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I have a 6 year old female Doberman Pinscher, Gypsy, who has had abnormal blood tests related to her liver for some time, and recently had a biopsy.  The results show that the liver is inflamed and has a large amount of copper in it.  Does that have anything to do with what I am feeding her?  Is there something special I should feed?  My veterinarian mentioned a diet they wanted me to try.  I would appreciate another opinion.

There are liver conditions in dogs in which the liver accumulates large amounts of copper, a natural mineral found in human and pet foods.  A number of breeds have been found to have a predilection for developing copper related liver diseases, including Dobermans, Dalmations, Laboradors, and terrier breeds such as Bedlingtons, Skye terriers, and West Highland White terriers.   The diet you fed your dog did not cause the disorder, but diet changes are recommended to aid the liver in its recovery. 

Most commercial dog food diets are too high in copper for dogs with this condition.  Since more copper accumulation can worsen the liver disease, a copper restricted diet (at a level below that found in a normal diet) is recommended. There are only two pet foods available now that would be recommended with the appropriate degree of copper restriction.  You can obtain them with a prescription from your veterinarian.  Both diets are formulated to meet all your dog’s nutrient needs and should be feed exclusively unless directed otherwise by your veterinarian.  These diets contain protein sources (egg, dairy or soy protein) which are low in copper and are ideal for dogs with a concurrent condition called “hepatic encephalopathy”.  These diets also contain an increased amount of zinc compared to most diets which helps decrease copper absorption from the bowel and helps the liver by its antioxidant and antifibrotic properties.

Cooking food for your pet may be quite complicated, as “human” foods are often too high in copper.  For many dogs small amounts of cheese, cooked egg white and most vegetables are fine.  Websites for looking up copper content of human foods include: http://nutritiondata.self.com/tools/nutrient-search and the USDA database: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/ .     Foods to avoid in animals with this kind of liver condition include organ meats such as liver, animal or poultry by-products, shellfish, certain legumes (beans), sweet potatoes, and mushrooms. Vitamin C (which can oxidize copper) and any multi-vitamin/mineral supplement containing copper should not be given.  Creating a balanced homemade low copper diet is quite difficult, and should only be done with the guidance of a board certified veterinary nutritionist (Diplomate, ACVN).

Discuss Gypsy’s diet with your veterinarian.  Although most patients with copper associated liver disease will be on multiple medications to help the liver, diet can be extremely important to increase your pet’s longevity and improve her quality of life.  Best of luck in Gypsy’s recovery!

Mary Ann Crawford, DVM, Diplomate, ACVIM (Internal Medicine)

Dr. Crawford received her DVM degree from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1978. After additional training at The Animal Medical Center and Michigan State University, she achieved board certification in the specialty of Internal Medicine. She was Professor and Head of the Medicine Department at Louisiana State University College of Veterinary Medicine before coming to Oradell Animal Hospital in 1986. Dr. Crawford is a past president of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and a past president of the Northern New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association. She was awarded "Distinguished Alumnus" from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1995 and in 2004 "Outstanding Alumnus" from the Animal Medical Center in New York City. She is also the recipient of the 1997 Friskies Pet Care Award for Feline Medicine and Nutrition given for outstanding clinical research in the area of feline hepatic lipidosis. Dr. Crawford has been involved in a number of clinical research projects and continues to volunteer for the state, currently acting as chair of the Education Committee of the New Jersey Veterinary Foundation. In her free time she spends time with her family and enjoys swimming and participating in community activities.