Bile Duct Obstruction in Dogs

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Cholestasis in Dogs

Bile, a bitter, high alkaline fluid that is secreted by the liver, serves important functions in the digestion and removal of waste materials from the body. Once bile has been formed in the liver, it is passed into the gallbladder, where it is held until food is digested. It is then released into the small intestine, both to aid in the digestion of food and to emulsify the food so that it can be used appropriately by the body, or carried out of the body as waste.

Cholestasis is a term used to denote a condition in which obstruction of the bile duct prevents the normal flow of bile from the liver to the duodenum (a part of small intestine). Cholestasis can occur due to number of underlying diseases, including diseases of the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas.

Miniature schnauzers and Shetland sheepdogs are predisposed to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and are incidentally at higher risk for developing cholestasis. It is commonly seen in middle-aged and older dogs, but otherwise, this can be found in both male and female dogs.

Symptoms and Types

Symptoms will vary depending upon the underlying disease that is responsible for this condition. Following are several of the symptoms related to this disease:

  • Progressive tiredness
  • Jaundice
  • Polyphagia (excessive hunger and consumption of food)
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Weight loss
  • Pale colored stools
  • Orange urine


This problem can be associated with a number of diseases. Following are few of the causes that can lead to cholestasis:

  • Cholelithiasis (stones in gallbladder/gallstones)
  • Neoplasia – abnormal growth of tissue, may be malignant or benign
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Parasitic infestation
  • Blunt trauma
  • Side effect following abdominal surgery


You will need to give a thorough history of your dog's health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition, such as trauma to the body. The history you provide may give your veterinarian clues as to which organs are causing secondary symptoms.

Laboratory tests will include complete blood tests, a biochemistry panel, and urinalysis. These tests will reveal abnormalities related to the underlying disease, if there is one, as well as abnormalities that are due to the bile duct obstruction itself.

Some patients show anemia and abnormalities related to the obstruction. The levels of waste products found in the blood will be indicative, like high levels of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a throw-away component of the bile and blood fluids; a reddish colored pigment that detaches from the red blood cells as they degrade. Under normal circumstances, bilirubin is secreted through the bile and discarded from the body as waste, giving feces its characteristic color. Due to the bile duct obstruction, too much bilirubin can remain in the blood, eventually leading to a condition of jaundice. Typically, urinalyses will also show high concentrations of bilirubin in the urine and stool samples will be pale in color.

Liver enzyme values may be elevated due to liver damage, and bleeding disorders are common with liver disease as well.

Any blood that is taken will be evaluated through laboratory evaluations of your dog. Abdominal x-ray and ultrasound imaging can be used to examine the interior of the liver, pancreas, and gall bladder. In some cases, where laboratory testing and other techniques are not helpful for diagnosis, exploratory surgery may be used for diagnosis. Diagnostic surgery also carries the advantage of correcting the problem at the same time if it is found in the course of discovering the underlying issues.

If your dog is found to be suffering from a form of neoplasia, an abnormal growth of tissue that is affecting the functioning ability of the bile duct, your veterinarian will need to determine whether the tissue is benign or cancerous. Further treatment will depend upon that outcome.

  • benign Pancreatitis
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A gland that aids in both digestive and insulin functions


Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads


A medical condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed


The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance


An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness


A condition in which the skin becomes yellow in color as do the mucous membranes; this is due to excess amounts of bilirubin.


To suspend one liquid into another without it mixing


The fluid created by the liver that helps food in the stomach to be digested.


Not being able to cause harm; the opposite of malignant.


A certain pigment that is produced when hemoglobin is destroyed.


The first part of the small intestine; can be found between the pylorus and the jejunum


A condition of the blood in which normal red blood cell counts or hemoglobin are lacking.


A substance that causes chemical change to another

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