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Ursodiol for Dogs and Cats

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By Evan Ware, DVM

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Basic Information

Ursodiol is a naturally occurring hydrophilic bile acid that is used to treat liver diseases such as primary sclerosing cholangitis, chronic hepatitis, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It also is prescribed to dissolve gallstones.

In veterinary medicine, Ursodiol also is prescribed for dogs and cats to treat a wide range of liver and gallbladder conditions, including chronic hepatitis, gallstones containing cholesterol, congenital portosystemic shunts, and juvenile fibrosing liver disease. It also is used to manage gallstones that contain cholesterol. Ursodiol decreases the amount of cholesterol made by the liver and the amount of cholesterol absorbed by the intestines

Veterinary Medicine Uses for Ursodiol

Ursodiol reduces the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver and the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food. It also increases cholesterol's breakdown rate, making it very effective as a non-surgical solution for gallstones.

It is sold for human-health use under the trade names Actigall® and Urso™ and is administered orally in the form of tablets. Like many other drugs in veterinary medicine, this drug is not FDA-approved for use in animals and is not available from a veterinary pharmaceutical manufacturer. Instead, it is compounded by a compounding pharmacy.

Potential Side-Effects of Ursodiol

Ursodiol is naturally occurring, so it is usually tolerated without issue. However, certain animals have had allergic reactions to it. If your animal develops hives, breathing difficulties, or facial swelling, be sure to contact your veterinarian immediately.

Other possible side-effects include gastrointestinal distress and headaches. If you believe your pet is experiencing a negative reaction to Ursodiol, talk to your veterinarian. The most-common side effects are vomiting or diarrhea. There have been rare cases when ursodiol may have made the underlying liver problem worse.

Drug Interactions with Ursodiol

Ursodiol's effectiveness can be decreased by estrogens, which increase the body's cholesterol levels. Antacids that contain aluminum can decrease the body's ability to absorb Ursodiol, so do not administer them to your pet unless your vet has given approval.

Aluminum-containing antacids and cholestyramine resin can reduce the effectiveness of ursodiol. Tell your vet if your pet is taking either of these medicines.

Precautions for Using Ursodiol

Ursodiol should not be given to rabbits, guinea pigs, or other animals with similar digestive systems, as it can cause serious problems. Animals with chronic liver disease can have difficulties tolerating the drug. Tell your veterinarian if your animal has any medical conditions before administering Ursodiol.

Keep this and all drugs out of reach of children. Ursodiol is a prescription drug and should be used according to your veterinarian's directions. It should only be given to the animal for which it was prescribed. Do not give this medication to a person. Ursodiol should not be used in animals with gallstones or pancreatitis.

Different strengths or dosage forms of ursodiol can have different storage requirements. Read the labeling or ask your pharmacist for the storage requirements of the prescription you receive.

Dosage and Administration of Ursodiol

Ursodiol should be administered with food, and animals taking it should be given access to plenty of water.

If you miss a dose, give the dose as soon as possible, but do not give a double dose if it's almost time for the next one. Simply give the next dose and continue to administer the medication as prescribed.

If you miss giving your pet a dose of ursodiol, give the next dose as soon as you remember or, if it is close to the next scheduled dose, return to the regular schedule. Do not double dose to catch up. Give ursodiol with oil or in a fatty meal. Wash your hands after giving your pet this medication.

If you suspect your pet or another animal was overdosed accidentally or has eaten this medication inadvertently, contact your veterinarian or the A.S.P.C.A.'s Animal Poison Control Center at 888.426.4435. Always bring the prescription container with you when you take your pet for treatment.

If you or someone else has accidentally ingested this medication call the National Capital Poison Center at 800.222.1222.

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.