Gallstones in Dogs

Gallstones in dogs is a medical condition that is caused by stones forming in the gall bladder.

Gallstones or choleliths are solid particles that usually contain bile, cholesterol, bacteria, proteins and calcium salts. Gallstones can vary in size, going from a small particle to large stones, which can cause blockage in the gal.

The gallbladder is an organ located between the lobes of the liver, which primary function is storing, concentrating and releasing bile. The bile functions include killing microorganisms such as fungus and bacteria, neutralizing potentially toxic stomach acids and stimulating fat digestion.

The medical term for gallstones, Cholelithiasis, can cause bile blockage which can lead to serious health issues if left untreated.

Symptoms of Dog Gallstones

The symptoms of gallstones range greatly from not being apparent at all to being pretty severe.

Larger gallstones can lead to more serious health issues as they can cause blockages which will then allow bile to enter the abdomen which can be life-threating.

The most common symptoms of gallstones in dogs include the following:

  • Weakness and lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin or eyes)
  • Fever
  • Change in behavior – aggressive when touched
  • Blood or pain while urinating

Dog Breeds That Are Prone to Gallstones

vet examining poodle with gallstonesThere are a few breeds that seem to be pre-disposed to gallstones:

What Causes Gallstones in Dogs?

Some of the common causes of gallstones in dogs are the following:

  • A high concentration of gallbladder bile
  • Nutrient deficiencies (e.g. taurine deficiency)
  • Environmental toxins
  • Decreased bile flow
  • Changes to the lining of the gallbladder

Diagnosis of Gallstones

As soon as you notice any of the symptoms of gallstones in your dog, it important to take your dog to the vet right away.

Your vet will want to know the symptoms that have occurred in your dog and if there have been any behavioral changes.

Your vet will also feel around your dog’s abdomen to see if there is any pain or tenderness there and look for some of the signs of jaundice.

X-rays can help to see a gallstone if it is large enough but they are not always visible.

Blood work will be taken and your dog’s liver enzyme levels will be checked to see if they are elevated due to gallstones or from the excess of bile in the abdomen.

Because gallstones are hard to diagnose in the early stages, it usually takes a rupture to conclude the diagnosis that there was a gallstone in the first place.

Treatment of Gallstones

Treatment of gallstones can vary depending on the severity of the condition.

Small gallstones can sometimes be dissolved with medication which is typically followed by antibiotics to ward off infection.

Further, specific vitamins and nutrients might be recommended to help combat any deficiencies that might have caused the gallstones to form.

If your dog has jaundice, the usual treatment is an IV of the vitamin K-1 to help ward off the condition.

If the liver has been compromised, Vitamin E can help the organ to function normally again.

A diet of high-protein and reduced-fat is typically recommended for dogs with gallbladder issues.

In the most severe case, the removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) might be needed.

It is more common today, vets will use a laparoscope to remove the gallstones which is less invasive and the recovery is much easier.

Can Pet Insurance Help With Gallstones in Dogs?

The cost of treating gallstones can range anywhere from $1,000 to $6,500 depending on the treatment necessary.

If you already have pet insurance, the treatment, surgery (if needed), testing and recovery can all be covered for up to 90% of the cost.

Plans like Healthy Paws and Embrace will help cover all the costs to treat your dog, but also further treatment if your dog develops gallstones again (hopefully not!)

However, if your dog develops gallstones and then you enroll in pet insurance to help pay for the condition, the insurance won’t cover it because the gallstones are now considered pre-existing.

This is why it’s best to insure your dogs while they are young before any condition occurs.  Or, if you have a certain breed of dog that is pre-disposed to some common health conditions.

Recovery and Management of Gallstones

If your dog had gall bladder surgery, your dog must be watched carefully and allowed only very minimal exercise to avoid the incision from breaking.

An Elizabethan collar is usually recommended to discourage your dog from licking the incision.

Further medication will be needed to avoid infection and to help with your dog’s pain.

With most dogs, a subscribed diet that is high in protein and low in fat can help reduce the chance of the gallstones reoccurring.

Just like any other health issue, if you see anything abnormal occurring in your dog, take your dog to the vet right away.

If you would like to learn more about other health concerns that can occur with your dog, our dog health glossary is a good place to start.

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