Portosystemic Shunts in Dogs

Cost of Treatment: $2,500 to $8,000

What are Portosystemic Shunts in Dogs?

A portosystemic shunt or liver shunt is a health condition where the blood by-passes the liver circulation. In normal dogs, the blood that leaves the digestive tract should go to the liver where it is filtered and then it joins the rest of the body’s blood. In dogs with portosystemic shunts, this process is altered and part or all of the blood leaving the digestive tract goes straight to the body’s circulation without being filtered by the liver. This results in an abnormal accumulation of wastes such as ammonia in the dog’s blood, which threatens his/her health.

Which Dog Breeds Are Commonly Affected by Portosystemic Shunts?

Liver shunts are considered hereditary in the following dog breeds:

  • Cocker spaniels
  • Irish wolfhounds
  • Maltese
  • Yorkshire terriers

Symptoms of Portosystemic Shunts in Dogs

The symptoms of liver shunts vary depending on how much blood is by-passing the liver. Dogs with small portosystemic shunts may show few or none clinical signs. The most common signs of portosystemic shunts in dogs are:

  • Constipation
  • Death
  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Lethargy
  • Poor growth rates
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Walking in circles

Treatment of Portosystemic Shunts in Dogs

Dogs with shunts are treated with special diets and medications such as lactulose and antibiotics, to reduce the amount of toxins that are produced and absorbed in the large intestines. Dogs that are severely ill may require surgical intervention.

Resources for Portosystemic Shunts in Dogs

  1. Disorders of the Liver and Gallbladder in Dogs by The Merck Pet Health Manual

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