Protein Losing Enteropathy, also known more simply as PLE, is one of the most challenging of the metabolic disease to diagnose and understand. PLE occurs in many different breeds but is more common in the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier and the Basenji breeds. The condition is more common in small to medium breeds of dogs and is becoming more common in toy breeds. Both males and females are typically equally diagnosed and the condition can occur at any age. Often the symptoms are rather subtle and may simply be noted by the owner as a constant or chronic problem with diarrhea for the dog. In severe cases excessive weight loss and even swelling in the abdominal cavity can occur since the protein content of the body is so depleted that typical metabolic activity can occur. Once swelling or edema occurs in the chest, breathing will become labored and problematic and the dog may refuse to eat or want to exercise or move about. Lack of energy, fatigue and constant inactivity is considered to be the most common symptom noted in both advanced and early stages of the disease.
There are actually two protein losing diseases in dogs, protein losing enteropathy, in which the proteins and plasma are incorrectly processed and lost in the gastrointestinal tract, and protein losing nephropathy where the protein loss is in the kidneys. Although they are two separate conditions they may be diagnosed together in some dogs, while others may only have one or the other of the conditions. It is believed that there is some genetic predisposition or hereditary transfer of this disease as many breeding lines with the affected breeds don't have the condition, but several many have high to moderately high rates of diagnosis.
There are also other factors that can increase the dog's risk of developing PLE. These include various cancers, chronic inflammatory bowel syndrome, blockages of the intestinal tract or the lymph nodes, foreign materials or objects lodged in the intestinal tract or chronic digestive problems that lead to inflammation of the lining of the stomach or intestines. Immune-mediated diseases as well as severe or chronic infestations of worms may also be linked to the development of the disorder.
Diagnosis is done by a blood test as well as a urine test to check for protein levels in the blood and urine. While there is no cure, dietary changes and management changes for the dog as well as treating the swelling or co-existing conditions such as worms, blockages or inflammations is the key in managing the condition. If PLE is diagnosed before any internal damage is done it can be successfully controlled and the dog will lead a normal life. Usually all treatment and management can be completed by the owner using medications and increasing the protein content of the food. Dogs with PLE that are not treated will usually die as the complications from the disease become more debilitating. Since there is a genetic factor to the condition any dog with PLE should be spayed or neutered and the breeder should be immediately informed to prevent further litters from the same parents.