Cholecystitis in Dogs

Cholecystitis in Dogs
July 13, 2019

Cholecystitis is a generalised term for inflammation of the gall bladder, it can happen in every animal, and it is not an uncommon condition to be diagnosed in dogs. 

The gallbladder has multiple roles and if something goes wrong, many organ systems can be affected. The gallbladder is located in the abdomen right next to and firmly fixed to the liver. The gallbladder acts a receptacle for the bile which is essential for digesting food in the intestines and stomach. 

As the gallbladder is in a connected system with the small intestine and liver, if something goes wrong with any of these organs, all of them can fail to function properly. 


The most common condition of gallbladder inflammation is gallstones which can lead to obstructions or inflammations anywhere in the bile duct or liver system. If the gallstones are large enough or are too great in number they can result in a ruptured gallbladder or further inflammation of the bile duct and lead to a condition called peritonitis. More often than not, if peritonitis occurs, your dog will need both medical treatments and surgery. Furthermore, dogs who have experienced enlarged livers are more likely to experience gallbladder cancer. So, Cholecystitis can ultimately be fatal, yet, if you seek treatment as soon as possible for your pet, their chances of making a significant recovery drastically improves. 

There are no dog breeds which suffer from Cholecystitis more than any others, it can also occur at any age and with any gender. However, malignant gallbladder disease is more prevalent in middle-aged or older dogs. 

Types and Symptoms of Cholecystitis in Dogs 


 The most common symptoms of Cholecystitis include: 

  1. Loss of appetite
  2. Vomiting and other stomach issues
  3. Abdominal pain
  4. Lack of appetite  
  5. Jaundice (look out for a yellowing of the eyes and gums
  6. Visible signs that your pet is in a state of shock such as low temperature, weak and rapid pulse and pale gums.
  7. Feel for signs of adhesions and inflammation in the gallbladder which is located in the upper right abdomen

Causes of Cholecystitis in Dogs 


 There are multiple causes for Cholecystitis, as the issue could be due to problems with the bile duct or the gallbladder. 

One of the more common reasons for Cholecystitis is due to the muscles in the gallbladder malfunctioning. This can cause the bile flow to the gall bladder to be impaired and lead to an irritation of the gallbladder. Another cause for Cholecystitis is the blood supply to the gallbladder becoming restricted – if this is the case Cholecystitis won’t be the primary condition to treat, it is imperative to resolve the cause of the restriction to improve the blood flow. 

Irritants can also find their way into the bile; this can cause the bile duct to be extremely sensitive and overly reactive. 

Dogs who have had previous trauma to the abdomen or abdominal surgery may be more prone to Cholecystitis and other forms of internal sensitivity which affects the gallbladder, liver, and internal organs. 

There are also common intestinal disorders which your vet may want to check for, usually, these will be intestinal disorders which affect the levels of bacteria in the gallbladder, bloodstream, and intestine.

Not many people know that E. coli is a natural component of gut bacteria, it serves the job of protecting the intestines from other harmful bacteria. However, there are problematic and dangerous strains of E. Coli which can cause inflammation of the gallbladder which will also involve an excess of gas in the gallbladder. These dangerous E. Coli strains are commonly associated with a form of diabetes.

Rarer causes of gallbladder inflammation include abnormal gallbladder development and the presence of parasites in the bile duct.

How Cholecystitis is Diagnosed in Dogs 


 Cholecystitis shares the symptoms of a great number of other conditions. The tests which your vet will want to carry out include examinations for: 

  1. Pancreatitis
  2. Peritonitis
  3. Gastroenteritis
  4. Gallstones
  5. Inflammation in any part in the system which carries bile along with surrounding liver tissues
  6. Destruction of the cells in the liver
  7. Abscesses in the liver  
  8. Blood poisoning
  9. Cancer
  10. Too much thickened bile present in the gallbladder

Tests will typically include blood tests, urinalysis tests, and potentially X-Rays or ultrasound scans on the abdomen. This will help your vet to get a clearer idea of what is going on in your dog’s internal systems.

Your vet will also want a full run-down of your dog’s medical history before starting any of the treatment. How your dog will be treated will depend on the cause for the Cholecystitis and the severity of the condition. 

We’ve outlined the most common practices below, but just be aware that treatment plans will differ greatly depending on your dog’s condition. 

Treatment of Cholecystitis in Dogs 


 For the less severe cases of Cholecystitis, dogs may not need to be hospitalised and outpatient care may only involve the prescription for a course of antibiotics and or medication which can dissolve the gallstones. 

If your dog’s Cholecystitis condition is more serious, they may require inpatient care as there are critical complications which come along with this condition. When hospitalised, your dog may need pre-surgical evaluations, or IV fluids to restore the correct level of fluids in each organ system along with balancing the electrolytes in the body. If your dog’s condition is incredibly severe, their vitals will need to be monitored permanently. Monitoring urine output is also essential, however, the biggest concern is low blood pressure which can lead to cardiac arrest. 

Some dogs may also require whole blood transfusions, this is more common with dogs who have lost blood either externally or internally. If surgery is required, the most common procedure is a gallbladder resection.