What Causes Jaundice in Dogs?

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Icterus or as it’s more commonly known, jaundice, is characterized by its yellow appearance on various parts of the body. It can happen to humans, and it can happen to any type of dog. There are many underlying conditions and types of jaundice in dogs, so it’s important to recognize the accompanying symptoms first, that way you can pin down a definitive diagnosis.

Symptoms of Jaundice in Dogs

Yellow discoloration is one symptom your dog won’t easily be able to hide, unless he has darker gums and skin. If your dog has jaundice, yellowness should appear in the following areas:

  • Whites of eyes
  • Skin
  • Gums
  • Ear flaps

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Discoloration usually presents with the following additional symptoms:

Causes of Jaundice in Dogs

Most people think that a failing liver is the cause of jaundice, and while it can often be just that, it can also be more complicated. Understanding the full scope of causes will help you narrow down your dog’s underlying condition.

The three types of causes are:

Liver disease – Certainly the most common reason jaundice occurs is because the regular function of healthy liver cells is being affected. Different forms of liver disease in dogs include:

  • Toxic substances or poisons, such as plants
  • Bacterial or viral infection
  • Cancer
  • Auto-immune disease

With so many sub-causes of liver disease, it’s crucial to work with your vet to pinpoint the exact nature of their ailment. It may be the difference in helping to restore your pups health.

Obstruction in the bile duct – This is medically referred to as post-hepatic jaundice because along the path of blood flow, it occurs after the liver. After the liver, it is the gall bladder’s job to help drain the waste, but if there’s a problem with the gall bladder, bilirubin will build up. The causes of bile duct obstruction include:

Destruction of red blood cells – Pre-hepatic jaundice occurs when red blood cells are broken down faster than the liver can metabolize it, resulting in excess bilirubin. This is commonly caused by:

Diagnosing Jaundice in Dogs

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Due to the nature of jaundice and its wide array of causes, a blood test, urinalysis, and biochemistry profile are almost always necessary. X-rays and ultrasounds will help rule out the presence of a tumor or physical obstruction. Biopsies of the liver are often required in order to troubleshoot the exact cause of the problem.

Treating Canine Jaundice

Jaundice is only the result of an underlying disease, it is not a disease itself. Therefore, in order to properly treat it, the diagnosis has to be accurate. Recovery varies, because there are so many different types of causes.  I.e. Your dog may require surgery if a tumor is the culprit; if it’s an advanced case, intensive long-term care may be necessary; a blood transfusion might be the solution if he is anemic; antibiotics are required for bacterial infections. The list goes on. But in general, with most cases the vet will prescribe a specialized nutritional diet, lots of rest, and extra attention as needed.

Unfortunately, the causes of jaundice are typically not a quick fix. The cost usually ranges from $500 to $8,000, based on the diagnosis.

Some bacterial and viral infections that lead to jaundice are preventable. Be sure to ask your vet about vaccinations and how they can help with prevention.

Life After Recovery

Again, it all depends on your dog’s specific diagnosis, but there are some important things to note for when your dog gets back to his healthy, tail-wagging self. The internal organs involved, such as the liver or gall bladder, will be extra sensitive, and caution should be taken with exactly what you feed your dog.

Your vet can help you determine the right meal plan. Also, dogs are natural explorers, so it’s recommended to keep an extra close eye on them to ensure they don’t ingest anything toxic.

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