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Symptoms and Treatment for Your Dog's Gallstone Issues

Gallstones in Dogs

Developing stones in the gallbladder, a condition also known as cholelithiasis, can affect dogs and cats as well as humans. This article, however, is specific to cholelithiasis in dogs. In both dogs and humans, gallstones form out of secreted substances in the gallbladder such as calcium and other minerals.

Dogs have lower cholesterol-saturation in their bile than humans do. This is beneficial for our dog companions as it means that they are less likely than humans to develop larger stones in the gall bladder. Gallstones may occur in any breed of dog but are more likely to become serious issues when present in Shetland sheepdogs, poodles, and miniature schnauzers.

Symptoms and Causes of Gallstones in Dogs

The formation of gallstones in dogs has almost no perceptible symptoms. However, gallstones can be present in conjunction with another infection. This accompanying infection may cause the following symptoms in dogs:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain

Gallstones may form in a dog's gallbladder for a variety of reasons. The gallbladder may fail to function, interrupting bile flow and concentrating the cholesterol, pigment, or calcium in the bile. Stones may also form in response to inflammation, an infection, cellular shedding within the gallbladder, or a tumor.

Gallstones themselves, once present, contribute to inflammation and may worsen the problem in otherwise healthy dogs.

Diagnosis of Gallstones in Dogs

To diagnose gallstones in a dog, a veterinarian typically will conduct a full physical examination and order X-rays, a urinalysis, and blood work. Gallstones may or may not be identifiable on an X-ray, leading your veterinarian to recommend additional imaging such as an ultrasound to diagnose the condition by ruling out pancreatitis, inflammation of the bile duct, distended or inflamed gallbladder, or a variety of liver diseases.

Treatment and Prognosis for Gallstones in Dogs

Unless your dog is experiencing serious or life-threatening symptoms, surgery for gallstones is usually not warranted. There are intravenous drug therapies available for the condition, but there is some controversy among vets over whether these therapies are warranted unless the animal seems to be in danger from the gallstones. Surgery or IV therapy typically requires hospitalization for the animal.

Typically, dogs suffering from mild gallstones are put on a high-protein, low-fat diet for the rest of their lives.

Gallstones Can Be a Serious Condition, But Generally Require Dietary Changes and Mild Therapies

While gallstones are a serious condition in some dogs, they generally don't warrant surgery or invasive therapies to treat. Most dogs, even those afflicted with secondary infections as a result of gallstones, can be treated with medication and a strict diet.

About the Author

Dr. Evan Ware

Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.