Gallstones In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments

A sectioned gallbladder with gallstones present which are formed by accretion of bile components. In this instance a calculus or stone has passed into the common bile duct causing obstruction.

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Gallstones in dogs form from bacteria, bile, calcium salts, cholesterol, and proteins, and they sometimes cause blockages in the gallbladder.

They’re also known as choleliths, and they can be as small as a particle or large enough to make perforations. Cholelithiasis is the medical term for the formation of gallstones in the gallbladders of dogs.

The gallbladder is important because it releases bile, a substance that helps the immune system by killing fungi and bacteria. It neutralizes stomach acid and helps food move to the small intestine. Gallstones can affect this process and cause complications for canines.

If you notice the signs of gallstones in your dog, you should see a veterinarian immediately. Here’s what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for gallstones in dogs.

Symptoms Of Gallstones In Dogs

A Shetland Sheepdog lies on a carpet and is dreaming.

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Symptoms of gallstones in dogs may not be apparent at all, or they can be severe.

Larger gallstones tend to cause more serious problems, as they can lead to blockages or perforation, allowing bile to spill into the abdomen. This can be life-threatening.

Sometimes gallstones will appear on x-ray, while other times they require exploratory surgery or other means to spot.

Common symptoms of gallstones in the gallbladder of a dog include the following:

  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin, called jaundice
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Change in demeanor or aggression when touched
  • Pain or blood during urination

Causes Of Gallstones In Dogs

black cute poodle dog on floor, watching sadly

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Gallstones in dogs most often form as a secondary condition to some other issue.

Certain breeds are more predisposed to developing gallstones. These breeds include Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles, and Shetland Sheepdogs, though dogs of any breeds can have gallstones.

Generally, gallstones form when the gallbladder fails to function properly. When bile flow is interrupted or when it becomes saturated with pigment, calcium, or cholesterol, gallstones are more likely to appear.

A build-up of bile due to blockage or other reasons may cause gallstones. Inflammation of the gallbladder can leave it open to infections that might result in gallstone formation.

Gallstones are also known to form from protein or taurine deficiency, environmental toxins, or changes in the lining of the gallbladder.

Treatments For Gallstones In Dogs

Veterinarian with dog on operating table

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If a gallstone is small enough, your vet’s treatment for your dog may be as simple as administering medication to dissolve it, followed up with antibiotics to prevent infection. Your vet may also prescribe vitamins to account for any deficiencies that could be responsible for gallbladder formation.

Certain complications like jaundice require an intravenous administration of Vitamin K1, and if the liver is compromised, Vitamin E can be given to help organ function.

Vets usually recommend a high-protein, fat-reduced diet for dogs who have experienced gallbladder complications.

If the gallstone is large enough to cause a blockage in the future or is already causing one, your vet may consider surgery. Often the vet will remove the entire gallbladder, and a dog can live a healthy life without the organ, so long as they get strict monitoring and dietary requirements. This is usually the case with chronic gallbladder issues.

Modern vets typically use laparoscopic surgery, which is less invasive and leaves dogs with an excellent chance of recovery.

Preventing gallstones with a balanced diet, especially with breeds who have a predisposition, is the best solution and will stop problems before they even exist.

Has your dog ever had a gallstone? How did your vet treat it? Let us know in the comments below!

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