Liver Shunts in Dogs

Liver shunt is a serious condition in dogs.

A portosystemic shunt, or liver shunt, is a condition in dogs which is usually congenital, meaning the dog is born with it.

What Is a Canine Liver Shunt?

A liver shunt occurs when the portal vein, which carries blood from the dog's system to the liver for detoxification, is abnormally connected to another vein, allowing blood to bypass its trip through the liver and remain unfiltered.

The most common way a liver shunt forms is when a connecting vein, the ductus venosis, which is used when the dog is in utero, doesn't collapse as it should after birth. Sometimes, another vein develops where it shouldn't, and that second vein stays open after the ductus venosis closes.

When blood is not properly detoxed by the liver, harmful substances build up and are carried throughout the body, having adverse effects.

Signs of Liver Shunts in Dogs

Dogs with liver shunts may have some or all of the following signs:

Signs may appear or worsen after a meal.

Liver shunts are usually diagnosed in young dogs, but sometimes they may not show signs until they are older. Additionally, some dogs may not show the signs above but instead have recurrent bladder infections, bladder stones, or kidney problems.

Breeds More Commonly Affected by Liver Shunts

Dog breeds that develop liver shunts more commonly than other breeds include:

Diagnosis of Liver Shunts in Dogs

A veterinarian will usually become suspicious of a portosystemic shunt from the history of clinical signs. Diagnostic tests are then performed to confirm that suspicion. These tests include:

Treatment of Canine Liver Shunts

Some dogs with portosystemic shunts may be managed medically. They are given a special prescription diet and treated with medications to help remove the toxins the liver is unable to process or mitigate their damage to the body.

Surgery is required to definitively treat liver shunts in dogs. A special constrictor device is placed on the abnormally open vein, and it constricts slowly over the following few weeks, causing the vein to scar shut. A special diet and medications are used for a couple of months following the surgery, and clinical signs and blood tests are monitored closely.

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