Liver Shunts in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Liver Shunts in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Liver Shunts in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Liver Shunts?

The portal vein is an important blood vessel which normally enters the liver and allows toxic elements in the blood to go through the normal detoxification process. When your dog has a liver shunt, the portal vein is not properly connected, and therefore, blood normally detoxified by the liver will bypass it and go directly back into circulation throughout the body. Additionally, the liver will often have poor development.

A congenital shunt is the most common liver shunt. A liver shunt acquired outside of genetics is usually seen as a secondary problem of the liver. A congenital shunt can present two ways; an extrahepatic shunt is found outside of the liver and is mostly seen in small breeds, while an intrahepatic one is found within the liver and is typically found in large breeds. 

A liver shunt is known medically as a portosystemic shunt, hepatic shunt, or PSS. 

Youtube Play

Symptoms of Liver Shunts in Dogs

Growing dogs with liver shunts may exhibit stunted growth. Dogs may also show signs of gastrointestinal distress, urinary issues, and unusual behaviors. Clinical symptoms of a liver shunt can include:

Types

There are two types of liver shunts.

  • Extrahepatic shunt outside of the liver
  • Intrahepatic shunt inside the liver

arrow-up-icon

Top

Causes of Liver Shunts in Dogs

A liver shunt can either be present at birth, or develop as a result of another medical condition of the liver. Causes include:

  • Congenital shunt caused by a genetic predisposition before birth
  • Acquired shunt caused by a complication due to progressive liver failure, or other liver problem


A congenital shunt is most common in certain predisposed breeds, including:

              arrow-up-icon

              Top

              Diagnosis of Liver Shunts in Dogs

              Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination, and will need your dog's medical history. Be sure to relate any symptoms your dog has been experiencing, along with any behavioral changes. Your veterinarian may also ask about your dog's eating habits, or if they may have come into contact with new animals or places in order to narrow down the possible problem.

              If your veterinarian suspects a liver shunt is occurring, they will conduct several tests, including blood tests, a urinalysis, and liver function tests that measure bile acids. These may be followed by imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, X-rays, CT scan, or nuclear scintigraphy. A portography test uses a special dye to help detect an issue with the liver and surrounding blood vessels. In many cases, a suspected case of a liver shunt is confirmed during surgery.

              Liver shunts can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog has liver shunts or is at risk, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Trupanion. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

              arrow-up-icon

              Top

              Treatment of Liver Shunts in Dogs

              Once your veterinarian has determined that your dog has a liver stunt, treatment can begin. While some cases can be managed with diet and medication, for some dogs a surgical procedure called a portosystemic shunt ligation can help by totally or partially cutting off the shunt to encourage blood flow back into the liver for detoxification. This procedure does require your dog to have anesthesia

              Due to the risk of anesthesia to dogs with a liver shunt, health stability is essential before surgery can begin. To balance the levels of electrolytes and restore your dog’s hydration, IV fluid therapy will be administered. Levels of ammonia should be lowered and toxins absorbed in the intestine using medications such as lactulose. Antibiotics could also be administered to reduce the level of ammonia and bacterial overgrowth. For dogs showing signs of diarrhea and vomiting, your veterinarian also may order gastric protection medication. 

              Not all dogs will require surgery, or can safely undergo the procedure, and may be treated with a diet change and medication. 

              arrow-up-icon

              Top

              Worried about the cost of Liver Shunts treatment?

              Pet Insurance covers the cost of many common pet health conditions. Prepare for the unexpected by getting a quote from top pet insurance providers.

              Recovery of Liver Shunts in Dogs

              Surgery to repair a liver shunt is generally successful, with 85% of dogs experiencing complete recovery. Another 10% may have recurrent symptoms and may need more care. A small percentage of dogs can experience severe symptoms after surgery that can lead to death.

              Once your dog has been released, keep an eye on any complications that may occur, such as abdominal swelling. You may need to clean and redress the incision site, and feed your dog a new or specialized diet. If the liver shunt was caused by a liver condition, your veterinarian will direct you on how to treat and manage the original condition.

              Your dog will need regular liver evaluation and check-ups throughout the rest of their life to ensure they stay healthy. Dietary therapy as prescribed by your veterinarian is often prescribed, as well as continued lactulose administration. 

              Liver shunts can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog has a liver shunt or is at risk, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

              arrow-up-icon

              Top

              Cost of Liver Shunts in Dogs

              Depending on your dog's condition, a portosystemic shunt ligation can range from $2,000 to $12,000. This should include surgery, medications, and hospitalization, with specialized diets and follow-up appointments adding to the cost. 

              arrow-up-icon

              Top

              Liver Shunts Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

              dog-name-icon

              Rory

              dog-breed-icon

              Westie

              dog-age-icon

              2 Years

              thumbs-up-icon

              2 found helpful

              thumbs-up-icon

              2 found helpful

              Has Symptoms

              Shaking
              Lethargy
              Disorientation

              My almost 2 years old dog was diagnosed with an congenital extrahepatic shunt of 10mm of diametre. The vet says she needs surgery to survive because she also started with neurological symptoms. Her liver couldn´t develop well because of the lack of nutrients but they say that it can recover. We took her to the vet because she started with neurological symptoms as blindness, disorientation, etc. She is already into prescribe diet and antibiotic. I want to know her chances of survival because the surgery is really expensive and I´m a student. I know that every surgery comes with a risk. What would you recommend? Thank you a lot for your time.

              Feb. 8, 2018

              Rory's Owner

              answer-icon

              Dr. Michele K. DVM

              recommendation-ribbon

              2 Recommendations

              Thank you for your email. Without examining Rory and knowing more about her specific situation, I'm not sure that I can comment on what her prognosis might be. For that, it would be best to talk with your veterinarian, as they know more details about her health status. It does sound like she needs the surgery if she is going to survive, so you need to take that into consideration when weighing risks and benefits for the surgery. Most clinics also offer CareCredit and other finance options to help with unexpected expenses like this. I hope that Rory does well.

              Feb. 8, 2018

              Was this experience helpful?

              dog-name-icon

              Sebastian

              dog-breed-icon

              Miniature Schnauzer

              dog-age-icon

              6 Years

              thumbs-up-icon

              1 found helpful

              thumbs-up-icon

              1 found helpful

              Has Symptoms

              Bladder Issues, Blood In Urine

              I have a 6-year-old Miniture Schnauzer in perfect health up until one year ago. So far he’s had 2-3 UIT, blood in urine 2x, “sand” in his bladder and urethra (seen on an ultrasound). Through test the vet has seen crystals in his urine, 1x high liver enzymes >280, but back to normal levels after 30 day re-test. My vet decided to do a Bile acid test, which was “alarmingly high”. A specialty Vet diagnosed Sebastian with having a liver shunt. I’ve read a lot of studies where surgery has a great outcome. However, since he has six I was told he has a great risk of not fully recovering. We’ve stared to medically manage. Are older dogs at a greater risk of not recovering after liver shunt surgery?

              Jan. 18, 2018

              Sebastian's Owner

              answer-icon

              Dr. Michele K. DVM

              recommendation-ribbon

              1 Recommendations

              Thank you for your email. Sebastian's recovery after surgery depends partly on what type of liver shunt that he has been diagnosed with. It would be a great question to ask the specialist, as they know all of the details of his particular case and can give you reasons why they think he may not recover fully, and what that means. Many dogs do well on medical management, as well, so depending on the answers that you get from the specialist and your veterinarian, that may be the route that you choose. I hope he does well.

              Jan. 18, 2018

              Was this experience helpful?

              Need pet insurance?
              Need pet insurance?

              Learn more in the Wag! app

              Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

              43k+ reviews

              Install


              © 2022 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.