Intestinal Protein Loss in Dogs

By PetMD Editorial on Aug. 3, 2009

Protein-Losing Enteropathy in Dogs

A dog's health is largely dependent on the body's ability to digest and make use of the food that is a part of the dog's regular diet. When the digestive process goes off track, a diseased condition will follow. Protein losing enteropathy is one type of condition that affects a dog's ability to function fully; enteropathy being any abnormal condition relating to the intestines. There are a number of diseases that can damage the intestines enough to cause this extra protein loss.

Nutrients make their way through the body by way of the bloodstream. From the stomach, the food that has been eaten enters into the intestines, where it is divided into what is useful for the body and what is not. The useful, nutritious bits are picked up by the bloodstream as it passes through the intestines, carrying them to the rest of the body, where they are converted into various types of energy.

As the bloodstream picks up these nutrients, a small amount of protein leaks from the blood vessels back into the intestines. Usually these proteins are digested in the intestines, absorbed back into the blood, and used by the body to make more protein, but when the intestines are damaged, more protein leaks out into the intestines than the body can replace.

Although this condition can affect any breed or age of dog, some dog breeds are more likely than others to suffer from protein losing enteropathy, including the soft-coated wheaten terrier, basenji, Yorkshire terrier and Norwegian lundehund.

Symptoms and Types

  • Occasional bouts of diarrhea
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of energy (lethargy)
  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Legs and feet may be puffy or swollen (edema)


  • Cancer in the intestines
  • Infection in the intestines
    • Bacteria such as salmonella
    • Fungal infection
    • Intestinal parasites like hookworms and whipworms
  • Inflammation of the intestines (inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Food Allergies
  • Stomach or intestinal ulcers
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Problems with the movement of lymphatic fluid out of the intestines (lymphangiectasia)


You will need to give a thorough history of your dog's health and onset of symptoms. A thorough physical examination will be performed, and will include standard laboratory work – a complete blood count, biochemical profile and urinalysis. Your veterinarian will use these samples to determine your dog's blood protein level and blood calcium level. There are several causes that will need to be ruled out in order to make a diagnosis. Your veterinarian will order stool (fecal) tests to check for intestinal parasites, intestinal infections, and other indicators that your dog is losing protein from its intestines.

Your veterinarian may also check the blood vitamin levels, which will be low if your dog is losing protein from its intestines. X-ray and ultrasound images of your dog's chest and abdomen will allow your veterinarian to visually examine these internal structures for evidence of internal ulcerations or tumors, and will also display the heart's capabilities, and whether its performance appears to be abnormal. If your veterinarian needs a better visual of the stomach and intestines than external devices can provide, an endoscopy may be performed for a better view. In this test, a small camera, attached to a tube, will be passed through your dog's mouth or anus into the intestines so that the walls of the stomach and intestinal tract can be closely inspected for ulcers, tissue masses (tumors), or abnormalities in the wall or cell structure. The endoscopic device also allows for taking samples of tissue while it is inserted, and is a much less invasive method for performing a biopsy. Bioptic analysis is an especially useful diagnostic tool for determining why an animal is losing protein through its intestines.


Treatment will depend on the underlying disease that is causing your dog to lose protein through its intestines. If your dog's protein level is dangerously low, it may need a transfusion to replace some of the blood protein.

Living and Management

In most cases there is no cure for protein loss through the intestines. Your veterinarian will work with you to develop a treatment plan to help you manage your dog's symptoms, including exercise, and a diet that will ensure that the best possible amount of nutrients are being absorbed by your dog's body. During follow-up visits, complete blood counts and biochemical profiles will be done to make sure that your dog's blood protein level is stable and not becoming dangerously low. Your veterinarian will also check your dog to make sure it is not having trouble with breathing and does not have fluid built up in its belly.

Follow your dog's cues as far as exercise goes. You may need to change your dog's walking schedule or route, depending on its physical needs. Allow for a quiet space for your dog to rest after physical exertion, away from active children and other pets.

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