Triglycerides are a type of fat molecule, or lipid, found in the body. Triglyceride levels normally fluctuate in dogs, especially after a meal. However, chronically high triglycerides could indicate an underlying medical condition requiring prompt diagnosis and treatment. Your veterinarian might recommend simple dietary changes to start with, followed by medical intervention if levels don't improve.
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Causes of high triglycerides in dogs
Triglyceride levels normally increase after a dog eats, but should return to normal between six and 12 hours later. If levels remain high after 12 hours, your dog could have hyperlipidemia, the name for excess fat molecules in the blood.
Hyperlipidemia can be caused by certain medications, such as steroids. Medical conditions, such as diabetes, pancreatitis, hypothyroidism, some kidney conditions, and Cushing's disease can lead to hyperlipidemia. Nephrotic syndrome, a condition that causes a dog's liver to produce too much cholesterol, can also result in hyperlipidemia. Sometimes, hyperlipidemia has a genetic cause. Shetland sheepdogs, schnauzers, and collies are among the most common breeds of dogs to have high triglyceride levels.
Effects of high triglycerides
High triglyceride levels can cause potentially dangerous conditions in dogs if left untreated. For example, dogs with hyperlipidemia could be at greater risk for acute pancreatitis. While it's known that animals suffering from acute pancreatitis often have high triglyceride levels, it's not known if it's a cause or a result of the condition.
However, because the two are often found in conjunction, it's safer to monitor and manage your dog's triglyceride levels. Pancreatitis can cause distressing symptoms, including pain, appetite loss, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, heartbeat irregularities, and dehydration.
Low-fat diet for dogs with hyperlipidemia
Your veterinarian might recommend a low-fat diet for dogs to help control your dog's hyperlipidemia. There are prescription diets for dogs with high triglycerides you can purchase through your veterinarian. If you'd rather feed your dog a homemade diet, you can work with a veterinary nutritionist on formulating one that will meet your dog's needs.
Your dog might need to stay on a restricted diet for the rest of his life. You can add omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish oil, to your dog's diet to lower triglycerides.
Managing high triglycerides with medication
Most of the time, hyperlipidemia in dogs is secondary to another condition, such as diabetes, pancreatitis, a kidney condition, hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease, or because the liver is producing too much cholesterol. If this is the case for your dog, your veterinarian will treat the underlying condition to manage your dog's triglyceride level. For instance, if your dog has diabetes, your vet will prescribe insulin. Your vet will prescribe thyroid medication if your dog has hypothyroidism.
If your dog has primary hyperlipidemia and a diet change is not successful in lowering his triglycerides, your vet may prescribe your dog a medication to help manage the condition. Your veterinarian may prescribe gemfibrozil, fenofibrate, or bezafibrate or a statin, such as atorvastatin or lovastatin to help manage your dog's condition.
Preventing high triglycerides in dogs
You may be able to reduce your dog's risk of high triglycerides by feeding him a low-fat diet. Giving your dog plenty of daily exercise may also help reduce his risk as dogs at a healthy weight are less likely to get diabetes.
Preventing hyperlipidemia is not always possible, though. A dog who is genetically predisposed to developing hyperlipidemia may develop the condition despite your best efforts to keep him healthy.