What You Need to Know About Canine Gallbladder Disease

A gallbladder mucocele can be easy to recognize on an ultrasound examination. Filled almost to bursting with a sludgy substance, it bears a striking resemblance to a cross-section of a strawberry or a kiwi fruit. A gallbladder mucocele usually develops gradually, and dogs may not show signs until the condition is advanced.

Worst case? The gallbladder can rupture if it becomes too full. That’s life-threatening, so if there’s a likelihood that the gallbladder will burst, it can be removed surgically in a procedure known as a cholecystectomy. Removing the gallbladder — which isn’t an essential organ — helps the dog feel better and prevents a possible rupture.

Surgical removal is usually the best option for young or middle-aged dogs who are otherwise healthy. The liver continues to make bile, which simply passes through the common bile duct into the intestines instead of being stored in the gallbladder. If you have an older dog with no signs who isn’t obstructed, your veterinarian may take a wait-and-see approach, monitoring the dog with ultrasound and physical exams.

Depending on the cause, cholecystitis may respond to antibiotics, or antibiotics and steroids, to reduce the inflammation. Gallstones are acutely painful and may need to be removed surgically.

Every once in a while, we might be doing an abdominal ultrasound for some other reason, and the ultrasonographer will note that there’s a stone in the gallbladder or that it’s starting to get a buildup of sludgy material. If the liver enzymes are normal and the dog isn’t having any related problems, we usually don’t recommend any treatment at that time.

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