I wanted to blog my story about our Patterdale terrier Blake getting his diagnosis of a liver shunt. A liver shunt in dogs can be quite serious and we were of course worried when he started to display signs of this. However, if you are prepared to pay for their medical treatment and make amendments to lifestyle (such as diet or medication) it is still possible for a dog to live comfortably with a liver shunt.
Medical Disclaimer: I am sharing my story as a dog owner, and I am not a vet or medical professional. Please do not rely on this blog for medical advice, always visit your veterinarian.
What is a Liver Shunt in Dogs?
A liver shunt is a medical problem often found in dogs when veins that should carry blood to the liver bypass the liver through an abnormal vessel. It is a congenital condition which means that it is usually present from birth. However, although many dogs are diagnosed young, it is possible that the signs or symptoms of a liver shunt don’t present themselves until the dog is maybe 4 or 5 years old (like what happened with our Blake).
If the liver is not doing its job properly, this allows blood to enter the dogs body without going through the livers infiltration process. This means that the blood is not fully removed of toxins.
It’s often called a portosystemic liver shunt or a portosystemic shunt. There are two types of shunt: extrahepatic shunt (those which are accessible outside the liver) or intrahepatic shunts (those which pass through the substance of the liver).
Signs and symptoms of a Dog Liver Shunt
There are many signs and symptoms of a liver shunt in dogs. However, be aware that some of these may not present themselves when a dog has a liver shunt. Also, dogs may display these symptoms but have another condition such as epilepsy. Take these as a guide only and remember to always seek veterinarian advice if your dog is unwell.
- Excessive Thirst
- Frequently throwing up what appears to be ‘bile sick’ (yellow)
- Funny turns or seizures
- Stunted Growth
- Poor muscle development
Blake’s Story – Diagnosing a dog Liver Shunt
Our Patterdale terrier Blake started to display some signs of being unwell in February 2022. He would throw up yellow ‘bile’ sick more frequently than a dog usually would. In the middle of February he had what we thought was a ‘funny turn’ or a bit of a seizure. A couple of weeks later he had a full blown seizure where he was floored and lost control of his legs. It was upsetting and scary to witness.
The vet did several blood tests, some which came back normal, but there was a slightly inflated protein marker. The vet said that they wanted to do an indicative test for a liver shunt and we agreed (thankfully Blake was insured).
The next test involved Blake eating a nice fatty meal! So he had a blood test at the vets at 9.30am. He then went home and ate his fatty meal and came back for a second blood test exactly 2 hours later. When the vet called with the results, he said that he would be concerned by anything over 20 and his marker was 60!
So the next step was for him to had a coagulation test to make sure that his bloods were clotting properly. That meant that he could have a biopsy to formalise the diagnosis. We are currently awaiting the results but the signs point to it being a dog liver shunt. It’s likely that he is going to need surgery, depending on the location of the shunt, so we will keep you updated.
Treating and managing a liver Shunt in Dogs
There are several ways to treat or manage a dog that has a liver shunt. It will depend on the location and the severity of the liver shunt as to which treatment option your vet chooses. Yje main options are surgery, medication or control by diet.
Surgery for dogs with Liver Shunts
Some liver shunts are operable and with a successful operation over 80% of dogs with operable liver shunts will continue to lead a good and healthy normal life. Dogs with a single easily accessible extrahepatic shunt can often be cured by surgery. However, dogs with multiple shunts are intrahepatic shunts are more difficult to cure surgically.
Medication for dogs with Liver Shunts
Your vet may recommend medication for your dog either with or without surgery. Make sure that you follow your vets guidelines on administering the medication according to the time schedule recommended.
Helping your Dog with Diet
A liver shunt can be helped by considering your dogs diet and avoiding too much protein. The best options for dogs with liver shunts include human snacks such as animal crackers and breakfast cereal, meat free dog biscuits or non-toxic vegetables.
Will my Insurance Pay out?
It’s really important that if your dog is insured, you read the fine print. Remember that your insurance company is likely to request the last 2 years of history (including any
Lifespan of a dog with a liver shunt
If your dog has been diagnosed with a liver shunt, you may be concerned about his or her life The good news is that some liver shunts are completely curable by surgery and so there is a possibility that it can be cured and your dog will live as long a life as normally expected. However, this will depend on the location of the shunt and how many there are (your dog could have more than one).
If your dog has one or several serious liver shunts it may mean that your dog has a reduced expectancy and some dogs with this condition are estimated to have roughly 6 months to 2 years to live. It’s important to remember that every case is different and so it is important that you ask your vet this question.
If you enjoyed this article you might also like to read about Patterdale terrier health problems