How many times have you thought about your dog’s gallbladder? If you’re like me, you probably didn’t even think a dog had a gallbladder and you certainly didn’t think a dog could have a gallbladder problem.
However, dogs have gallbladders and while problems are not common, dogs do have problems, just like humans.
I thought it would be interesting for dog lovers everywhere to have a little history lesson about the internal parts of a dog that look 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 looks like it’s made of iron, and a behind that most things end up coming out of.
Not so! A dog’s insides are a complex group of things that do many jobs, just like ours. Digestive disorders in dogs are probably the most common of all dog health problems. Most likely it is 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 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 role in digesting 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 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 necessary.
What does a gallbladder do? It’s sort of like a garage, it’s a storage area for bile, an acid, alkaline fluid 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 the 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 lobules, 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’s needed to help with the digestion of fat.
What kind of gallbladder problems are there? Although gallbladder problems are not very common, they do happen. 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 bile cannot flow out, resulting in a distended gallbladder and bile can back up into 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 of a clay like mud and can block the bile duct and in turn cause the gallbladder to expand and, if left untreated, the gallbladder. it bursts.
There is also a third type of obstructive problem that is caused by a buildup of thick bile and mucus called a biliary mucocele. This can lead to non-obstructive gallbladder disease if left untreated, as abnormal bile provides a great breeding ground for bacterial infection; inflammation and swelling, which in turn can cause the gallbladder to burst.
What are the symptoms of a gallbladder problem? Unfortunately, most of the symptoms are common to many other problems such as vomiting, lack of appetite, lethargy, pale colored stools, weakness, and poor coat condition. One telltale sign, however, is jaundice, a condition in which the eyes and gums have a yellowish tinge 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 bile secretion 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 has given 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.