Dogs Have Gallbladder Health Issues Too: Here's What You Need To Know

For humans, iIt seems that having surgery to have internal organs be removed has become a thing of the past; it used to be common practice to have tonsils, appendixes, or even gallbladders removed before they were even causing issues. With advances in human modern medicines, and the ability to monitor possible concerns more closely, these types of surgeries are becoming less commonplace. Most of us have heard of gall bladder surgery in people. It is not as common a surgery in animals.

Gallbladder problems are very normal for dogs to experience, and are often attributed (at least partially) to what the dog is eating. As a responsible and caring pet owner, once your dog is diagnosed with a gallbladder issue, you naturally want to know all about gallbladder issues: the signs and symptoms, potential prevention methods, and how to best treat your dog. 

Diseases of the Gallbladder and Bile Duct:

First a quick orientation as to how this organ contributes to the body. The liver secretes bile, a substance that assists with digestion and absorption of fats and with elimination of certain waste products from the body. Bile is stored in the gallbladder and is released into the small intestine through the bile duct. There are a few common diseases that a dog can experience relating to the gallbladder or bile duct.

1. Obstruction of the Bile Duct

Obstruction of the bile duct is associated with a number of conditions, including inflammation of the pancreas, gallbladder, or small intestines. Tissue swelling, inflammation, or fibrosis can cause compression of the bile duct. Diagnosis is based on laboratory tests, x-rays, and ultrasound. If gallstones are the cause of obstruction, the gallbladder may need to be removed.

2.Rupture of the Gallbladder or Bile Duct

Rupture of the gallbladder or bile duct is most often due to gallstone obstruction, inflammation of the gallbladder, or blunt trauma. Rupture of the bile duct may also occur as a result of cancer or certain parasites. Rupture leads to leakage of bile into the abdomen, causing a serious condition called bile peritonitis, which may be fatal if the rupture is not repaired. Treatment includes surgery, which consists of placing a stent in the bile duct, removing the gallbladder, or connecting the gallbladder with the small intestine.

3.Inflammation of the Gallbladder (Cholecystitis)

Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) can be caused by bacterial infections, cancer, trauma to the liver, gallbladder obstruction, or blood clots. In some cases, the wall of the gallbladder is damaged, and bile leaks into the abdomen causing severe abdominal infection and inflammation, which can be fatal. Loss of appetite, abdominal pain, jaundice, fever, and vomiting are common signs. The dog may be in a state of shock due to abdominal inflammation.

The inflammation can also spread to the surrounding branches of the bile duct and the liver. Diagnosis is based on blood tests and ultrasound findings and can be confirmed by biopsy for bacterial cultures and tissue analysis. Treatment usually consists of removal of the gallbladder and appropriate antibiotic medication to treat infection. The outlook is good if surgery and appropriate antibiotics are started early but is less favorable if diagnosis and treatment are delayed.

4.Gallbladder Mucocele in Dogs

A gallbladder mucocele is an abnormal accumulation of bile within the bile ducts that results in a bile duct obstruction. As it expands, the mucocele can lead to inflammation, tissue death, or rupture of the gallbladder. The condition may be inherited in some breeds, for example Shetland Sheepdogs. Underlying diseases can also predispose dogs to the condition. Some mildly affected dogs can improve with medications alone; however, most will require surgery to remove the gallbladder. Liver biopsies are often taken during surgery. Antibiotics are usually necessary for 4–6 weeks after surgery.


Gallstones rarely cause disease. When it does occur, disease is usually seen in middle-aged to older dogs, and may be more common in small-breed dogs. Signs include vomiting, jaundice, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, fever, and discomfort after eating, but many dogs show no signs. Gallstones are diagnosed by ultrasound. Because abdominal ultrasounds are being used more frequently, gallstones are being diagnosed more often in recent years. Medications, including antibiotics, can treat dogs with uncomplicated disease. Surgery to remove the stones is necessary if they are obstructing bile or causing cholecystitis. Removal of the gallbladder may also be necessary.

Gallstones, created by an excess of bacteria and other deposits that crystalize into stones, can cause disastrous blockages in the gallbladder. These stones can range in size from a poppy seed to a dime. Doctors have not determined there to be one surefire cause of gallstones, but diet seems to be a significant contributing factor. Another factor to be aware of is your dog’s breed. Some breeds, like miniature schnauzers, shelties, and poodles are predisposed to experience gallbladder issues.

Did you know that while the gallbladder performs a useful role in the digestive system, the body is quite capable of functioning without it? A healthy gallbladder is located in the abdomen, near the liver. The small pear-shaped organ operates as a location for bile from the liver to drain into and be stored. The bile that is secreted in the gallbladder assists in breaking down the fats from the food being eaten, allowing them to be used and absorbed into the body. This sounds like an essential part of the body, but actually once the gallbladder has been removed, the bile from the liver is dispensed directly into the small intestine, rather than using the gallbladder as a reservoir on the way. This means that life without a gallbladder will likely be no different for your dog!

When all is going well, you have no reason to consider your dog’s gallbladder, but there are signs and symptoms to be on the watch for that will indicate that your dog’s gall bladder is under duress. As previously mentioned, gallbladder issues can be a particularly time sensitive issue, so be on your guard for symptoms like signs of discomfort while urinating, blood appearing in the urine, weakness, loss of appetite, vomiting, abdominal sensitivity, and jaundice.

If any of these symptoms begin to become evident in your dog, it may be time for a visit to the vet. These signs are not solely indicative of gallstones; this will need to be professionally determined. To definitively discover if your dog is suffering from gallstones, they will likely need to have x-rays done. Some cases are unable to be discovered without exploratory surgery, but your veterinarian will discuss the best course of action for your dog’s individual health issues and history.

Once you have received an official diagnosis of gallstones or another type of gallbladder issue, there are several treatment options to choose from. If your dog’s case is more mild, a round of antibiotics alone may be sufficient. Vitamin deficiencies may be found to be the root issue, and adding a vitamin E or K supplement to your dog’s diet may be enough to treat or prevent further gallbladder issues. For more severe cases, surgery may be required to remove either the gallstones or the gallbladder itself.

Diets consisting of fresh, natural, food grade ingredients like raw meats, low in fat and the appropriate vegetables, focusing on the proper balance of proteins and carbohydrates are more likely to be easily digested by your dog that may be living life with gallbladder issues! An actual Volhard case study, 21-day cleansing and balancing diet for a 50-pound dog and brief discussion on Traditional Chinese Medicine can be found here on the Volhard Dog Nutrition website:

A healthy, quality diet is the first step to take to ensure that your dog has a healthy immune system, happy digestive system, and fully-functional gallbladder.