Gallstones in dogs: symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

What are gallstones (or cholelithiasis) in dogs? What clinical signs do they cause? What are the associated complications?

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What are gallstones in dogs?

Gallstones, otherwise known as cholelithiasis, are nothing more than small pebbles that form inside the gallbladder.

The gallbladder is a small hollow organ located near the liver and connected to the duodenum, the first portion of the dog's small intestine. It allows the storage of bile and its discharge into the duodenum during digestion. Bile is a substance of a greenish-yellow color produced by the liver and involved in the digestion of fats as well as in the elimination of various substances resulting from metabolism.

When a chemical imbalance occurs during the production of bile, it forms a crystallization of its constituent elements causing the formation of stones.

Although all dogs can be affected, these calculations are mostly evident in middle-aged to elderly dogs, most often in females and belonging to small breeds. It would also seem that the pre-existence of an inflammatory disease of the bile ducts, of parasitic or bacterial origin, also promotes the occurrence of stones.

What are the symptoms of gallstones in a dog?

Most often, the presence of gallstones in a dog goes completely unnoticed because most animals with them are asymptomatic.

But sometimes these stones cause inflammation of the gallbladder called cholecystitis, obstruction or even rupture of the bile ducts causing biliary peritonitis or even inflammation of the bile ducts bile and liver called cholangiohepatitis.

These complications associated with the presence of cholelithiasis can then be accompanied:

  • of anorexia,
  • vomiting,
  • abdominal pain,
  • fever,
  • jaundice, i.e. a yellow coloring of the animal's mucous membranes (jaundice).

How are gallstones diagnosed in dogs?

The presence of gallstones in dogs can be confirmed:

  • using an abdominal x-ray if these stones are radiodense (which is not the case for all dog gallstones),
  • by means of an abdominal ultrasound which allows, in addition to visualizing the appearance of the bile ducts and the liver in order to detect the possible presence of an associated complication.

The veterinarian can also use additional tests such as a blood test, looking for markers of damage to the biliary and/or hepatic tract.

If bacterial cholecystitis is suspected, the veterinarian can also perform cholecystocentesis in order to perform a bacteriological analysis on the bile.

What is the treatment for gallstones in dogs?

If dog gallstones are discovered incidentally during an ultrasound or abdominal X-ray and the dog has no symptoms, no treatment is undertaken.

On the other hand, if the animal shows clinical signs related to their presence, the veterinarian may consider:

  • a cholecystectomy, in other words the surgical removal of the dog's gallbladder. It is the treatment of choice for gallstones.
  • or a cholecystotomy, an opening of the gallbladder to remove stones. However, this treatment is more at risk of recurrence.

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