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Pet Owner Version

Introduction to Metabolic Disorders of Dogs


Andrew J. Allen

, DVM, PhD, DACVIM-LAIM, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University

Reviewed/Revised Jun 2018 | Modified Oct 2022
Topic Resources

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.


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 Breeds of Dogs Prone to Genetic Storage Diseases 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 Poisonous Plants that contain inhibitors of specific enzymes.

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.

For More Information

Also see professional content regarding metabolic disorders Metabolic Disorders Introduction .

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