Cholestasis in Dogs

Cholestasis in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Cholestasis?

The liver plays an important role in digestion. When an animal begins digestion of food, the liver secretes bile acids, enzymes and bicarbonates that all aid in the breakdown and absorption of fats in food.

The gallbladder may also play an important in cholestasis. The main function of the gallbladder is to take the bile produced by the liver and store it during times when the animal is not consuming or digesting food. In doing so, water is taken out of the gallbladder and the bile becomes very concentrated. This can pose many problems as concentrated bile salts and acids can result in the formation of gallstones.

Cholestasis is a term that refers to the dysfunction of the hepatobiliary system, where the circulation of bile from the liver and gall bladder may be inhibited.

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Symptoms of Cholestasis in Dogs

  • Jaundice
  • Lethargy
  • Sepsis
  • Polydypsia ( increased thirst)
  • Abdominal pain (colic)
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Diarrhea
  • Acholic stool( this essentially means that the feces may have a pale appearance as a result of lack of bile excretion)  
  • Vomiting or regurgitation
  • Discomfort may be seen as pacing, consistently trying to find a comfortable position
  • Fever

Often, veterinarians may have a hard time diagnosing the animal based on for either intrahepatic or extrahepatic cholestasis since the symptoms tend to overlap.


  • Intrahepatic cholestasis refers to the cessation of bile flow within the liver; this can occur within the epithelial lining of the liver such that the canaliculi may be obstructed in some way
  • Extrahepatic cholestasis often refers to the cessation of bile flow outside the liver; this may be associated with a physical obstruction of the bile duct system which may be either foreign bodies or inflammation

Causes of Cholestasis in Dogs

Intrahepatic cholestasis may be associated with:

  • Liver cell carcinoma
  • Cirrhosis
  • Tumors that metastasize
  • Leptospirosis 
  • Fibrosis
  • Inflammation or infection within the liver canaliculi itself

Extrahepatic cholestasis may be caused by either an intraluminal or extraluminal block within the biliary system. These can include:

  • Pancreatitis
  • Gallstone formation
  • Cholelithiasis
  • Pancreatic carcinomas
  • Carcinomas of the duodenum (part of small intestine)

Diagnosis of Cholestasis in Dogs

A veterinarian may request a liver biopsy and blood chemistry report to be done on your dog. The aim is to identify for:

  • Increased levels of bilirubin in the blood; this is referred to as hyperbilirubinemia
  • Increased levels of ALP, and GGT which are enzymes of the liver
  • As Vitamin K is fat soluble, any stagnation of bile may lead to a decrease in vitamin K absorption so levels must be evaluated
  • Hypercholesterolemia, which is increase cholesterol levels due to lack of fat absorption
  • Studies suggest that an increase in cholesterol may be more a more evident in dogs with extrahepatic cholestasis
  • Bile acid concentration may rise as a result of cholestasis

Ultrasounds and radiographs may be done in order to identify any gallstone formation or ulcers that may be present in the duodenum of your canine.

Treatment of Cholestasis in Dogs

Treatment for cholestasis is dependent on the type of cholestasis and the potential secondary infection that may arise. Should secondary bacterial infection occur then inflammation of the hepatic duct may be prevalent. Veterinarians may choose antibiotics and steroids best suited to your pet’s need. Most commonly, prednisolone approximately 0.5-1 mg/kg may be administered to your dog every 12 hours to treat lymphocytic inflammation.

In regards to intrahepatic cholestasis, treatment will involve controlling inflammation and infection, and supportive care to stimulate bile flow and production. In this case, veterinarians may use Ursodiol which is a drug that may increase bile flow as a result of increased excretion of bile acids and bilirubin.

Should this be a case of extrahepatic cholestasis where obstructions of the biliary tract are prevalent, then surgery may be needed in order to decompress the build up in pressure with the gallbladder and bile duct.

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Recovery of Cholestasis in Dogs

Because cholestasis may be caused by an array of factors it is hard to estimate the recovery time and specific management. Essentially, veterinarians will aim to treat the symptoms first and prevent them from worsening.

If your dog experiences symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting during the course of antibiotics then your veterinarian may suggest routine subcutaneous fluids to be administered in order to prevent dehydration. Antiemetics may be administered as well should vomiting and nausea occur during the course of recovery.

If your dog’s immune system has been compromised as a result of bacterial colonization, the veterinarian may administer probiotics along with the broad range antibiotics. Furthermore, diet may be restricted to low fat foods in order to prevent the liver from doing extra work.

Cholestasis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals


yellow labd border collie mix




11 Years


8 found this helpful


8 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Elevated Bile Acids
Elevated Liver Enzymes
These were the findings during my dog's senior wellness exam. He is an 11 year old yellow lab border collie mix who is showing no S&S of health issues. He is eating, playing, no weight loss, no excessive thirst. I didnt notice until the vet asked....but he does appear to be panting more than normal possible. Xrays did not show anything. My vet does not do ultrasound so they are recommending we drive out of town to an internist who does ultrasounds and get a liver biopsy. Does that sound right? We do not want to start expensive painful testing for no reason. AST 48 ALT 227 Alkaline Phos 1455 Cholesterol 677 Triglyceride 387 Proteinuria 3+ Pre and Post Post Meal Bile Acids 16.4 / 34.7

July 9, 2018

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

8 Recommendations

Cody's liver enzymes are moderately elevated, and his bile acids are also elevated which does mean that there is a problem with his liver, but in a dog with no clinical signs, we will often treat with medication and retest before pursuing further diagnostics. If he doesn't respond to medications, or if he starts to show signs, then we may pursue biopsies if possible. I don't know the rest of his lab work and can't examine him, so there may be a reason that your veterinarian wants to pursue those tests, but it may be reasonable to try medications first and see if his numbers improve.

July 10, 2018

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13 Years


6 found this helpful


6 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
No Eating
Red Urine
No Urine
HI My pet is 13year(pomeranian) old now she is facing of liver issues and not eating anything from last weekend however i have tested his blood in which liver and kidney test are not normal.ALP level is 1800 and billirubin direct and indirect are 1.2 & 1.3 respectively in kidney test blood urea is 241 and creatnine is 9. on last sunday she discharged redish liquid from her vagina and that fluid stopped by Monday also on Saturday she went red urine.

June 23, 2018

6 Recommendations

The liver and kidney values presented in the question are very high; however on their own are not specifically diagnostic since there are many causes for liver and kidney failure, it is important to determine the cause of these conditions so that the treatment can be better directed. Possible causes may include infections, age, cancer, poisoning among many other causes; in addition to treating any primary condition it is also important to manage the diet with low quantity high quality protein food as well as fluid therapy and liver support (Denamarin). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 24, 2018

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