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Getting your cholesterol checked? Make sure to check your dog's, too

Whitney Coy is a freelance writer and editor based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She writes frequently for SheKnows, as well as several other websites. She writes on topics including parenting, pets...

Your pet's cholesterol could be out of control and you might not even know it

You're not the only one in your household that needs to worry about their cholesterol — turns out you should be worried about your dog's, too.

Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, says high cholesterol in pets, also called hypercholesterolemia, is a rare condition, but it does happen — and when it does, it's serious.

"Elevated cholesterol in pets is often a secondary issue that occurs as a result of a primary condition which is often hormonally related," she said. If high cholesterol is discovered in your pet, it's important to get to the bottom of the issue and figure out what's causing it.

According to Osborne, the diseases that can lead to high cholesterol in pets include diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism (also referred to as Cushing’s disease) and certain kidney disorders.

More: 5 reasons why you should stop complaining about your high vet bill

"These disorders often result in a decrease in the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which is responsible for dissolving lipids or fat from the blood. Consequently, elevated fat or lipid as well as cholesterol can result," she explained.

All of these underlying conditions are treatable if discovered, so medicine and regular vet attention may be enough to quell both the primary condition and the resulting high cholesterol. Prolonged hypercholesterolemia in pets can lead to acute pancreatitis, which can be fatal, so it's definitely something that should be on your radar as a pet owner.

The symptoms of high cholesterol in pets are often subtle and hard to detect, but may include abdominal pain, seizures, nervous system dysfunctions, patches and yellowish-orange lipid-filled bumps on the skin.

Finding out

I'll be honest — although I take my dog for yearly checkups with our vet, I had no idea if his cholesterol has ever been addressed. It certainly had never been brought up in conversation.

According to Osborne, though, your vet is probably looking at it without you ever even knowing if she's running blood tests.

"Anyone who really wishes to know how their pet is functioning on the inside, especially with a pet over the age of 7 (7 years of age is considered a senior pet), should have annual blood testing," she said. "This would be a full CBC and profile, [and] the blood should preferably be sent out to a lab as opposed to in-house testing, so you are always 100 percent sure your results are accurate. Any CBC and profile would test for both good and bad cholesterol among 40 other values that are addressed as well."

She added that if you're not sure if your vet runs this test, you should ask, and request it if she's not.

More: Your dog might not like hugs as much as you do

"Even though your pet may appear to be happy and healthy, it would be hard to be 100 percent positive without blood testing. It is a good way to be preventative and diligent about your pet’s health and wellness," she added.

Obesity factors in

High cholesterol in pets isn't always caused by underlying issues, though. Just like in humans, weight and diet issues can contribute to elevated bad cholesterol levels.

"You are what you eat and so is your dog! Good nutrition is the foundation of good health," she advises.

Osborne says over 50 percent of American pets are overweight, and the main cause is overeating. If your pet's high cholesterol has been linked to obesity, diet and exercise are the keys to a healthier and happier pet.

"High-protein, high-fiber, low-fat foods keep dogs happy while they lose weight," she said. "Increasing the fiber provides bulk, which fills up your dog's stomach so he feels full and is satisfied."

Keeping an overweight pup feeling full on high-fiber food is always a good idea, since a hungry pup is more likely to swipe people food or get into the trash — both easy ways to wreck his diet.

So, how do you keep your pup happy and healthy?

Osborne offered the following tips for pet owners looking to improve their animal's diet:

  • All pets should eat at least twice a day. When dieting, increase the number of your dog's meals up to six per day. Divide your dog's total daily ration into six portions (don't feed him six times more), then, ideally, try to feed him every four hours. Eating more often stimulates his metabolism, which uses up more energy and burns more calories.
  • A general guide to daily food intake is one cup daily per 20 pounds of your dog's weight.
  • Leave his food out for 15-20 minutes, and then remove it.
  • If your dog quickly finishes his meal in just a few minutes, then looks up at you with big sad eyes, he is still hungry. Try adding a third of the original portion to his meal and see if that does the trick.
  • Homemade natural diets take more time but can be well worth the extra effort. The key is to find a balanced recipe that tastes good.
  • Adding fresh vegetables to your dog's diet will increase the fiber portion of his meal. This lets you increase the amount of food without increasing the total number of calories.

Exercise is another valuable tool in the fight against obesity and high cholesterol in pets, and should be used along with a healthy diet.

More: Top 10 longest-living dog breeds

Osborne says pets should exercise for at least 20 minutes a day, five days a week. If you have a dog, the most obvious way to meet that goal is to get out the leash and take a hike. That's not the only way to get it done, though. Well-known dog trainer and behaviorist Cesar Millan offers the following tips for getting your dog to exercise (and some might even work for your cat!):

  • Play fetch on the stairs. You stand on top, throw it down, and repeat when he brings it to you.
  • Use a laser pointer to encourage your pets to run around the house or yard.
  • Set up an obstacle course.
  • Put him on a treadmill.
  • Play a careful game of tug-of-war.

Check with your vet to find out if your pet has been tested for hypercholesterolemia, and if not, get the tests done ASAP. It's a simple way for you, as a pet owner, to find out how your pet is doing and use the above tools to get his health in check. He's an important member of the family, right? Do what you can to keep him happy and healthy for as long as possible.

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