definitely recommend a diet change to lower his blood cholesterol levels.

Generally, they’ll prescribe a diet made up of less than 10% fat, with high-quality proteins rich in fibers. They may also prescribe a drug or natural supplement to help control fats in the bloodstream.

How to prevent high cholesterol in pets

The best way to prevent high cholesterol in pets is to give them a balanced diet that’s high in nutrients. You shouldn’t give them any human food that is rich in fats, sugars or chemicals.

Also, daily exercise is essential to keep your pet’s metabolism and weight at a healthy level. Remember that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of developing behavioral problems and numerous diseases.

Last, but not least, your pet will need adequate preventative medicine throughout his life. In addition to visiting the vet every six months, remember to keep up with his vaccinations and deworming.

  • Xenoulis, P. G., & Steiner, J. M. (2010). Lipid metabolism and hyperlipidemia in dogs. Veterinary Journal. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2008.10.011
  • Johnson, M. C. (2005). Hyperlipidemia disorders in dogs. Compendium on Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian.
  • Fleeman, L. M. (2010). Is hyperlipidemia clinically important in dogs? Veterinary Journal. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2008.12.008