Copper Storage Disease in Dogs

By Frank Will

Copper storage disease in dogs can occur in any dog at any time; however, there are some breeds that seem have a much higher probability of developing this potential killer. It can attack your dog in three different stages; sub clinical, acute, or chronic and very progressive. If this disease is not identified quickly once the symptoms start to appear and it reaches the severe stage, it can rapidly take your dog’s life.

What is it?

Copper storage disease in dogs is also known as Canine copper hepatotoxicosis, and is a situation where there is an excessive accumulation of cooper in your dog’s liver. It is believed that these abnormal accumulations are the result of the inability to pass cooper properly from their food. In normal circumstances, any excess of copper passes very naturally from your dog’s body and there are never any issues. However, in this case, the copper does not pass properly and builds to very dangerous levels in your dog.

Once this occurs, it can very easily lead to hepatitis or something even worse, cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver in dogs is usually the result of severe damage as well as scarring of the liver over a long period of time. The actual cause of copper storage disease is not fully understood, but it is believed to be the result of an inherited condition that causes the metabolism process of this mineral to malfunction. It may also be the result of an abnormal binding of copper to certain proteins in your dog’s liver, as well as abnormal copper secretion in their bile.

Although the actual cause is not known, what is known is that can be fatal if it becomes serious, and it does seem to be inherited as it primarily occurs in certain breeds.

Breeds affected:

Copper storage disease in dogs can affect any breed, but it is much more common in some breeds. And what makes this disease even more of a mystery, is the fact that the affected breeds seem to be attacked in different ways.

The most commonly affected breed is Bedlington Terriers, but it can and does also develop in Doberman Pinchers, West Highland White Terriers, as well as Skye Terriers. It also affects Labrador Retrievers, Spaniels, and Keeshonds. However, there are four of these breeds that are affected much more seriously, and all seem to be in different ways.

It is estimated that over 60 percent of all Bedlington Terriers are affected by this disease, and as a result, it causes hepatitis. In this breed, it is a very strong theory that they have some type of an inherited defect that causes metabolic issues. These metabolic issues or breakdowns in turn cause copper to remain in their liver instead of being eliminated. Doberman Pinchers face the exact same risk factor; however, they are also much more prone to develop cirrhosis of the liver as well. However, this is where another mystery with copper storage disease in dogs comes into play; the high levels of concentrations in the liver are not present in all affected breeds.

In fact, there have been several reported cases where Dobermans can have the same amounts of liver damage but with much lower concentrations of copper levels. Skye Terriers also develop chronic hepatitis as well as cirrhosis of the liver, but their high levels of copper concentrations are believed to be the result of a disorder of their bile secretions. West Highland White Terriers also develop this disease as the result of excess levels of copper concentrations, but for some reason, they will show very few clinical signs of the disease.

Types of Copper Storage Disease:

Copper storage disease in dogs develops in three different types or stages; sub clinical, sudden acute and chronic progressive. In the sub clinical stage of this disease, your dog is being affected in their internal organs but they are not showing any signs at all of the damage that is being done to them. Because of this, there is still no change in their behavior or are they showing any symptoms.

When it hits the next stage, the sudden acute stage, it becomes an entirely different story. In this phase, your dog can develop hepatic necrosis that can do two things; result in the death of your dog’s liver as well as the death of your dog.

The chronic progressive stage seems to affect middle aged dogs where it causes severe hepatitis. If it is not treated by this stage, it can rapidly lead to cirrhosis of your dog’s liver which will eventually take their life.


Copper storage disease in dogs will show an entire litany of symptoms. In the acute form of this disease, the first symptom that you will see is anemia. This will be very easy to spot as several parts of your dog’s body will become pale because of low red blood cells counts. This will include their gums as well as any other moist membranes. Your dog may also start to exhibit dark urine as the result of bilirubin.

Bilirubin is the breakdown of heme that is found in the hemoglobin of your dog’s blood, and it is excreted in their bile and urine. If you see dark urine, something is very wrong.

In this stage your dog will also start to develop jaundice, which causes a yellowish tint in your dog’s skin and muscle membranes. In the chronic progressive stage, there are different symptoms to watch for. The first is usually an abdominal distention as the result of fluids building up, as well as all the same symptoms of anemia. In this stage your dog will also become extremely thirsty, and as a result will start to urinate frequently as their liver is basically starting to die.

Their nervous system may also become affected in this stage as it is unable to breakdown the ammonia that naturally accumulates. However, both of these forms may also show some other symptoms; bleeding from the gums and their nostrils, as well as severe diarrhea and vomiting.


Treatments for copper storage disease in dogs will all depend on the severity as well as the actual symptoms. Drugs may be used to chelate or bind the copper to assist your dog’s body in increasing the urinary extraction of copper. Zinc acetate also helps to bind and prevent coppers absorption into your dog’s body. Vitamin E is also supplied as an antioxidant therapy that helps to reduce the damage to the liver. Vitamin C should be totally avoided as it may actually increase the coppers damage to the liver. However, none of these treatments should be done without the direct supervision of your veterinarian.


Copper storage disease in dogs is a very serious and life threatening disease. Once you see any of the signs, you need to have your dog examined as quickly as possible. If it is allowed to run its course and advances to the serious stages, it could rapidly take their life.

I am an avid lover of pets and my wife and I have had several pets throughout our years. We are especially fond of dogs, and we have a 12 year old Dalmatian (our 3rd) and a “mutt” that we rescued when someone threw him away to die in a vacant field.

He found us, nearly starved to death, and weighed about 2 pounds.

After severe bouts of mange and severe dehydration, and over 1,000.00 in veterinarian bills, we saved the little guys life, and he is one of the best, if not the best, dogs we have ever had and today is a muscular, fit, and firm 70 pound best friend.

After finishing my MBA, which at middle age was not easy, I decided to keep the research work ethics that I acquired, and devote about two hours each night in understanding the health benefits of supplementation for both humans and pets and how they might strengthen our, as well as our pets, immune system in a pre-emptive approach to health rather than a reactionary approach.

Both of my daughters are avid cat lovers, and asked me to help them with health concerns and challenges with their cats.

I am not a veterinarian nor claim to be, just a lover of pets that loves to research and pass on some knowledge that might be helpful, or at least stimulating to the thought process.

Several of the articles that I have written can be found on my website, Liquid Vitamns & Minerals for Humans & Pets –

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Oct 18, 2010 | 1 | Dog health

One Response to “Copper Storage Disease in Dogs”

  1. Dan Durkin Says:

    My dog (Chesapeake) has the Copper Storage Disease. We now feed her only food we can make (rice, frozen vegetables, sweet potato & hamburger meat are staples) and she is doing great. But it would be great to find a dog food that is low in Copper. Do you know of any? Our Vet doesn’t.

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