Q: My dog was found to have high cholesterol on a routine blood test. The doctor said it won’t raise her risk for a heart attack like it would in people, but she suggests that the dog may have other health problems. Can you explain?
Dear Ms. Westervelt,
A: It’s true that high cholesterol in a dog doesn’t lead to narrowed arteries and an eventual heart attack. When a dog has heart disease, it’s almost always about a faulty valve that’s not properly controlling the flow of blood between the heart’s four chambers.
What high canine blood cholesterol does often signify is a disease of the endocrine system — a fancy way of saying the dog has an illness involving hormones. One such possible illness is hypothyroidism, which means there’s too little production of thyroid hormone. That, in turn, can decrease the level of an enzyme responsible for dissolving fats. Thus, the high cholesterol level. In fact, hypothyroidism is the most common cause of high cholesterol in dogs.
Another hormone-involving disease that can raise the level of blood cholesterol in a dog is diabetes, which means there’s too little of the hormone insulin. Cushing’s disease — an illness in which too much of the hormone cortisol is produced, can raise cholesterol levels, too, as can certain types of kidney disease. In just about all cases, treating the disease will result in lower cholesterol — a good thing because too much fat in the blood can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even seizures.