Dog copper-storage disease lacks clear correlations at best

During the past several years the topic of copper-storage disease has reared its head more and more.  Some pet owners along with pet food manufacturers are making claims that certain levels of copper, that we are instructed to use by AAFCO, are causing this condition in some dogs.  Often times I am asked by customers if have ever experienced or heard of a specific X or Y condition.  In many cases I have, and in some isolated conditions I may have experienced a couple of the topics.  Copper-storage disease I have not.  As a complete dog enthusiast for over 30 years of feeding breeding training and competing in dog sports I have yet to see it ever.  Now as I think back on my long in the toth years of experience that has included breeding whelping and raising literally hundreds of dogs I have yet to see even the inkling of copper-storage disease in any of the aforementioned dogs.  Now for those kinds of numbers one would think that if Copper-storage disease is such an epidemic that I would have experienced it here or there or simply one time yet I have not.  Now with that being said I sometimes question if this said condition is really a problem or is it a condition that some breeds or breedings are hereditarily prone to.  Or perhaps its just a rare condition that has nothing to do with copper intake, does anyone really know?  Recently a study on the topic was conducted by the Hills research team and I thought the early findings would be worth sharing.


 The first observations of the copper-storage disease affected only Bedlington Terriers due to an autosomal recessive trait in the dogs’ DNA. However, case reports have since appeared involving other breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers. As the number of affected breeds grew, so did the range of proposed causes. A straight-forward explanation of these copper-storage problems have remained elusive. A research team with Hill’s research set out to look for patterns in copper-levels over time in dogs’ livers. They used a store house of data present in records from kennels of dogs involved in feeding trials. The dogs in Hill’s feeding trials eat a wide range of recipes during various palatability and digestibility studies. Because of this, the results were less influenced by any specific brand’s or recipe’s formulation and supply chain when compared to pet dogs that tend to eat the same varieties consistently.  The feeding trial dogs have eaten a far wider range of products and formulations than most dogs do in private households. That provided the research  team with an uncommon opportunity to look for correlations among copper levels in dogs’ bodies and diet.


After analyzing the 336 samples taken during necropsies conducted from 2006 through 2022, research didn’t note any clear correlations among copper levels in dogs’ livers and their varied diets. Instead, copper concentrations decreased in dogs’ livers from 2006 through 2011, increased in 2012, decreased in 2013, and peaked in 2016, then began an ongoing decrease. Nothing related to ingredients or manufacturing stood out as a direct cause of those fluctuations, though.   


Considering genetics, Labrador Retrievers had lower liver copper concentrations compared to Beagles, while mixed breeds did not differ significantly from either purebred. Nevertheless, all the dogs’ copper levels remained within a safe range. While no explanation for copper-storage disease presented itself, it did blaze a trail into a rich source of data and if nothing else we now have a baseline for future reference.

With that being said we are at the same place we were when I started typing this.  Is Copper Storage an epidemic as some are stating?  Is Copper Storage even a real problem or a predetermined condition per breed or breeding within.  Whatever the case the first study that was strictly focused on this ailment has shown us no correlation to either diet or breed.  Regardless, The conversation about the role of pet food ingredients in copper-associated liver disease will be talked about for years to come.

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