free shipping over $100 (USA & Canada)

1-877-937-4372 the pet expert hotline

free shipping over $100 (USA & Canada)

Gallstones in dogs and cats

Photo of a small chihuahua dog looking sick to represent gallstones in dogs and cats

Gallstones in dogs and cats can be found in the cystic duct, intrahepatic bile ducts and gallbladder. Cholelithiasis or gallbladder stones are rare in dogs and cats, being in many cases incidental examination findings, or often only found at necropsies. However, they can cause acute extrahepatic bile duct obstruction, so knowing what are the signs and being proactive can help protect your pet.

Symptoms of Gallstones in Pets

Gallstones are asymptomatic in many cases. There are a few clinical signs, however, usually associated with cholecystitis or biliary obstruction. They are:

  • Change in the behavior of the animal
  • Apathy
  • Anorexia
  • Progressive emesis
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness
  • Polyuria
  • Polydipsia
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy

What can cause gallstones?

Gallstones are formed from the precipitation of cholesterol in small crystals on the surface of the mucosa of the inflamed gallbladder, and as they accumulate, they form larger stones. Seeing as in dogs and cats the concentration of cholesterol is lower than compared to humans, this condition is quite uncommon.

Other conditions that can result in the formation of gallstones are inflammatory, infectious processes and bile stasis. Diets high in cholesterol and deficient in taurine (amino acid), or methionine-deficient nutrition can also cause stones in the gallbladder. and overproduction of bilirubin during hemolysis (destruction of erythrocytes/red blood cells).

There are some particularities about stones in the gallbladder in dogs and cats. In dogs, gallstones can result from the malabsorption of free calcium into the bile from the gallbladder. As for genetic predisposition, young female dogs of small breeds and middle-aged older male cats may be at greater risk of developing gallstones.

Photo of a vet testing a cat's blood to diagnose gallstones in dogs and cats

Diagnosing Gallstones in Dogs and Cats

If a gallstone diagnosis is suspected, the vet will examine the pet physically and might request detailed anamnesis and the following additional tests:

  • Complete blood count
  • Concentration of FA (alkaline phosphatase)
  • Concentration of ALT (alanine aminotransferase)
  • Cholesterol concentration
  • Serum bilirubin
  • Urinalysis
  • Plain radiography of the abdomen
  • Abdominal ultrasound

Treatment Options of Gallbladder Problems

In cases of inflammation in the gallbladder, inflammation of the bile duct system or cholangiohepatitis associated with gallstones, clinical therapy should be performed, which varies depending on the root cause and symptoms.

When there are associated clinical symptoms and a confirmed diagnosis, the definitive treatment is surgery. In these cases, the veterinarian will remove the organ, a technique called cholecystectomy or video laparoscopy. 

Before surgery, prophylaxis with antibiotic therapy should be performed. Dehydrated patients should also undergo fluid therapy to correct fluid and electrolyte imbalances resulting from vomiting.