How often have you thought about your dog’s gallbladder? If you’re like me, you probably didn’t even think that a dog had a gallbladder and you certainly didn’t think that a dog could have a gallbladder problem.
However, dogs do have a gallbladder, and although problems with it are not common, dogs do have problems, just like humans.
I thought it might be interesting for dog lovers everywhere to have a little history lesson on the parts of a dog’s guts that look so much like ours. I think most of us think of a dog, as a being with a mouth that everything goes into, a stomach that seems to be made of iron, and a butt that most things end up coming out of.
Not so! A dog’s guts are a complex group of things that serve many functions, just like ours. Digestive disorders in dogs are probably the most common health problems for all dogs. More than likely because of the things they manage to put in their mouths. Gallbladder problems are not common, but are worth investigating. You never know when such a problem will occur.
In reality, most of a dog’s digestive disorders are caused directly or indirectly by the liver, pancreas, or digestive tract organs, which play an important role in processing the food your dog eats. However, there are times when serious health problems center on a dog’s gallbladder.
What is the gallbladder? A dog’s gallbladder is a small, hard-skinned, sac-like structure in the abdominal cavity that plays an important role in the digestion of a dog’s food. It is attached to the liver and pancreas. The gallbladder is small, in a large dog like a German Shepherd it could be the size of a golf ball, in a smaller dog it would be smaller. It is not round, but pear-shaped and elongated and has the ability to expand if necessary.
What does a gallbladder do? It’s like a garage, it’s a storage area for bile, an acid, an alkaline liquid that contains water, electrolytes, various acids, and a yellowish pigment called bilirubin. This fluid is secreted by the liver and discharged into the small intestine to help with digestion and absorption of fats. A dog produces bile throughout the day and a healthy gallbladder releases bile as needed.
The liver itself is divided into several sections called lobes, and the bile produced in each of these lobes has its own bile duct, which in turn empties into a common bile duct. The common bile duct leads to the duodenum, the first segment of the small intestine. When the common bile duct has too much bile, it drains into the gallbladder, which stores it until it is needed to help with the digestion of fat.
What Kinds of Gallbladder Problems Are There? Although gallbladder problems are not very common, they do occur. There are obstructive and non-obstructive situations. The most common obstructive problem is caused by an inflamed pancreas, which can be caused by a pancreatic tumor or scar tissue. The common bile duct becomes compressed and the bile cannot escape, leading to a distended gallbladder and the bile can return to the dog’s bloodstream.
Another obstructive problem is gallstones. Yes, dogs can get gallstones, just like people. These stones are not hard like a human’s gallstones, but are made from a clay like mud and can block the bile duct and in turn cause the gallbladder to expand and, if left untreated, it will burst.
There is also a third type of obstructive problem that is caused by a build-up of bile and thick mucus called a biliary mucocele. This can lead to non-obstructive gallbladder disease if left untreated, as abnormal bile provides an excellent breeding ground for a bacterial infection; Inflammation and swelling, which in turn can cause the gallbladder to burst.
What are the symptoms of a gallbladder problem? Unfortunately, most symptoms are common to many other problems such as vomiting, poor appetite, lethargy, pale colored stools, weakness, and poor coat condition. However, one telltale sign is jaundice, a condition in which the eyes and gums have a yellowish tint similar to “yellow jaundice” in humans.
What are the treatment options? Antibiotics are used to treat non-obstructive problems, and there are other medications that can be used to stimulate the secretion of bile and move it into the intestinal tract.
Surgery will be required if there is a biliary mucocele or if there is a mass that does not respond to medical treatment. Gallstones can be surgically removed if necessary and the gallbladder can also be removed without harming a dog’s life. A dog can live without a gallbladder, just like a human.
This has been a journey inside your dog and I hope it gave you an idea of how much our dogs are like us. Bodies of different shapes, but all working in the same magical order that created the Universe.