Liver Shunt in Dogs: Diagnosis and Treatment

What is It?

A liver shunt is a condition where the veins that should take blood to the liver for detoxification circumvent the liver through an abnormal vessel.

What Causes It?

Congenital portosystemic shunts are a hereditary birth defect. The breeds most prone to liver shunts are:

Acquired portosystemic shunts are a product of severe liver disease. This type of liver shunt is rare.  

Liver shunts can be intrahepatic (inside the liver) or extrahepatic (outside the liver).

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What Are The Symptoms?

  • Poor growth
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Blood in urine
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy,
  • Circling
  • Head pressing
  • Seizures

Is it Life Threatening?

Yes. Without treatment liver shunt can be fatal. With proper treatment, most dogs return to a happy life.

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How is It Diagnosed?

A vet will perform a full physical exam and a medical history questionnaire of your dog. The symptoms for a liver shunt are not exclusive to this condition. Therefore, other conditions must be ruled out while working towards this diagnosis.

Blood count, urinalysis, liver enzyme analysis and a bile acid test will help come to a diagnosis. Imagine including x-ray, CT scans and MRIs may be necessary to validate the assessment.

What Are The Treatments?

The location and severity of the shunt will affect the treatment. Dogs with a single extrahepatic shunt are great candidates for a surgical procedure called a portosystemic shunt ligation.

For many cases, surgery is not an option. In these circumstances a low protein diet combined with medication can help mitigate negative symptoms.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pup’s condition, please make an appointment with your veterinarian. Or, consult a virtual vet here.