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Yellow discoloration in your dog, known as jaundice or icterus, is due to a high concentration of bilirubin. This high amount of bilirubin leads to a significant breakdown of hemoglobin, which is present in your dog’s red blood cells. The breakdown of the red blood cells will result in the occurrence of jaundice. The yellow pigment will be seen on your dog’s skin, gums, whites of his eyes and ear flaps, If your dog has darker fur and/or gums, the condition may not be as noticeable.
The causes of jaundice can be broken down into three different categories:
The reason for your dog’s yellow color will be dependent upon its cause. For example:
When disease causes the destruction of liver cells or leads to bile being trapped in your dog’s liver, jaundice can occur. Liver disease can be caused by a poor diet, bacterial or viral infection, trauma, some prescription medications, toxicity, heartworms, a birth defect or liver abnormality. Your dog may also have a genetic predisposition. Your dog’s liver will process bilirubin to form bile. If he has a condition that destroys his liver cells, bilirubin will be released into his bloodstream.
Obstruction of the Bile Duct
Bile ducts transport bile, which is important in digestion, from the gallbladder to the small intestine. An obstruction can occur within the gallbladder or along the bile duct. An obstruction means that bile cannot complete its journey. The excess bile can result in jaundice. The obstruction can be due to pancreatitis, cholelithiasis, gallstones, cancers, infection, surgical complications or trauma.
Destruction of Red Blood Cells
When red blood cells are quickly destroyed in your dog’s body, bilirubin production will significantly increase and there will be too much for his body to process and eliminate. This can occur in the blood vessels, liver or spleen. In hemolytic anemia, antibodies will launch an attack on your dog’s red blood cells. This will result in jaundice among other symptoms, like swollen lymph nodes.
If you notice yellowing of your dog’s skin, gums, whites of his eyes and/or ear flaps, you will want to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, who will conduct a full physical examination. You will also be asked about any other symptoms you have observed in your dog along with details about his diet.
Depending on the what your veterinarian sees during the examination, he will likely consider further testing. A urinalysis can be utilized to determine your dog’s bilirubin levels as well as the levels of other electrolytes. A stool sample will be viewed for color and composition (pale stool can point to bile duct obstruction). In order to determine if liver disease is leading to jaundice in your dog, the following blood tests will be conducted: Alanine aminotransferase (ALT), Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and Aspartate aminotransferase (AST). If these tests confirm liver disease, a biopsy may be recommended to determine the cause of the disease. If your veterinarian suspects that jaundice is due to bile duct obstruction, he may recommend an ultrasound to take a look at the gallbladder and bile duct. X-rays may also be taken of your dog’s liver.
Once the cause of your dog’s jaundice has been determined, your veterinarian will recommend possible treatment.
It is important to feed your dog a healthy, well-rounded diet and ensure that he gets plenty of exercise. Some diseases that impact the liver can be avoided by providing your dog a diet that is not high in fats. There are vaccinations that can protect your dog against certain conditions that can lead to jaundice like hepatitis, adenovirus and leptospirosis.
Pancreatitis, the most common cause of bile duct obstruction, can be treated and your dog’s health maintained through a diet of food that is low fat and easy for him to digest.
The cost of jaundice in your dog will depend upon the cause of the condition. For example, should your dog experience bile duct obstruction, the cost of treatment will vary depending on the severity of the obstruction and the cost of living where treatment is obtained. Estimates are between $1,500 and $6,000. The national average for the treatment of jaundice in general is $2,200.
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