Bile Duct Obstruction and Related Diseases (Cholestasis) in Dogs

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Key takeaways

Bile duct obstruction, or cholestasis, is when bile stops following through the biliary system in or around the liver.

  • The biliary tract is a system which aids digestion of fat, neutralizes stomach acid, and helps with metabolism
  • The system is made up of the gallbladder and bile ducts within the liver, and a short duct outside the liver which enters the intestine
  • Dogs with cholestasis present with jaundice and a variety of nonspecific symptoms including poor appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, and fever
  • Investigation of cholestasis involves identification of the underlying trigger and includes physical examination, blood work, urinalysis, and diagnostic imaging
  • Treatment options vary depending on the underlying disease process and may include medical or surgical management
  • Prognosis varies according to the underlying cause
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A closer look: Bile Duct Obstruction and Related Diseases (Cholestasis) in Dogs

Bile is an important digestive enzyme produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It is involved in breaking down fats and maintaining the acidity of stomach acid. Long term disruption of biliary processes can become life threatening if left untreated.

Symptoms of cholestasis vary depending on the root cause. For example, tumors usually present with chronic weight loss, and abdominal enlargement, whereas liver infections are more likely to present with fever and poor appetite.

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Risk factors

The severity of cholestasis varies depending on the underlying disease, but is always a serious presentation. Many triggers of cholestasis are life-threatening and diagnosis and treatment are often difficult. Dogs presenting with jaundice require urgent veterinary assessment.

Certain dog breeds are predisposed to liver disease such as Dobermans, West Highland White Terriers, and Bedlington Terriers.

Possible causes

Cholestasis has a variety of underlying causes. These are categorized according to whether the disease originates in the liver or not.

Main symptoms

Dogs with cholestasis present with jaundice. Other symptoms relate to the underlying disease process and are non-specific.

Testing and diagnosis

Investigation of cholestasis involves identification of the underlying trigger. Diagnostic tools include:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood work
  • Urinalysis
  • Liver biopsy
  • Diagnostic imaging

Steps to Recovery

Treatment options depend on the underlying trigger.

Medications that may be used include:

  • Liver support supplements
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-inflammatory medication

Surgery to repair damage to the biliary tract or to remove tumors or gallstones may be an option in some cases.

Onset of cholestasis may be acute or chronic, and the duration and prognosis vary significantly depending on the underlying disease. An acute onset bacterial liver infection, or temporary obstruction of the bile duct in the intestine often respond quickly to treatment, and have a good prognosis. Other cases, such as aggressive liver tumors, carry a poor prognosis.


Prevention of cholestasis focuses on management of underlying disease.

Certain infections are contagious, including Leptospirosis and Infectious Canine Hepatitis. Vaccines against these conditions are safe and widely available.

General nutritional management and regular vet check ups are the best way to prevent and detect some types of liver disease. Early intervention is best to maximize positive outcomes.

Are Bile Duct Obstruction and Related Diseases (Cholestasis) in Dogs common?

Since cholestasis is associated with a variety of underlying conditions, it is relatively common as a presentation of those primary diseases.

Typical Treatment

  • Liver support supplements
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti Inflammatory medication
  • Surgery


PetMD Editorial - Writing for PetMD
No Author - Writing for Wag!
No Author - Writing for Veterinary Specialty Center
Jacqueline Brister, DVM - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner

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