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What are Passing Greyish Stools?

While it probably isn’t a favorite pastime, paying careful attention to the color, size, and consistency of your dog’s stools is one of the best ways to monitor the state of his health. A healthy dog’s stool is normally moist, firm but not hard, and brown, with a mild odor. If your dog’s stool deviates from any of these qualities, you should pay extra-careful attention to his health, as something may be seriously wrong with his digestion.

  • Bile duct obstruction
  • Gallbladder obstructions
  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatic hypoplasia
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)

Though all of these conditions are treatable, they are also serious, and require veterinary assessment and treatment. Don’t ignore your dog’s abnormal stool.

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Why Passing Greyish Stools Occurs in Dogs

Greyish stools, sometimes combined with mucus, are a likely indicator that your dog is

having digestive issues related to his bile, usually located in the pancreas or gallbladder. Bile is very important for the functioning of your dog’s immune system, as it destroys fungus and bacteria, neutralizes toxic stomach acids, and helps food move to the small intestine. When bile is blocked, it can no longer perform these important functions. 

Bile Duct Obstruction

Bile is an important substance for the digestive process. When the bile duct is blocked, bile cannot pass normally through the liver, gallbladder, and intestines. This means that bile builds up in the liver, and digestion stops. Also known as cholestasis, bile duct obstruction is caused by pancreatitis, or an inflamed pancreas, in which enzymes become prematurely activated while in the pancreas. It is found more often in middle-aged to older dogs, and is more likely to occur in Miniature Schnauzers and Shetland Sheepdogs than other breeds. 

Gallbladder Issues

Just as the bile ducts can become blocked, your dog can also suffer from gallbladder obstruction. The gallbladder is the midway digestive point between the liver and the pancreas. The liver delivers bile to the gallbladder, which then normally moves to the pancreas. If the gallbladder is obstructed, the bile cannot move on, and digestion is disrupted. Gallbladder obstruction can be caused by an inflamed pancreas, cancer, a parasitic infection, deformed bile ducts, or a high fat diet.

Gallstones are another bile-related digestive problem originating in the gallbladder. Also known as choleliths, gallstones are solid particles that are made up of bile, cholesterol, bacteria, proteins, and calcium salts. They can be very small, but larger gallstones can cause gallbladder obstruction. Both gallbladder obstruction and gallstones are signaled by jaundice, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, low energy, fever, and vomiting. Dogs of any breed, age, or sex can suffer from gallbladder issues.

Pancreatic Problems

If bile does not become blocked in the gallbladder or contribute to gallstones, it can create problems in the pancreas. A normal pancreas produces insulin and enzymes, both necessary for your dog’s proper physical functioning. In the case of pancreatic hypoplasia, the dog’s pancreas is underdeveloped, and cannot properly perform its digestive functions.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is another enzyme-related problem in the pancreas. In EPI, your dog’s digestive system does not have enough enzymes to properly break down food for digestion. This can be caused by pancreatitis, or by the pancreas radically slowing in function before the dog is 2 years old; both of these conditions may be inherited. Pancreatic problems are most often seen in large breeds, such as German Shepherds, Collies, Doberman Pinschers, Saint Bernards, Irish Setters, and Labrador Retrievers.

What to do if your Dog is Passing Greyish Stools

In each of the above conditions—bile duct obstruction, gallbladder obstruction, gallstones, pancreatic hypoplasia, and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency—your dog should immediately be examined by a veterinarian. All of these are disorders related to your dog’s digestion, on which so much of its health rests. 

Bile duct obstruction can be very damaging to both the liver and the gallbladder if untreated, but is easily treatable, as is pancreatic hypoplasia. Pancreatitis, the most common cause of bile duct obstruction, pancreatic hypoplasia, and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are most often treated through a diet and special enzyme supplements.

Although some gallstones are small enough to be dissolved using a medication, both gallstones and gallbladder obstruction usually require surgery. A dog with gallstones may have its gallbladder entirely removed, while a dog with gallbladder obstruction may have surgery to remove the obstruction. Your dog must maintain a low-fat diet following surgery, and for the remainder of his life.

Prevention of Passing Greyish Stools

While pancreatic hypoplasia and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are both genetically linked, thus not preventable, pancreatitis is behind many cases of bile duct obstruction, gallbladder obstruction, and gallstones. While there are other causes of pancreatitis, a rich, high-fat diet is often a factor, and overweight or obese dogs are more likely to develop pancreatitis. Thus, to prevent the greyish stools that come from bile-related disorders based in pancreatitis, keep your dog’s weight down by feeding him a low-fat diet.

Cost of Passing Greyish Stools

The average national cost of treating bile duct obstruction and gallstones is $3000, while it costs an average of $4000 to treat gallbladder obstruction. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and pancreatic hypoplasia, typically receiving low-impact treatment such as dietary changes and enzymatic therapy, have no particular medical cost.