What Is Copper Toxicosis in Dogs?

Dec 16, 2019 | Blog, Pets & Vets

What is Copper Toxicosis in Dogs?

Copper-associated chronic hepatopathy, or Copper Toxicosis (CT), is an inherited progressive metabolic disorder (genetic) or it can develop non-genetically, secondarily to a primary disease. In both types, accumulation of copper in the liver and bloodstream can, if untreated, lead to liver failure and possibly death. Labrador Retrievers are at particular risk of developing this disease, which generally presents itself in the range of 2-10 years of age, most generally at around 7 years old. Females appear to have a greater risk of developing chronic hepatitis from this condition than do males.

Which Dog Breeds are Affected by
Copper Toxicosis?

Dogs at risk of developing a genetic mutation for CT are:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Labradoodles
  • Doberman Pinschers

IMPORTANT: Our DNA assay for inherited copper Toxicosis detects the mutations for Labrador Retrievers, Labradoodles, and Doberman Pinschers only. This test does not detect the COMDD1 mutation causing a similar disorder in Bedlington Terriers.


What are the Symptoms of
Copper Toxicosis in Dogs?

Any variation of the following are common signs that your dog may be suffering from acute or chronic Copper Toxicosis. As always, DDC Veterinary highly recommends conferring with your veterinarian if your dog is ill.

  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Refusal to eat
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst
  • Abdominal distension
  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine

Aren’t Copper and Other Minerals Good for Dogs?

Yes. In fact, most minerals or elements found in the body are needed or tolerated at certain levels. But sometimes, those same minerals can become toxic if present in larger amounts.

The trace mineral copper is an important micronutrient, which is necessary for normal cellular function.  It is absorbed in the stomach and small intestines. Blood carries it to the liver, which is responsible for regulating safe copper levels in the body.

The liver cells distribute copper where it is needed at the cellular level. Any copper that is not used up is excess, and is excreted in bile to remove it from the body.

If liver function is compromised, it may store the excess copper, instead of excreting it as required.  Excessive amounts of copper are very toxic, and lead to issues such as sudden or chronic hepatitis. The end result can be cirrhosis of the liver.

A veterinarian may diagnose the condition when clinical signs appear. Toxic levels can also be detected during yearly lab work, or pre-surgical screenings.

What is the Treatment for Copper Toxicosis?

Treatment by a veterinarian can vary, depending on if the condition is chronic or acute. Most treatments involve making modifications to a dog’s diet, including: providing foods low in copper and eliminating nutritional supplements containing copper. Periodic blood tests and monitoring the dog’s weight are also typical. If your dog’s genetic results show them to be at risk for Copper Toxicosis, be sure to ask your veterinarian about a disease-prevention regimen.

The Tip of the Tail

If you own a breed that’s at risk for Copper Toxicosis, the best thing you can do is to get them genetically screened for the condition and share the results with your vet.



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