Keeping your pet healthy is the primary goal of all dog owners. But sometimes, illnesses crop up that are out of your control. Being informed on what could happen to your four-legged friend will allow you to react quickly once you notice warning signs.

3d rendered anatomy illustration of the canine gallbladder

Staying in communication with your experienced veterinary provider through annual visits and quick check-ins will allow the doctor to understand your dog and recognize any potential issues. One trouble spot that vets see on a common basis with middle-aged dogs deals with the gallbladder, an organ that aids in food digestion.

Biliary disease can be a byproduct of gallbladder issues, so use this guide to find out more about these problems and how you can recognize any early symptoms.

What is biliary disease in dogs?

Biliary disease is not just one ailment. The term refers to any illness or disease that develops around your dog’s gallbladder. This also includes surrounding areas like the bile duct. There are several issues which can lead to biliary disease and several different types of biliary issues that can affect your dog. These include:

  • Cholecystitis: This is inflammation of the gallbladder which can be caused by several issues, including blood clots or liver trauma. Serious inflammation can be life threatening to your pet.
  • Gallbladder Mucoceles: When bile and mucous build up in the gallbladder, it can lead to this condition. Older dogs are more at risk and could experience a rupture of the organ. This particular issue is becoming more commonly diagnosed.
  • Bile duct obstruction: Several issues can lead to a blockage of the bile duct, including cancer, foreign objects, or parasitic infections.

Are there certain breeds that are more susceptible to biliary disease?

While any pet can develop biliary disease, some breeds have a history of gallbladder and liver issues. If you have a Doberman Pinscher, Cocker Spaniel, Maltese, Labrador Retriever, or poodle, be aware that these issues can develop, especially as your pet gets older.

What causes overproduction of bile?

Bile helps your pet digest certain lipids and is produced by the liver. However, it is mostly stored in the gallbladder. There are several reasons why your pet’s liver may overproduce bile. If your pet hasn’t eaten for more than eight hours, additional bile may be produced and lead to vomiting. Dietary issues, infections and cancers can also lead to excessive bile.

What are some biliary disease symptoms in dogs?

Biliary disease and other symptoms of gallbladder issues in dogs can be tricky to identify, so make sure you keep a sharp eye on your pet. Some symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach/abdominal pain, vomiting and fever. Check in with your vet if your pet exhibits any of these symptoms.

What about yellow gums in dogs?

Sure enough, your pet’s mouth might be the key to solving this illness. Jaundice in dogs is often a major symptom of biliary disease. Yellowing on the skin, mouth/gums, earflaps and/or the whites of your dog’s eyes are critical warning signs and could be slow bile leak symptoms. If you see that happening, immediately contact your experienced veterinary provider.

What are symptoms of gallstones in dogs?

Gallstones are not that common in dogs, as there is usually lower cholesterol and calcium composition than in humans. However, some dogs, like poodles or schnauzers, are more prone to develop stones than others. Many times, gallstones are not discovered in dogs until X-rays are done for another condition. An infection combined with the gallstone can lead to symptoms like fever or jaundice.

How is biliary disease diagnosed?

Your vet will run a series of tests to determine what the problem is with your pet. Basic tests like blood, stool and X-rays will be step one. If there are still issues, advanced testing like an ultrasound may be used. In addition, your dog may be subject to a bile acid test, which will determine if the liver is producing the correct amount of bile and that it can travel from the liver to the gallbladder without any blockage.

What is the treatment for biliary disease?

Depending on the severity of the issue, your vet may suggest several options. One strategy is placing your dog on a low-fat diet. This may help control the production of bile. Another option is antibiotics and medication. Cholesterol medication can help alleviate the bile issue. With gallstones, your vet will often prescribe pills that help dissolve the stones, and vitamins can help with the jaundice issues.

In more serious cases of biliary disease, surgery may be a final resort. Your vet may recommend the removal of the gallbladder. While this sounds scary, dogs, like humans, can live full and healthy lives without their gallbladder. This surgery has proven to be effective in most dogs, who generally make a full recovery.

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