What Can Cause High Cholesterol In Dogs?

Kirby just recently had some blood work in an attempt to find out why the skin in his belly and groin area turns almost black every so many months.  Thank God Addison's Disease and Cushing's Disease were ruled out. His kidneys, liver, and bladder are all in excellent condition. However, the tests did show he has high cholesterol and triglyceride levels along with high protein, high potassium, and high magnesium. He goes back for more blood work in a few weeks and we have been advised to place him on a low fat diet to see if there is any change.

One thing I am wondering about is the cat food he consumes. I thought it was cute how he would sneak a bite or two whenever he thought I wasn't looking. Maybe not so cute since it may be a contributing factor since cat food is high in protein and fat. Actually I'm hoping it is the culprit because then the problem is solved. Either way no more cat food, ever!

Dogs are carnivores so their digestive tracts are designed to eat plenty of animal fat since they need large amounts to meet their physical needs for energy and endurance. They don't develop plaque in their arteries or suffer harmful effects to their hearts from a high fat diet like humans do. Still high cholesterol can be a sign or warning of possible illnesses.

Fat Dog

Cushing's Disease  (Hyperadrenocorticism)

The adrenal gland produces too much cortisol. A high level of cortisol creates dysfunction in processing fats making dogs with Cushing's disease more prone to pancreatitis. This can also be caused by long term steroid use.


This is a disorder of carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism caused by an insulin deficiency. Metabolism refers to how the body digests and uses food for growth and energy and this process is largely dependent on a sufficient amount of insulin in the body.  This can cause issues with fat metabolism resulting in high cholesterol and other elevated blood panel results like glucose.


This occurs when the amount of fats (cholesterol and triglycerides) in the blood are elevated.  It has been associated with fatal ailments such as pet obesity, pancreatitis, vision and neurologic problems. It’s normal for hyperlipidemia to occur in all pets for a few hours after eating. The cholesterol and triglyceride levels then return to normal due to the action of fat metabolism enzymes. If the dog has a deficiency of these enzymes, they will be unable to clear the fat from their blood stream which results in persistently high fat levels.


This occurs when the thyroid gland isn’t working properly to regulate hormones and metabolism which can cause elevations in cholesterol, lipase, ALT and a low white blood cell count.


Pancreatitis is not caused by fat intake but can result from any of the following:

  • Certain medications, especially potassium bromide, as well as some anti-cancer drugs and some antibiotics
  • Metabolic disorders including hyperlipidemia and hypercalcemia (high amounts of calcium in the blood)
  • Hormonal diseases such as Cushing’s Disease, Hypothyroidism, and Diabetes mellitus
  • Obese and overweight dogs appear to be more at risk
  • Genetics with Schnauzers and Yorkshire Terriers appearing to be more prone to pancreatitis
  •  Dogs with diets high in fat, dogs who have recently gotten into the trash or have been fed table scraps, or dogs who 'steal' or are fed greasy 'people food' seem to have a higher incidence of the disease
  • Abdominal surgery, trauma to the abdomen, or shock, can affect blood flow to the pancreas
  • Previous pancreatitis

Some of these health problems can be resolved with medication and usually a low fat diet is needed.  As a rule veterinarians consider a diet with less than 10 percent fat (less than 17 percent of calories from fat) to be low fat, diets with 10 to 15 percent fat (17 to 23 percent of calories) to be moderate fat, and diets with more than 20 percent fat to be high fat.  20% fat is the daily recommendation for healthy dogs.