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Bile Duct Obstruction in Dogs

Cholestasis in Dogs

Bile, a bitter fluid with high alkalinity, is produced by the liver and plays crucial roles in digestion and waste removal within the body. After its formation in the liver, bile moves into the gallbladder for storage until needed during digestion. Upon digestion of food, bile is released into the small intestine to aid in the digestion process and to emulsify food particles for proper utilization or elimination from the body.

Cholestasis refers to a condition where the normal flow of bile from the liver to the duodenum, a section of the small intestine, is obstructed. Various underlying diseases affecting the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas can lead to cholestasis.

Miniature schnauzers and Shetland sheepdogs are predisposed to pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas, and are also at a higher risk of developing cholestasis. While cholestasis is commonly observed in middle-aged and older dogs, it can affect both male and female dogs.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms of cholestasis vary depending on the underlying disease causing the condition. Here are several symptoms associated with this disease:

  • Gradual fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Polyphagia (excessive hunger and food consumption)
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Weight loss
  • Pale stools
  • Orange urine


Cholestasis can be linked to various diseases. Here are a few causes that can result in cholestasis:

  • Cholelithiasis (presence of gallstones in the gallbladder)
  • Neoplasia – abnormal tissue growth, which can be either malignant or benign
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Parasitic infestation
  • Blunt trauma
  • Complications following abdominal surgery


To diagnose cholestasis in your dog, it’s important to provide your veterinarian with a comprehensive history of your dog’s health, including when symptoms started and any potential incidents or traumas your dog may have experienced. This history can help your veterinarian identify which organs may be causing secondary symptoms.

Laboratory tests will be conducted, including complete blood tests, a biochemistry panel, and urinalysis. These tests can reveal abnormalities related to the underlying disease, if present, as well as abnormalities resulting from bile duct obstruction.

Some patients may exhibit anemia and other abnormalities related to the obstruction. Elevated levels of waste products in the blood, such as bilirubin, may indicate the severity of the condition. Bilirubin, a reddish pigment derived from red blood cells, is normally excreted through bile and expelled from the body as waste. However, with bile duct obstruction, bilirubin can accumulate in the blood, leading to jaundice. Urinalysis may also reveal high concentrations of bilirubin, while stool samples may appear pale. Elevated liver enzyme values may indicate liver damage, and bleeding disorders are common with liver disease.

Abdominal x-rays and ultrasound imaging can provide insights into the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. In cases where traditional diagnostic methods are inconclusive, exploratory surgery may be necessary. This approach not only aids in diagnosis but also allows for immediate correction of any identified issues.

If neoplasia is suspected, further evaluation will determine whether the tissue growth is benign or malignant, guiding subsequent treatment options.


The treatment for cholestasis in your dog depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. If your dog is dehydrated, fluid therapy and supportive care will be provided. In cases where bleeding disorders are present due to liver disease, addressing the cause of the bleeding is necessary before considering surgery. Pre-surgery, your dog will receive parenteral antibiotics to manage any existing infections. Treatment options may include medical therapy, surgical intervention, or a combination of both approaches.

Living and Management

If left untreated, bile duct obstruction can result in severe complications, such as significant damage to the gallbladder and liver. It’s important to adhere to your veterinarian’s recommendations for treating and preventing the recurrence of this condition. Your dog will require specific dietary restrictions during the recovery period, which your veterinarian will outline for you. Successful recovery depends on addressing the underlying cause of the obstruction and restoring normal bile outflow through the duct. The prognosis is generally favorable once these issues are resolved.

However, if neoplasia is present, the overall prognosis for recovery is very poor.

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