4 min read

Copper for Dogs


By Emily Bayne

Published: 09/19/2023, edited: 09/20/2023

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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You're probably familiar with the use of copper in construction, but did you know this mineral is equally as important for building a dog's skeletal system? Though lesser-known than other minerals like zinc and magnesium, copper is just as essential and helps with many processes in the canine body. But what does copper for dogs do exactly, and what happens if they don't get enough? Could too much be a bad thing? Read on to find out all the facts about copper for canines. 

Bulldog taking a pill - copper for dogs


Copper has many functions in the canine body, from helping color the fur to aiding in the absorption of iron. Below are some more ways copper keeps pups in ship shape:

  • Aids in the formation of the skeletal system

  • Assists in the construction of connective tissue that encloses and divides organs and tissues throughout the body

  • Plays a role in creating myelin, a membrane that protects all the nerves in the body

  • Prevents iron anemia¬†since it helps the body metabolize iron

  • Facilitates enzymatic function

Scientists suspect that copper also plays a role in the production of T cells, a type of white blood cell that defends the body against pathogens.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has strict guidelines about where copper should fall into the canine diet. They suggest a minimum of 3.3 milligrams per lb of dry dog food, but no more than 250 mg daily. This goes for puppies, adult, and senior dogs.

Various food high in copper

Food sources

The AAFCO requires that kibble companies fortify their food with the daily recommended amount of copper for dogs, but this isn't the only food source where dogs can acquire this mineral. 

Copper is in all sorts of tasty dog-safe foods like meats, nuts, beans, and whole grains. Here are just a few dog-safe human foods that have high levels of dietary copper:

Signs of copper deficiency in dogs

Copper deficiencies in dogs aren't common since kibble companies are required to have it in their formulas. However, studies of dogs fed low copper diets from a young age were more likely to have:

  • Skeletal deformities
  • Change in hair color
  • Low sperm count¬†
  • Anemia

Treatment of copper deficiency

Copper deficiencies are rare in dogs, but are generally treated with copper supplements, a switch to a copper-rich dog food or by adding copper rich whole foods to the diet. Any secondary symptoms would also be treated as needed.

Yellow Labrador Retriever being examined by veterinarian

Signs of copper overdose in dogs

Copper overdose can fall into three categories: acute copper poisoning, chronic copper poisoning, and hepatic-related copper toxicosis. 

Acute copper poisoning happens when a canine gets into something they shouldn't, like copper-containing antiparasitics. Symptoms of acute copper poisoning differ from chronic poisoning in that symptoms appear right away.

Chronic copper poisoning happens when a dog ingests too much copper over a long period of time. Two common causes of chronic copper poisoning are the long-term eating of plants treated with copper fungicides or indulging in human foods that are very high in copper.

Copper overdose isn't uncommon in dogs with liver disease. The low-functioning liver creates stores of this mineral because it can't metabolize or eliminate it through the bile ducts. This condition is called copper-associated chronic hepatopathy, or copper toxicosis (in the case of Labrador Retrievers). 

Copper-associated chronic hepatopathy is most common in Bedlington Terriers, Dalmatians, Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers (and mixes), Skye Terriers, and West Highland White Terriers.

This condition isn't always genetic, so any dog has the potential to get this disorder, though it seems to be more common in females than males. If left untreated this condition can cause cirrhosis, and eventually, the liver will shut down.

Bedlington Terriers also genetically prone to a conditions known as 'copper storage disease', which prevent copper excretion from the liver.

Symptoms of copper overdose in dogs include: 

Treatment of copper poisoning

Treatment of acute copper poisoning usually involves intravenous fluids, zinc supplements, and sometimes antibiotics too. Anti-nausea meds may also be needed if the dog has trouble retaining food and liquids.

Chronic copper overdose and copper toxicosis require a more intensive treatment of chelating agents that attach to copper molecules and help to remove them from the body. Dogs with liver-related copper poisoning will require long-term dietary modifications to minimize copper build-up in their system. 

Chocolate Labrador Retriever taking a pill from veterinarian

Copper supplements for dogs

At this time, there are no commercially available copper supplements made specifically for dogs. However, supplementing with zinc can help your dog to absorb more copper from their diet. Copper-rich foods like beef liver and whole grains are a tasty way to up your dog's copper intake and supplement their normal diet. However, we should be able to get the required amount of copper into our dogs if we simply feed them a commercial dog food.

Talk to your vet if you suspect your pup has abnormal copper levels or if they show signs of a deficiency or overdose. Your vet may prescribe a special diet for your pet to get their levels where they need to be. 

The symptoms of a copper deficiency can be expensive to treat. To avoid high vet care expenses, secure pet health insurance today!

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