High Triglycerides in Dogs

By Ellie Williams

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.

Causes of High Triglycerides

Triglyceride levels normally increase after a dog eats, but should return to normal between 3 and 10 hours later. If levels remain high after 12 hours, your dog could have hyperlipidemia, the name for excess fat molecules in the blood. Hypothyroidism can increase triglyceride levels, as can being overweight and inactive. Liver problems can cause triglyceride levels to rise. Elevated levels of corticosteroids also can elevate triglyceride levels. This can result from certain medications or from a medical condition such as Cushing's disease. In some dogs, the cause is classified as idiopathic, or unknown. Some of them may have genetic conditions that predispose them to elevated triglycerides.

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.

Dietary Considerations

Your veterinarian might recommend a diet consisting of less than 10 percent fat or one high in fiber. Preparing a homemade diet gives you more control over the level of fat and fiber, but it can be difficult to balance the necessary vitamins and nutrients. Instead, you can buy a commercial dog food that’s low in fat, though some dogs hesitate to eat them because the lack of animal fat gives them a bland taste. 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.

Long-Term Management

Triglyceride levels should be checked again four weeks after changing your dog’s diet. If dietary changes and supplements haven’t regulated levels, your vet might prescribe medication. Also, if the high triglyceride levels are caused by an underlying condition, your vet likely will focus on treating or at least getting that condition under control first.