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Health & Wellness

How to spot metabolic diseases in dogs

Common symptoms and treatment options for metabolic diseases.

Metabolism is the body’s process to make energy from the food we (and our pets) eat. The protein, fats and carbohydrates your pets consume are turned into fuel for every living cell in their body. This fuel can be used right away, or it can be stored as energy in the body’s tissues and used when needed. Metabolic diseases, then, are anything that disrupts the process of metabolism. 

“Metabolism can be divided into three main categories: processes that turn food into energy, processes that get rid of waste products and processes that turn food into products used to build compounds like proteins and fats,” Dr. Kelly Diehl, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM (SAIM), a former vet and the senior scientific programs and communications adviser at Morris Animal Foundation, says.

What is a  metabolic disease?

Metabolic diseases can affect a specific organ, or it could be a systemic disease that affects a pet’s overall health. Metabolic diseases, which may include diseases related to gland dysfunction (endocrine diseases), differ from infectious diseases in that there is no inciting organism that causes it. 

Some pets are prone to metabolic disease based on heredity, breed or age and some become symptomatic for no known reason.

“Generally, when we talk about metabolic diseases of dogs, we often think about inherited conditions of abnormal metabolism,” Dr. Diehl says. “Most of these conditions are rare. However, some veterinarians have expanded the definition of metabolic disease to include disorders such as diabetes, certain kinds of liver disease and kidney disease.”

Here are some common types of metabolic (and endocrine) diseases, and how you can spot them in your pup.

Hypothyroidism in dogs

Dogs with hypothyroidism find themselves lacking enough thyroid hormone, causing a sluggish metabolism. Your pup may lose energy, become overweight and develop a poor coat quality and dry skin. Luckily, hypothyroidism can be treated with thyroid hormone supplementation.

Diabetes in dogs

Increased thirst (and increased urination) along with weight loss with an increased appetite are classic signs of diabetes in dogs. All pups can get type one diabetes, meaning their immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin, which helps the body use and store sugar. 

You should talk to your vet about treating a pup with diabetes. They may recommend insulin injections that should be given throughout the rest of your dog’s life. Insulin therapy and diet are the cornerstones of therapy for dogs with diabetes.

RELATED: Should I get pet insurance for my dog?

Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's disease)

Cushing’s disease is both a metabolic and endocrine disease. Cushing’s disease is when the pituitary gland in the brain produces too much of the adrenocorticotropic stimulating hormone — a hormone that stimulates the adrenal gland. The adrenal glands then excessively produce glucocorticoids, a stress hormone with many metabolic effects, including the breakdown of muscle. 

Some signs of Cushing’s disease in dogs are similar to other metabolic problems, including increased thirst and urination, poor coat with hair loss, skin problems, panting, increased appetite and weight gain. Cushing’s disease is usually treated with medication.

Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease)

Addison’s disease is when dogs are lacking one or two types of hormones — they may be missing just glucocorticoids or both glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. Glucocorticoids have many metabolic effects in the body as listed under Cushing's disease (mineralocorticoids influence electrolyte levels). 

Signs of Addison’s disease in dogs include chronic, intermittent vomiting and lethargy. Because these dogs can’t respond to stress, even small things, such as boarding or a simple infection, can become life-threatening. 

Addison’s tends to be diagnosed in young dogs, sometimes through routine blood work but sometimes it can get tricky to pin down a firm diagnosis and special testing is needed. Addison’s disease is treated with medication to replace the missing hormones. It’s important to remember that since this disease is often found in young dogs, treatment is life-long.

How to know if your dog has a metabolic or endocrine disease

Metabolic and endocrine diseases are common in dogs. Diagnosing them may be as simple as running some basic blood work, or it may be more extensive than that. 

Pay attention to little signs, especially as pets age. An increase in the amount of water your dog drinks or a change in their appetite could signal trouble brewing. You should bring up any and all changes to your vet to diagnose your pup as quickly as possible. 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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