A closer look: Yellow Eyes or Skin (Jaundice) in Dogs
The concentration of bilirubin in the bloodstream needs to be approximately six times higher than normal before outward signs of jaundice are noticeable. This concentration of bilirubin is indicative of serious liver damage and malfunction. Bilirubin is toxic at high levels, and can cause injury to the liver, kidney, and brain.
Jaundice is a clear indication of a serious issue; it is not something that resolves on its own. Dogs showing signs of jaundice require prompt veterinary care. **Dogs that have pale gums, weakness, extreme lethargy, or collapse require emergency medical care. **
There are a wide variety of conditions that cause jaundice. The liver is essential in filtering various substances and wastes from the bloodstream, including bilirubin. In dogs with liver disease, the liver does not function properly, making it difficult to remove bilirubin.
A common cause of jaundice in dogs is immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. In this condition, the body falsely recognizes red blood cells as foreign entities, and begins attacking them. With higher numbers of blood cells being destroyed, higher levels of bilirubin are produced and the liver cannot keep up with excretion. The presence of toxins in the body can also cause the destruction of red blood cells and lead to jaundice as can bile duct obstructions which prevent normal filtration of bilirubin.
Elevated levels of bilirubin cause a variation in the intensity of yellow pigment visible through the membranes, and is not indicative of the severity of disease. Any condition that causes jaundice can produce mild, moderate, or severe jaundice, depending on the amount of bilirubin that accumulates. Generally, conditions that impact bilirubin excretion, such as bile duct obstructions, cause more severe yellowing of the tissue.
Testing and diagnosis
Jaundice itself is simple to diagnose as it is a clearly visible symptom. Further tests are needed to determine the underlying cause and may include:
- Physical examination
- Blood tests
- Diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays or ultrasound
- Liver biopsy
Treatment is different depending on the cause and each individual patient. Possible approaches include:
- Liver protectants
- Medications specific to the underlying condition
- Fluid therapy
- Blood transfusions
Considering the very characteristic yellowing of the skin and membranes, it is difficult to mistake other symptoms for jaundice.