Gallbladder Disease in Dogs

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
Gallbladder Disease in Dogs

One of the important gastrointestinal (GI) organs in dogs is the liver and its counterpart, the gallbladder. It is responsible for many functions, including the digestion and absorption of fatty acids. Damage to the liver or any of the structures related to it can lead to serious illness in dogs. In this article, we’ll discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of common gallbladder diseases in dogs.

Are you concerned about your pet?

Book a video consultation with an experienced veterinarian within minutes.

  • Professional vet advice online
  • Low-cost video vet consultations
  • Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

The Liver

The liver is an accessory organ in the GI tract that performs numerous functions. It plays an important role in filtering out toxins to prevent them from being absorbed by the body. It also metabolizes different substances and chemicals to help in the absorption of certain medications and supplements. The liver is also the organ responsible for the production of several hormones, enzymes, proteins, and bile.gall

Bile is necessary for the proper digestion of fatty acids from the dog’s diet, without it they aren’t able to utilize fats from their food as an energy source. Not all bile that the liver produces gets utilized, and the excess is stored in an organ housed between liver lobes called the gallbladder.

The Gallbladder

Between different lobes of the liver lies the dog’s gallbladder, a sac-like organ that serves as a storage for the bile that the liver produces. The gallbladder is connected to the bile duct which empties into the intestine. This common bile duct is also connected to several ducts from the liver and serves as the passage for the bile produced by the liver cells into the gallbladder.

When a dog ingests food that contains some fat, the gallbladder contracts to empty its bile contents into the intestine and help digest the fat in the diet for absorption. Without the help of bile acids produced by the liver and released by the gallbladder, a dog is not able to absorb fat molecules.

Health problems or conditions that affect the gallbladder will result in changes in the production and release of bile acids and fat metabolism. Additionally, gallbladder problems can result in severe health complications that can be life-threatening if not treated or addressed properly.

Common Types of Gallbladder Disease in Dogs

Diseases that affect the dog’s gallbladder often result in a wide variety of symptoms, depending on the specific cause. Dogs suffering from any form of gallbladder disease will often present with some degree of abdominal discomfort, a decrease in appetite, and generalized weakness.

Profuse vomiting can be observed in some patients, and in severe cases of gallbladder disease, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes) may occur. An infected gallbladder will often cause fever and marked lethargy in canine patients. Elevated liver enzymes and bile acids are often seen in dogs with gallbladder disease.

Below are some of the most common forms of gallbladder disease seen in dogs:

1. Bile Duct Obstruction

Bile duct obstruction is often associated with GI conditions such as pancreatitis, intestinal obstruction, hepatitis, and cancer. Inflammation of the tissues closely associated with the bile duct can cause obstruction and lead to the backflow and eventual build-up of bile in the gallbladder. Cholangitis, or inflammation of the bile duct system, can also lead to obstruction of the bile ducts.

Diagnosis of bile duct obstruction is based on laboratory tests, ultrasound, and radiographs. Visualization of the bile duct system through abdominal ultrasonography can confirm the presence of an obstruction in the bile duct. Medical treatment to control inflammation can help relieve the obstruction, but in some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary.

2. Cholecystitis (Inflammation of the Gallbladder)

Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) in dogs is often caused by bacterial infections, liver trauma, cancer, or bile duct obstruction. This results in the loss of appetite, abdominal pain, fever, profuse vomiting, and lethargy in affected dogs.

Cholecystitis can be diagnosed based on laboratory tests and ultrasound examination of the gall bladder. Confirmation is done through biopsy and bacterial culture of samples obtained from the gallbladder. Treatment usually requires complete removal of the gallbladder and subsequent antibacterial therapy to control the infection.

3. Gallstones

Diseases related to the presence of gallstones in a dog’s gallbladder, though uncommon, are usually seen in middle-aged to older dogs. Clinical signs of gallstones (cholelithiasis) in dogs include vomiting, loss of appetite, jaundice, abdominal pain and discomfort especially after eating, and fever. However, many dogs with gallstones are asymptomatic and do not show any outward signs of disease.

Ultrasound examination is often enough to confirm the presence of gallstones in the gallbladder. Dogs with gallstones who are not showing any severe symptoms of complication can be treated medically with antibiotics. Surgery is indicated in cases where gallstones obstruct the bile duct.

4. Gallbladder or Bile Duct Rupture

Rupture of the bile duct or gallbladder is often caused by bile duct obstruction or severe cholecystitis. The pressure from the accumulating bile causes the walls of the bile duct or the gallbladder itself to rupture, leading to leakage of bile into the abdomen. Less common causes of bile duct and gallbladder rupture are cancer and parasite infestation.

Leakage of the bile into the abdomen causes severe abdominal inflammation or peritonitis. All cases of gallbladder and bile duct rupture are considered an emergency, and immediate veterinary intervention, usually in the form of surgery, is needed to repair the rupture and remove the bile that leaked into the abdominal cavity.

Read more:

The Importance of Kidney Health and Function in Dogs and Cats

The Anatomy and Function of Your Pet’s Lymph Nodes

Your Pet’s Heart: A Guide to Understanding Heart Health in Dogs and Cats

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s gallbladder disease or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

Published: 12/14/2021

Are you concerned about your pet?

Book a video consultation with an experienced veterinarian within minutes.

Get started
  • Low-cost video vet consultations, 24 hours a day Low-cost video vet consultations, 24 hours a day
  • Experienced, licensed vets Experienced, licensed vets
  • Over 700,000 satisfied pet owners Over 700,000 satisfied pet owners
Low cost consultations, 24 hours a day.Low cost consultations, 24 hours a day.

With FirstVet, the vet clinic and pet shop are only one tap away. Get fast advice, trusted care and the right pet supplies – every day, all year round.


FirstVet Inc

900 3rd Ave 29th Floor


New York