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Protein-Losing Enteropathy (PLE) in Dogs

Posted March 11, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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What is protein-losing enteropathy?

Protein-losing enteropathy (PLE) is a fancy way of saying that excessive protein is lost from the gastrointestinal tract. Normally, protein that leaks into the intestines is digested into amino acids; these are then reabsorbed and made into protein again. Excessive loss of protein can occur through the gastrointestinal tract as a result of certain conditions:

  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Lymphatic diseases
  • Congestive heart failure

Symptoms of protein-losing enteropathy
Clinical signs may start out as subtle, but untreated they can quickly progress to become severe and potentially life threatening: 

  • Decreased appetite
  • Being a “picky” eater
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Pot-bellied appearance (due to fluid accumulation within the abdomen)
  • Blood-tinged, mucoid diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing (due to fluid accumulation in the chest cavity)

Your veterinarian may detect additional physical examination abnormalities:

  • Muscle wasting
  • Thickened intestines on palpation
  • Fluid in the abdomen
  • Abnormal rectal exam
  • Increased lymph nodes
  • A heart murmur
  • Dull lung sounds

Disease associated with protein-losing enteropathy
If you notice any signs, get to your veterinarian immediately for a physical examination and potential blood work. Preliminary diagnosis of PLE is made based on low albumin and protein levels on the blood work. A prompt, complete work-up is necessary to rule out certain diseases associated with PLE:

  • Intestinal lymphangiectasia
  • Cancer (e.g., lymphosarcoma) of the intestinal tract
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (e.g., lymphoplasmacytic enteritis)
  • Food allergies
  • Gastroenteritis (from viral, fungal, or bacterial infections)
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Severe chronic starvation
  • Granulomatous infiltration of the intestines (secondary to fungal infections)
  • Abnormalities of the intestines (from a chronic foreign body, intestinal parasites, an intussusception, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, etc.)
  • Ulcerative gastroenteritis

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.