Gallbladder Disease in Dogs

By Dr. Ed Mapes
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
McKinney, TX

The gallbladder serves as a reservoir for bile after it’s produced by the liver.  Bile is released from storage into the gallbladder when the animal eats a meal.  Liquid bile flows from the gallbladder through the common bile duct to the duodenum (first section of the small intestine).  Once there, it assists in the digestion of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in the diet.

Canine patients at our McKinney animal hospital don’t usually form stones in the gallbladder; instead, the obstruction to normal bile flow is more often due to a thick, jelly-like substance called a mucocele.  Mucoceles are thought to be associated with Cushing’s disease, previous liver disorders and pancreatitis, but they can also develop without a known cause.

Interrupted bile flow incites problems in the liver, precludes normal digestion of food, and causes disease symptoms in dogs.  Clinical signs are often non-specific such as malaise, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, and abdominal pain.

Blood testing on these patients reveals abnormalities in liver enzymes and bile acids, but does not directly point to gallbladder disease. Abdominal radiographs can identify the rare case of gall stones, and abdominal ultrasound is sometimes necessary to diagnose the presence of mucoceles.

McKinney animal hospital

Abdominal radiograph of Mia: arrow points to the abnormal gallbladder.

Mia is a perky 8-year old Maltese.  Lab testing at our McKinney animal hospital showed extremely high levels of bile acids, which indicate liver-associated disease. Abdominal radiographs illustrated the abnormal gallbladder densities that served to obstruct Mia’s bile flow. This caused marked elevation in the bile acids that we saw on her blood tests.

Medical therapy for gallbladder obstruction is not usually effective, and most surgeons feel that removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is often the best course of action, particularly when lab results demonstrate a need for expedient resolution of the problem, as was the case with Mia.

McKinney animal hospital

Dr. Mapes in the surgery suite


The surgical procedure includes two important components: thorough flushing of the common bile duct to ensure bile flow, and removal of the affected gallbladder.  During Mia’s surgery at our McKinney animal hospital this July, we were able to flush her bile ducts and successfully removed the diseased gallbladder.  Mia has since recovered very nicely and now looks forward to a normal, rambunctious life!
Though gallbladder disease is relatively rare in veterinary patients, it can cause severe disease when present.  Obstructions are usually relieved most successfully by gallbladder removal and flushing the common bile duct.  It’s not a surgery our McKinney animal hospital does every day, but it can really help when necessary.

mckinney animal hospital
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
5913 Virginia Parkway
McKinney, Texas 75071

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