Keeping your dog’s cholesterol in check is an important way to keep your dog healthy as she ages. Hyperlipidemia is a condition of excessive fat in the blood, particularly triglycerides and cholesterol. Hyperlipidemia can lead to a variety of complications, and it has a variety of potential causes. Check out our guide to hyperlipidemia below.

Causes of Hyperlipidemia

Certain breeds of dogs, such as Miniature Schnauzers, may have a genetic predisposition to develop hyperlipidemia.

Certain breeds of dogs, such as Miniature Schnauzers, Brittany Spaniels, Beagles, Dobermans, and Rottweilers may have a genetic predisposition to develop hyperlipidemia. The underlying cause is suspected to be an inherited deficiency in an enzyme responsible for breaking down circulating triglycerides.

Other breeds of dogs, like Shelties, Collies, and Briards, can have an inherited tendency to develop high cholesterol.

Although some dogs have a primary, inherited condition causing high triglycerides or cholesterol, it’s much more common to have an underlying hormone system disorder causing altered fat metabolism. Common causes in this category include: diabetes, Cushing’s disease, pancreatitis, obesity (in dogs), hypothyroidism, and protein-losing nephropathy (a disorder within the kidneys). There are also several medications that can alter fat metabolism, leading to hyperlipidemia: phenobarbital, steroids like prednisone, or megestrol acetate (cats only).

Symptoms of Hyperlipidemia

Hyperlipidemia can be associated with various symptoms such as abdominal issues (loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea), severe pancreatitis, eye problems, skin conditions (fatty nodules in the skin, itching, hair loss), fatty nodules in various organs, and even neurological disorders (seizures, behavior changes).

Diagnosing Hyperlipidemia

Diagnosing hyperlipidemia is done by screening the blood for excessive fat, known as lipids. Oftentimes, we see a temporary and normal fluctuation in blood fats following a meal, so it’s important to avoid feeding your dog for 8-12 hours prior to assessing blood fats.

If your dog is diagnosed with hyperlipidemia, our first step is to confirm the results with a fasted blood sample. Then we screen for underlying causes like diabetes, pancreatitis, or thyroid disease. If no specific cause is found, it may be considered a genetic condition, and further tests can be considered to determine the nature of the defect.

Treating Hyperlipidemia

Treatment for elevated triglyceride levels involves addressing the underlying cause if present. Dietary changes are often beneficial, and generally include feeding an ultra low-fat and high-fiber diet. Nutritional supplements like chitosan, derived from shellfish, and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may help normalize triglycerides. If these strategies are inadequate, then occasionally medications like fibrates may be prescribed to lower triglyceride levels. Follow-up monitoring is essential for ensuring proper management.

Managing high cholesterol in the blood is a similar approach, though sometimes statin medications are used, just like in humans with high cholesterol in their blood.


Consider having your dog screened for abnormal blood fats. Make sure to work closely with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate treatment and monitoring plan. Your veterinarian can help find and address any underlying causes and reduce the risk of complications from high triglycerides or cholesterol.

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Dr. Alison Barulich

Dr. Alison Barulich

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