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Gallstones in Dogs

Cholelithiasis in Dogs

Cholelithiasis, a medical condition characterized by the formation of stones in the gallbladder, can affect both dogs and cats. These gallstones are typically composed of calcium or other secreted substances. However, it’s important to note that the bile composition in dogs differs from that in humans, as it tends to have lower cholesterol saturation. Consequently, dogs generally exhibit lower levels of cholesterol and calcium stone formation compared to humans. Certain breeds, such as Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles, and Shetland Sheepdogs, may be predisposed to developing gallstones.

Gallstones in dogs may or may not be visible on an X-ray, depending on their location within the bile ducts or gallbladder. Unless the presence of gallstones results in severe symptoms, surgery is not typically recommended as a treatment option. It’s essential to monitor any symptoms closely and consult with a veterinarian for appropriate management of the condition in affected pets.

Symptoms and Types

Symptoms of cholelithiasis in dogs can vary, with some cases showing no apparent signs. However, if there is an accompanying infection along with the presence of gallstones, the dog may exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, and jaundice. It’s important to be vigilant for these signs and seek veterinary attention promptly if they occur.


There are various factors to consider regarding the causes of gallstones in dogs. These may include dysfunction of the gallbladder, which can disrupt bile flow, or the presence of sludge in the bile. Gallstones may form due to bile being overly saturated with pigment, calcium, or cholesterol. Inflammation, infections, tumors, or cell shedding can also contribute to stone formation. Additionally, gallstones themselves can cause inflammation and facilitate bacterial invasion. Low protein levels can also contribute to the formation of gallstones in the gallbladder.


In the process of diagnosing cholelithiasis, your veterinarian will aim to confirm or eliminate liver diseases, pancreatitis, inflammation of the bile duct or gallbladder, and the presence of mucus accumulation leading to gallbladder distension.

A comprehensive blood count will be conducted to identify bacterial infections, bile duct obstructions, or any other underlying issues contributing to the symptoms. While X-rays are not typically effective for examining the gallbladder, ultrasound imaging is usually preferred for internal visualization. Ultrasound can reveal the presence of stones, thickening of the gallbladder wall, or enlargement of the bile duct. It can also guide the collection of specimens for culture if needed. If surgery is recommended, a thorough liver examination will be necessary prior to the procedure.


There is debate regarding the appropriateness of attempting to medically dissolve gallstones in dogs if the animal’s condition does not appear critical. If intravenous (IV) treatment is deemed necessary, your dog will require hospitalization until its condition stabilizes. In certain instances, exploratory surgery may be the chosen treatment option. It’s important to note that even with surgical removal of existing stones, new ones may form if the condition persists chronically.

Medications used to address the stones and associated complications may include oral pills designed to dissolve the stones. Intravenous administration of vitamin K1 may be necessary if the dog is jaundiced. Vitamin E may be prescribed to address elevated liver enzymes or inflammation in the liver and bile duct. S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) might be recommended to enhance liver function and bile production. Antibiotics may also be warranted to treat concurrent infections, bacterial complications, or as a preventive measure when external interventions such as IV treatment or surgery are required.

Living and Management

For long-term management, your veterinarian is likely to prescribe a diet that is low in fat but high in protein. If your dog undergoes surgery, regular physical examinations and testing will be necessary every two to four weeks as advised by your veterinarian. Periodic ultrasound assessments will be recommended to monitor the ongoing functionality of the liver and bile system. It’s important for you to remain vigilant for any sudden onset of symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain, or weakness, as these could indicate an infection resulting from impaired bile function.

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