Downeast Dog News
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Gallbladder Problems

By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | Feb 15, 2019

Q. My dog was just diagnosed with a gallbladder problem. How did he get that?

A. Gallbladder disease is less common in our furry friends than in humans. There are different causes for gallbladder issues, both primary and secondary in the dog. First, we need to understand what the gallbladder does.

The gallbladder is a sack that acts as reservoir for bile made by the liver. The sac is located between the lobes of the liver. Bile, a bitter yellowish fluid, secreted by the liver is used for digestion of nutrients, fats, and ridding the body of certain types of waste. After a meal, bile flows from the gallbladder through a bile duct into the intestines.

Problems can arise from primary causes to the gallbladder or secondary causes. Primary issues are gallbladder mucoceles, cholecystitis, and gallstones. Secondary causes are pancreatitis, upper intestinal disease, and tumors of the bile duct, or intestines.

Gallbladder mucoceles are relatively new. This problem has been recognized in the past 25 years. The bile has trouble flowing out the bile duct into the intestines causing an overextension of the gallbladder with mucous and bile. This condition is uncommon and is seen in clusters in different areas of the country. It is seen in middle aged dogs of either gender and breed, but seen most often in Cocker Spaniels and Shelties. The symptoms are lethargy and loss of appetite. Dogs may have a low fever, vomit, and have abdominal pain. The involvement of the liver will cause the dog to become jaundice which is evident by the gums, whites of the eyes, and skin becoming yellow.

Less commonly found is cholecystitis, inflammation of the gallbladder and biliary tract, and gallstones. The symptoms seen here mimic pancreatic and liver disease, including vomiting, inappetence, acute pain, and sometimes jaundice.

Secondary causes are diseases involving the pancreas, intestines, and bile duct. As mentioned above, the bile is excreted from the liver into the gallbladder which then flows into the intestine by a duct. The duct opens into the upper intestine close to the duct from the pancreas, another organ used to digest your pup’s dinner. If there is inflammation in the area where this duct is located, an obstruction can occur. Inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis, is a common cause of obstruction. Inflammatory bowel disease and tumors of the bile duct, pancreas, and intestines are other possible causes.

Your veterinarian will do a thorough history and exam on your companion. She will need to do blood tests, such as a chemistry profile and complete blood count, and possible X-rays to help with the diagnosis. She may need to do an ultrasound too. All this information is important to develop an appropriate treatment plan for FiFi.

Often the treatment is antibiotics, diet change, and possibly pain medication, and steroids to decrease inflammation. There are times surgery will be needed to remove a diseased gallbladder, which untreated could rupture causing death.

Sometimes the ultrasound when performed for other reasons shows sludge in the gallbladder. If the dog is asymptomatic, and lab values are normal, no treatment is needed. Your veterinarian will watch for any changes seen by your observation of symptoms and future ultrasounds.

Gallbladder disease is rare but can cause pain and discomfort in your best friend. If you have any concern that your dog isn’t “right”, have your veterinarian check him out. It is better to be safe.

 

Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine

www.mainehomeopathicvet.com