Diseases of the Gallbladder and Bile Duct In Dogs

The liver secretes bile. Bile is a substance that aids digestion, helps absorb fats and eliminates certain waste products from the body. It is stored in the gallbladder and released into the duodenum via the bile duct. The main symptom of disease in the gallbladder and bile duct is jaundice, although cancer of the gallbladder may not cause jaundice. Jaundice is a yellow tinge to the skin, mucous membranes and eyes.

Obstruction of the Bile Duct

Most often, an obstruction in the bile duct is caused by pancreatic disease. Swelling, inflammation or fibrosis of the pancreas can cause compression on the bile duct. This is diagnosed by x-rays, ultrasounds and laboratory tests. Often, the obstruction will be relieved once the pancreatitis is treated. However, if this does not help, then the gallbladder can be connected directly to the intestines with a surgical procedure. If the obstruction is caused by gallstones then the gallbladder may need to be removed. Obstruction can also be caused by cancer of the bile duct, liver, lymph nodes, intestines and pancreas. In these cases, surgery may provide some relief but will not be a cure.

Inflammation of the Gallbladder (Cholecystitis)

Cholecystitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the gallbladder. It is usually caused by bacterial infections that have started in the intestines and have traveled up the common bile duct or have spread in the blood stream. Sometimes, the wall of the gallbladder is damaged which may mean that bile can leak into the abdomen. This can cause a severe abdominal infection and inflammation, which can lead to the death of the dog. The symptoms include abdominal pain, jaundice, appetite loss, vomiting and fever. The dog may also go into shock due to inflammation in the abdomen.

It is also possible for the inflammation to spread to the surrounding ares of the liver and bile duct. A biopsy will be performed to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment for this condition usually include the surgical removal of the gallbladder and administration of appropriate antibiotics to treat the infection. If the antibiotic program is started early, the prognosis for the animal is good. Late diagnosis and treatment mean that the prognosis is less favorable.


It is rare for gallstones to cause disease. If this does occur, it is seen more often in older, female, small breed dogs. The symptoms include jaundice, fever, abdominal pain and vomiting. The stones should be removed and appropriate antibiotics should be administered.

Rupture of the Gallbladder or Bile Duct

If the gallbladder or bile duct ruptures, it is most often due to blunt trauma, gallstone obstruction or inflammation of the gallbladder. The bile duct may rupture as a result of cancer or certain parasites. A rupture will lead to the bile leaking into the abdomen which causes bile peritonitis. Bile peritonitis is a serious condition. It can be fatal if the rupture is not repaired. The treatment includes surgery to tie off the bile duct, remove the gallbladder or connect the gallbladder directly to the small intestine.

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