As the name implies, copper toxicosis is literally a poisoning or toxicity due to an over abundance of copper in the blood. Most dogs have a natural mechanism or metabolic process to allow the liver to effectively excrete or store copper in the body to aid in correct body functioning. In dogs with copper toxicosis the liver is either incorrectly secreting excess copper or it is the copper storage in the body is not functioning properly, causing the body to absorb and store copper until it reaches a fatally toxic level.
The pureblood dogs that are most commonly affected by this condition are the Bedlington Terrier, West Highland White Terrier and the Skye Terrier, although other terrier breeds can have the condition. Besides the obvious terrier breeds Doberman Pinschers, which do have a terrier component to their heritage are also known to have problems with copper toxicosis. Mixed breeds that have terrier are also prone to the condition but typically not as significantly as the pureblood lines. Often dogs that have developed copper toxicosis will have copper levels in their blood that are up to fifty times the levels normally found within the same breed. In the terrier breeds, particularly the Skye and Bedlington Terriers copper toxicosis has been found to be a genetically linked condition that can be tested before breeding to prevent the puppies from inheriting the condition. Dogs in these breeds that are tested positive for the genetic condition known to cause the disease should be immediately removed from any breeding programs. In some breeds such as the Doberman there is no specifically identified genetic transferal of the condition, but is it often found in dogs that have other liver conditions and diseases. Female Dobermans are much more likely to have copper toxicosis than males and this pattern is being researched for a possible sex-linked genetic component.
Copper toxicosis is often first identified because of what is believed to be liver problems. This can include excessive drinking and urination, vomiting, weakness, small or larger purple or red spots like bruises under the skin, dehydration, extreme weight loss and food refusal as well as anemia and pale gums and mucous membranes. Often by the time that these symptoms are this obvious the condition is already seriously advanced, so early detection is critical in preventing permanent damage to the liver and other organs.
Once the condition is diagnosed the only treatment is to eliminate all sources of copper in the dog's diet. Since these dogs store copper or fail to excrete copper like dogs without the condition, even small amounts in food can be fatal. Avoid any commercial foods with even small concentrations of cereals, liver, shellfish or any kind or legumes or nuts. In addition it may be important to only give this dog bottled water, especially if you have older copper pipes in the house as even this small exposure to trace amounts of copper in the water can be problematic.