Metabolic Diseases in Dogs

Lethargy is a symptom common to most metabolic diseases.
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The metabolic system controls growth, energy and breakdown of organic matter inside the body. Metabolic diseases disrupt these processes. Some metabolic diseases are curable with medication or surgery, others require ongoing treatment. Looking out for the symptoms will help early diagnosis, increasing the chances of successful treatment.

Adrenal Tumors

The adrenal glands produce, release and regulate a number of essential hormones, including adrenaline, sex hormones and cortisone. Cortisone regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It is produced in the adrenal glands, but its release is regulated by the pituitary gland in the brain. Depending on the site and type of the tumor, the production of cortisone may increase massively or stop entirely. In the case of the former, symptoms include increased thirst, increased appetite, weight gain, lack of energy and skin bruising. In the case of the latter, there are typically no symptoms.


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Diabetes Insipidus is a metabolic disorder that prevents the kidneys from functioning correctly. This causes poor fluid regulation, which can lead to dehydration, inhibited immune system function and circulation of toxins throughout the body, leading to poisoning. Diabetes Mellitus comes in two forms, type 1 and type 2. The symptoms of both forms are similar to Diabetes Insipidus, but the causes are different. Type 1 is caused by a congenital absence of certain pancreatic cells, resulting in abnormal insulin levels. This causes improper kidney function. Type 2 is caused by incorrectly functioning insulin receptors. Insulin levels are normal, but the kidney doesn’t recognize this.


Hypothyroidism is caused by abnormally low production of thyroid hormones, leading to a number of abnormal metabolic functions. Weight gain without increased food intake, lethargy, inability to exercise, greasy skin, dry coat and pimples are some of the common symptoms. A “puffy” face is typically the defining physical symptom of this condition. Large breeds and spayed females of any breed are at increased risk of hypothyroidism.

Cushing's Disease

Cushing's disease refers specifically to the increase in cortisone production that occurs due to the presence of a benign tumor on the pituitary gland. The cortisone increase disrupts normal metabolic function. While the tumor itself is benign and is unlikely to spread, its effect on the gland can be serious. The increase in cortisone production causes the dog to display a range of symptoms. Behavioral symptoms include increased thirst, increased hunger, lack of energy and insomnia. Physical symptoms include hair loss, weight gain, bruising and white scaly patches on the skin. Weight gain and localized obesity around the face and neck are the most characteristic symptoms associated with Cushing's disease.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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