The Truth about Gallbladder Problems in Dogs

Written by: By Kelly Diehl, Morris Animal Foundation

A healthy dog is a happy dog.
Photo by Morris Animal Foundation

Like people, our canine friends also can develop gallbladder diseases, including gallstones and infections. It’s important for owners to learn more about gallbladder diseases and options your veterinarian may recommend both to prevent and treat gallbladder problems.

Certain breeds, as well as older female dogs, have an increased risk for gallbladder problems. High-risk breeds include Shetland sheepdogs, cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzers and Chihuahuas. However, gallbladder diseases have been reported in almost every breed of dog, including mixed breeds.

The three most common diseases affecting the gallbladder of dogs are cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), gallstones, and gallbladder mucocoele (collection of thick, jelled bile).

Gallbladder diseases in dogs don’t always cause clinical signs, and many are found incidentally (for example, during routine abdominal ultrasound). However, sometimes these diseases can cause serious illness.

The most common signs of gallbladder disease are poor appetite, vomiting and lethargy. Because these signs are seen with many diseases, veterinarians use a variety of diagnostic tests to differentiate one disease from another. Many experts promote ultrasound as the best way to look for gallbladder problems. Gallstones and gallbladder mucocoeles have a very characteristic appearance on ultrasound, making diagnosis easier.

Although some gallbladder problems don’t require treatment, some do. Both medical and surgical treatments are available if a gallbladder disease is diagnosed. Gallbladder surgery for our veterinary patients is not as sophisticated as in humans, but is sometimes the best option. Left untreated, some diseases can lead to gallbladder rupture, which can be life threatening.

Your veterinarian can guide you toward appropriate diagnostic tests if a gallbladder problem is suspected. The good news is that many diseases are treatable, and have good long-term outcomes if caught early

Morris Animal Foundation responded to the recent emergence of gallbladder mucocoele problems by funding a study which examined factors involved in the formation of these abnormal structures. The research team also looked closely for risk factors for mucocoele formation. They found a genetic change that could explain why certain breeds are more prone to formation of mucocoeles, as well as preliminary evidence for a link between certain medications and formation of mucocoeles.

Morris Animal Foundation has a long-standing commitment to rapidly respond with funding support to combat emerging disease threats to our canine companions. The foundation invests in the best animal science worldwide as part of our mission to help all animals live healthier, happier lives.

Orvis is pleased to support the work of the Morris Animal Foundation through its Cover Dog Contest, which raises funds for research and treatment options for canine cancer.

Kelly J. Diehl, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM (SAIM), CVJ is a cience writer and researcher for Morris Animal Foundation.

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