What are the causes of lipid keratopathy in dogs?

Written by ann louise truschel
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What are the causes of lipid keratopathy in dogs?
Lipid keratopathy is common in dogs (smiling setter image by Nadezhda Bolotina from Fotolia.com)

Lipid keratopathy, a common condition in dogs, involves deposition of cholesterol in the cornea of the eye. These deposits create opaque spots on the cornea of one or both eyes that may lead to vision impairment. Lipid keratopathy can result from high cholesterol caused by abnormal lipid metabolism or a high fat diet, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, diabetes and hereditary problems with lipid utilisation. Both lipid keratopathy and the underlying disease must be treated to prevent more serious problems.

High Cholesterol

Opaque corneal spots require a veterinary visit. The veterinarian will measure fasting lipid levels in the dog’s blood. If the dog has high cholesterol and the high levels are the result of a high-fat diet, the veterinarian will prescribe a low-fat diet and periodically will monitor the dog’s cholesterol levels to make sure the diet is working. If high cholesterol levels are due to abnormal lipid metabolism, the dog may require supplements, fish oil and cholesterol-lowering medication.


An underactive thyroid can raise a dog’s cholesterol level and give rise to lipid keratopathy. Hypothyroidism is common in middle-aged and medium to large-sized dogs, and it occurs more frequently in golden retrievers, Doberman pinschers, Irish setters, miniature schnauzers, dachshunds, cocker spaniels and Airedale terriers. Dogs with hypothyroidism gain weight easily and may be obese. They also experience hair loss and frequent skin problems. Hypothyroidism is detected with a blood test and treated with thyroid hormone replacement.

Cushing’s Disease/Syndrome

Also known as hyperadrenocorticism, Cushing’s can be caused by a benign tumour on the pituitary or adrenal gland or by over administration of corticosteroids such as prednisone. Symptoms include excessive drinking, excessive urination, overeating, swollen stomach, weak legs, hair loss, thin skin, thin face, hard lumps under the skin, frequent infections, skin darkening, inactivity, withdrawal, heavy panting and seeking cool sleeping places. Cushing’s is diagnosed with a blood test, chemistry panel and measurement of cortisol levels and is treated with oral medication.


Dogs with diabetes typically have elevated cholesterol levels just like human diabetics do. Symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, over eating and weight loss. The veterinarian will measure blood glucose levels to determine if the dog has diabetes. Controlling the dog’s cholesterol means controlling the dog’s diabetes. Depending on the type of diabetes, insulin-dependent or noninsulin dependent, the dog may require insulin or oral diabetes medication and a special high-fibre, low-fat diet.

Hereditary Cholesterol Problems

Schnauzers are genetically predisposed to developing hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol. Golden retrievers, Great Danes, beagles, borzois, Shetland sheepdogs, American cocker spaniels, Labrador retrievers, rottweilers, boxers, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, Akitas, old English sheepdogs, and Irish setters can have an inherited form of thyroiditis that can lead to elevated cholesterol levels.

Less Common Causes of Lipid Keratopathy

In some cases, lipid keratopathy can be caused by liver disease, pancreatitis or kidney disease.

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