Cholesterol in Cats
Guest Post by Lorie Huston, DVM
Please join Lorie on her website – Pet Health Care Gazette
You’re probably used to worrying about your own cholesterol, or that of your spouse or other loved one. But have you ever thought about your cat’s cholesterol level? Cats can suffer from both high cholesterol and low cholesterol. The causes of abnormal cholesterol levels in cats, though, differ from those seen in people.
In people, high cholesterol is linked with serious health issues such as atherosclerosis and myocardial infarcts. These diseases are seen very rarely in cats.
Many cats exhibit a high cholesterol level but otherwise appear perfectly healthy. As a result, the significance of a high cholesterol level alone is of questionable significance. However, elevated cholesterol levels are commonly found in cats under certain circumstances and in some disease processes. Increases in the level of high density lipoproteins (HDL) and/or low density lipoproteins (LDL) are responsible for most cases of high cholesterol in cats.
Elevated cholesterol levels in cats are most commonly associated with the following:
- Post-prandial blood sample – The blood cholesterol level will often be elevated for several hours after eating a meal.
- High fat diets – Frequently, high protein low carbohydrate diets produce an abnormally high cholesterol level.
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Gastrointestinal disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease or bacterial overgrowth
- Extra-hepatic bile duct obstruction
- Diabetes mellitus
- Hypothyroidism – This disease is uncommon in cats but not unknown. Hyperthyroidism is much more common.
- Chronic kidney disease
- Protein losing nephropathy
- Metabolic defect in lipoprotein metabolism
- Heart disease such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- As noted earlier, often cats with high cholesterol levels show no symptoms at all. However, when symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Decreased appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Ocular (eye) changes
- Skin changes such as itchiness, hair loss, and cutaneous xanthomata (a fatty plaque, nodule, or tumor in the skin)
In many cases, hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol levels) will require no treatment or intervention. When treatment is indicated, generally that treatment is dietary, with fat being restricted and soluble fiber being supplemented. Omega-3 fatty acids may be recommended and are thought to reduce cholesterol concentrations by decreasing the synthesis of VLDL (very low density lipoproteins) and LDL. Statin medications have been used on occasion in cats but are not widely used or recommended. Where an underlying or coexisting disease exists, treating that disease is often effective in managing the blood cholesterol level.
Low blood cholesterol levels can be an issue for cats also. Both gastrointestinal disease and hepatic disease can lower the cholesterol level. In gastrointestinal disease, there may be decreased absorption of lipoproteins from the “gut”, leading to decreased blood levels. When the liver is involved, decreased production results in low blood levels. Treatment generally involves treating the underlying disease.
Though cholesterol is often measured and monitored in cats, the significance of abnormal values is much different in cats than in people.
Hi Dementia Boy and Patti. I’m glad you found the information useful.
John, thanks for sharing those links. I haven’t had time to listen yet but I promise I will soon. Inflammation could potentially be a cause of heart disease in cats. Of course, the most common cause of heart disease in cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle. It is an inherited disease in some breeds. What part does inflammation play in the development of clinical signs? I’m afraid I can’t answer that definitively, but it would be interesting to find out. I’ve poked around the literature a little bit and haven’t found anything relevant so far but I’ll post back here if I do. Thanks for a great question.
Speaking of Cholesterol, in humans some doctors think inflammation is more of a cause of heart disease than cholesterol.
Here are two videos to check out if your interested. If true, I wonder if the same applies to cats…
No need to convince me, John, but thank you so much for mentioning inflammation as a cause of disease. Immunologically, cats are exquisitely sensitive animals, perhaps biologically predisposed to inflammatory processes.
Thank you so very much for this very interesting & informative information, Jenny & Dr. Huston! I had no idea about any of this. I will definitely be discussing this with my sweet hubby to rethink our approach to Pink Sugar’s vet visits as she gets older to ensure that her overall health and cholesterol levels are good (which only lab tests can determine).
Thank you, Jenny and Dr. Huston. This is the most informative, succinct article I’ve read on feline cholesterol. William’s cardiologist always told me not to worry about good ol’ Dementia Boy’s cholesterol–but how can one *not* worry when the lab automatically flags it?
Jolie’s cholesterol is all over the board, but that makes sense now given the foregoing.
Thanks again for giving me one less thing to worry about.