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Gallbladder Obstruction in Dogs

Gallbladder Mucocele in Dogs

Gallbladder mucocele in dogs occurs when a thick, mucoid bile mass forms inside the gallbladder, leading to a blockage of its storage capacity and hindering its proper function. This buildup of bile can cause the gallbladder to expand, potentially resulting in necrotizing cholecystitis, where the gallbladder tissue becomes inflamed and undergoes tissue death.

This condition is commonly observed in middle-aged to older dogs, particularly among breeds such as Shetland sheepdogs, cocker spaniels, and miniature schnauzers. It affects both male and female dogs equally.

Symptoms and Types

Gallbladder mucocele can manifest with or without symptoms (asymptomatic). The typical symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite (Anorexia)
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Yellowing of the skin (Jaundice)
  • Excessive urination or thirst (Polyuria/polydipsia)
  • Episodes of collapse, which could be due to vasovagal response or bile peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining or malfunction of blood vessels).


The causes of gallbladder mucocele include:

  • Lipid metabolism issues, especially prevalent in breeds like Shetland sheepdogs and miniature schnauzers, which may have a genetic predisposition to this condition.
  • Gallbladder dysmotility, which refers to a lack of movement within the organ.
  • Cystic hypertrophy, where the mucous-producing glands of the gallbladder become abnormally enlarged, commonly seen in older dogs and possibly triggering gallbladder mucocele.
  • Factors such as a high-fat diet, elevated cholesterol levels, or hyperthyroidism.
  • Conditions like typical or atypical adrenal hyperplasia, characterized by abnormal cell multiplication, and prior glucocorticoid therapy can also contribute to gallbladder mucocele.


Identifying gallbladder mucocele involves assessing specific conditions that disrupt the normal functioning (dysmotility) of the gallbladder. Potential factors contributing to bile blockage (stasis) include neoplasia (tumor growth), pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), and choleliths (gallstones), among other observed causes.

Diagnosis entails a combination of blood biochemistry, hematology, laboratory tests, and imaging studies. Key observations include:

  • Blood Biochemistry: Analysis of liver enzymes such as ALP, GGT, ALT, and AST, where elevated levels indicate illness. Elevated liver enzymes might be the sole sign of illness in dogs or may appear during the acute phase of the disease. Increased bilirubin and low albumin levels are also common.
  • Electrolyte abnormalities with fluid and acid-base disturbances, often resulting from excessive fluid loss due to vomiting or triggered by bile peritonitis.
  • Pre-renal azotemia.
  • Hematology/CBC: Anemia and leukocyte imbalances may be observed.
  • Lab tests: Elevated triglyceride levels.
  • Imaging: Radiography or ultrasound studies reveal liver abnormalities, a distended gallbladder and bile duct, gallbladder wall thickening, presence of gas in the liver, and loss of detail in the abdomen due to inflammation of the abdominal lining (peritonitis).

A common diagnostic procedure involves aspirating fluids from biliary structures or the abdominal cavity via laparotomy (incision into the abdominal cavity). Additional diagnostic steps may include liver biopsy, bacterial cultures and sensitivity tests, and cell examinations.


The treatment approach for gallbladder mucocele varies based on the patient’s condition. Outpatients typically receive anti-inflammatory and liver-protecting agents such as ursodeoxycholic acid and S-Adenosylmethionine (SAM-e). Inpatients undergo treatment based on imaging and ultrasound findings. Patients with elevated lipid levels are advised to avoid fat-rich foods. In cases where inflammation of the abdominal lining (bile peritonitis) is present, abdominal cleansing (lavage) is recommended. Hydration therapy is essential for all patients to address fluid and electrolyte imbalances.

In addition to broad-spectrum antimicrobials, treatment may involve anti-emetics, antacids, gastroprotectants, Vitamin K1, and antioxidant medications, depending on the symptoms. Following treatment, all gallbladder mucocele patients should undergo periodic monitoring through biochemistry, hematology, and imaging studies to assess for complications such as cholangitis or cholangiohepatitis, bile peritonitis, and EHBDO.

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