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Triglycerides are a form of fat or lipid. They are composed of a glycerine "backbone" with three fatty acids attached. Triglycerides are the primary type of circulating fat that you and your pet's cells metabolize for energy.
Much your dog or cat's blood triglyceride comes from the foods it eats (although your dog or cat's pancreatic enzymes must disassemble the triglyceride molecule before it can be absorbed). Both the pet's liver and its fat cells have the ability to reassemble triglyceride (the liver can also change most any energy source into triglyceride or cholesterol).
Your body was designed to utilize food carbohydrates moving throughout the body as glucose as a major source of energy. Many dogs are not as efficient in doing that as you and I are. Your cat has an even harder time subsisting on a high carbohydrate diet.That is why fat in your pet's diet is more necessary for them than for you. The triglycerides found in meat tend to be saturated fats. Dogs and cats evolved to handle saturated fats much better than we humans.
Besides being an important source of energy for your dog or cat, triglycerides are essential components of the walls (cell membranes) of all cells in the body.
The level of triglyceride and cholesterol in the blood tend to increase and decrease together (read about the causes of high and low cholesterol here). When one or both are high, you pet is said to have hyperlipemia. That situation is normal after a meal (lipemia). But when it persists throughout the day, problems such as nerve and vision difficulties, seizures, pancreatitis and fatty skin patches (xanthomas) can develop.
The most common cause of elevated triglyceride levels is a recent meal (a post-prandial blood sample). That is why blood samples from your dog or cat, sent for triglyceride/cholesterol assay, need to be obtained no sooner than 6 hours after its last meal. If the reported level came back high on a non-fasting pet, run them again after more time passed since its last meal.
Fat, inactive dogs and cats are more likely to have persistently high triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Over time, allowing your pet to remain that way is likely to have negative effects on its health.
In dogs, hypothyroidism is a common underlying cause of persistent high triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Often the increase in cholesterol is higher than the increase in triglycerides.
Hepatic lipidosis is common problem in cats that will not eat due to a number of health issues (anorexia). Such persistent fasting can cause the cat's triglyceride level to be persistently high. Such cats need to receive nutrients (often through tube feeding) to prevent their downward health spiral.
Diabetic cats and dogs often have high triglyceride and cholesterol levels until very late in their disease. Some believe that high triglyceride/cholesterol levels in these pets make their blood sugar (glucose) harder to control with insulin injections (insulin resistance).
Pets with sudden (acute) pancreatitis often have elevated triglyceride levels. It is unclear if it is the cause, or result, of the pancreatitis but they are often found together.
High corticosteroid levels, either from medications or due to over-active adrenal glands (Cushing’s disease) can cause elevated triglyceride levels.
Some breeds of dogs and cats have high triglyceride and cholesterol levels due to their genetic tendencies (just born that way). These genetic problems have complicated names, such as Idiopathic or inherited hyperchylomicronemia, familial or primary hyperlipidemia and hypertriglyceridemia of schnauzer dogs. When they occur, it is the result of excessive inbreeding. Breeds associated with these genetic problems include miniature schnauzers, Brittany spaniels, beagles, Siamese, domestic shorthair and Himalayan cats. Pets with this problem need a well thought out, lower fat diet - preferably made at home under a veterinary nutritionist's supervision. Some suggest a fish oil supplement.
A peculiar and rare form of diabetes in cats, due to a tumor in the pet’s pituitary gland (adenoma-induced acromegaly), is also reported to cause high blood triglyceride levels in cats due to the over production of growth hormone (GH). (ref)
Methimazole (Tapazol), given to control hyperthyroidism in cats, is said to sometimes elevate the pet’s triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Megesterol and depopovera – occasionally given to cats with Eosinophilic granuloma complex or miliary dermatitis can also increase triglyceride levels, as can all corticosteroid medications.
When your dog or cat is overweight and your veterinarian has eliminated other possible explanations for its high blood triglyceride level, a diet change might be in order.
CBC/WBC , blood chemistry values including a blood glucose, screen for diabetes (dog) (cat), cholesterol level, Thyroid panel for hypothyroidism (free T-4) , ACTH stimulation test or low dose dexamethasone suppression test for Cushing's disease , TLI, cPL® or fPL® for Pancreatitis, fructosamine test for diabetes, urinalysis including protein:creatinine ratio, microalbuminuria test