How often have you thought about your dog’s gallbladder? If you are like me, you probably did not even think a dog had a gallbladder and certainly did not think, that a dog could have a gallbladder problem.
However, dogs do have gallbladders and though problems with it are not something that is 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 innards that are so much like our own. I think most of us think of a dog, as a being with a mouth that everything goes into, a stomach that seems to made of iron and a rear end that most things end up coming out of.
Not so! A dog’s innards are a complex group of things that do many jobs, just like ours does. Digestive disorders in dogs are probably the most common of all dog’s health problems. More than likely because of the things they manage to put into their mouths. Gallbladder problems are not common, but are worth looking into. One never knows when such a problem will occur.
Actually most of a dog’s digestive disorders are caused either directly or indirectly with the liver, pancreas or organs of the digestive tract, which play an important part in the processing of the food your dog eats. There are times however, when serious health problems are centered in a dog’s gallbladder.
What is the gallbladder? A dog’s gallbladder is a small, tough-skinned sac-like structure in the abdominal cavity that plays an important part in the digestion of a dog’s food. It is attached to the liver and to the pancreas. The gall bladder is small, in a large dog like a German shepherd it might 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 needed.
What does a gallbladder do? It is sort of like a garage, it is a storage area for bile, an acid, an alkaline fluid containing 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 the digestion and absorption of fats. A dog produces bile throughout the day and a healthy gallbladder releases the bile as needed.
The liver itself is divided into several sections called lobes and the bile produced in each of these lobes has a bile duct of it own, which in turn flows 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 kind of gallbladder problems are there? Though gallbladder problems are not very common, they do happen. There are obstructive and non-obstructive situations. The most common obstructive problem is caused by a swollen pancreas, which can be caused by a pancreatic tumor or by scar tissue. The common bile duct becomes compressed and the bile cannot get out, causing a distended gallbladder and the bile may back up into the dog’s blood stream.
Another obstructive problem is gallstones. Yes, dogs can get gallstones, just like people can. These stones are not hard like a human’s gallstone, but are made up of a clay like sludge and can block the bile duct and in turn cause the gallbladder to expand and if not treated the gallbladder will burst.
There is also a third type of obstructive problem that is caused by a build up of thick bile and mucus called a biliary mucocele. This can lead to a non-obstructive gallbladder disease if not treated, as the abnormal bile provides a great breeding ground for a bacterial infection; inflammation and swelling, which in turn may cause the gallbladder to burst.
What are the symptoms of a gallbladder problem? Unfortunately, most of the symptoms are common to many other problems like vomiting, poor appetite, lethargy, pale colored stools, weakness and a poor coat condition. A telltale sign however, is jaundice, a condition in which the eyes and gums have a yellowish tinge to them similar to “yellow jaundice” in humans.
What are the treatment options? Antibiotics are used to treat the 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 biliary mucocele is present 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 hurting the life of a dog. A dog can live without a gallbladder, just as a human can.
This has been journey into the insides of your dog and I hope it has given you insight as to how much our dogs are like us. Different shaped bodies, but all working in the same magical order that the Universe created.