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Introduction to Metabolic Disorders of Dogs

By George M. Barrington, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University ; Ivan W. Caple, BVSc, PhD, MACVSc, MRCVS, Dean, Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, Veterinary Clinical Centre, University of Melbourne ; David L. Evans, BVSc, PhD, Associate Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney ; Jean A. Hall, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University ; Katharine F. Lunn, BVMS, MS, PhD, MRCVS, DACVIM, Associate Professor, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University ; Donald C. Sawyer, DVM, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University ; Sharon J. Spier, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Professor, Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California

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Metabolism refers to all processes in the body that break down and convert ingested substances to provide the energy and nutrients needed to sustain life. Foods, liquids, and drugs all generally undergo metabolic processes within the body. Many foods are complex materials that need to be broken down into simpler substances, which in turn become “building blocks” for the body to use as needed. For example, protein is broken down into amino acids, which are used in several metabolic reactions. Enzymes made by the body are needed for many metabolic processes to occur. Whenever the function of an enzyme is affected, a metabolic disorder can develop. Metabolic disorders are important because they affect energy production or damage tissues. They may be genetic (inherited) or acquired. Acquired metabolic disorders are more common and significant.

Breeds of Dogs Prone to Genetic Storage Diseases

Disease

Breeds

Ceroid lipofuscinosis

Border Collies, Chihuahuas, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, English Setters, Salukis

Gangliosidoses

Beagle crosses, German Shorthaired Pointers, Japanese Spaniels

Globoid cell leukodystrophy (Krabbe’s disease)

Beagles, Bluetick Hounds, Cairn Terriers, Poodles, West Highland White Terriers

Glucocerebrosidosis

Australian Silky Terriers, Dalmatians

Glycogenosis

Silky Terriers

Mucopolysaccharidosis (associated with lameness)

Miniature Pinschers, Mixed-breed dogs, Plott Hounds

Phosphofructokinase deficiency

American Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels

Pyruvate kinase deficiency (associated with anemia)

Basenjis, Beagles, Cairn Terriers, West Highland White Terriers

Sphingomyelinosis

German Shepherds, Poodles

Metabolic Storage Disorders

Metabolic storage disorders usually result from the body’s inability to break down some substance because of partial or complete lack of a certain enzyme. The substance can build up to a toxic level, or the body is unable to produce a substance that it needs. Although storage diseases are often widespread throughout the body, most clinical signs are due to the effects on the central nervous system. Metabolic storage disorders can be either genetic or acquired.

Genetic (inherited) storage diseases are named according to the specific metabolic byproduct that builds up in the body. Certain breeds are more prone to certain storage diseases than others (see Table: Breeds of Dogs Prone to Genetic Storage Diseases). Puppies typically appear normal at birth, and clinical signs begin within a few weeks to months. These diseases are progressive and usually fatal. Specific treatments do not exist.

Acquired storage diseases can be caused by eating plants that contain inhibitors of specific enzymes (Veterinary.heading on page Poisonous Plants).

Production-related Metabolic Disorders

Some metabolic disorders are caused by an increased demand for a specific element or nutrient that has become deficient under certain conditions. For example, in hypoglycemia, the animal’s metabolic reserves are unable to sustain sugar (or glucose) in the blood at a level needed for normal function. Likewise, in hypocalcemia, the level of calcium in the blood is too low. In some cases, dietary intake of a nutrient, such as calcium, is rapidly used up for an ongoing, high metabolic need, such as lactation (or nursing puppies).

The difference between production--related metabolic diseases and nutritional deficiencies is often subtle. Typically, nutritional deficiencies are longterm conditions that develop gradually and can be corrected through dietary supplementation. Metabolic diseases usually begin suddenly and respond dramatically to administration of the deficient nutrient (although affected animals may need dietary supplements to avoid recurrence). Because production-related metabolic disorders are serious and develop suddenly, accurate and rapid diagnosis is essential. Ideally, diagnostic tests can be used to predict the chance of disease occurring so that either it can be prevented or preparations can be made for rapid treatment.

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