The liver performs many vital functions in a dog’s body. However, it may also be susceptible to certain issues that may endanger their health. Liver shunts, for example, can be a serious health issue in dogs, especially if it is left untreated. To better understand it, let us delve into what a liver shunt is exactly, which dogs may be more susceptible to it, and how it can be treated.

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  1. What Is a Liver Shunt
  2. Causes of Liver Shunts in Dogs
  3. Symptoms of Liver Shunt in Dogs
  4. Treatment for Liver Shunts in Dogs
  5. Prognosis for Liver Shunts in Dogs
  6. FAQs
  7. Conclusion

What Is a Liver Shunt

To illustrate, let us first look into the anatomy and functions involved. Normally, the portal vasculature system drains the blood that carries hormones, nutrients, and waste from the digestive system into the liver before it is transported to the systemic circulation of the body. The liver carries what they need for proper functioning and detoxifies the blood before letting it travel to the rest of the body.

So what is a liver shunt in dogs and how does it affect the above process? A liver shunt or portosystemic shunt (PSS) is a vascular deviation where abnormal vessel/s allow blood to flow from the digestive system directly into the systemic circulation, bypassing or shunting the liver. As a result, hepatic growth isn’t encouraged, causing the liver to be underdeveloped, which leads to lack of protein supply and abnormal metabolism of fat and protein. In addition, toxins (both exogenous and endogenous) accumulate instead of normally metabolizing or being eliminated.

Causes of Liver Shunts in Dogs

What causes liver shunt in dogs? To explain this, liver shunts in dogs can be categorized as either congenital (inborn) or acquired.

Congenital Liver Shunts

The most common type, congenital shunts amount for around 80% of liver shunt cases in dogs. Typically, dogs with congenital liver shunts start showing symptoms at an early age (often below 3 years of age), so a liver shunt in puppies is likely congenital.

Congenital portosystemic shunts result from one of the following:

  1. Ductus venosus stays open - this happens when the ductus venosus from the placenta stays open and intact after bypassing the liver.
  2. Abnormal development of blood vessel/s - this happens when the abnormal blood vessel stays open even when the ductus venosus has closed in the utero.

Among the dog breeds commonly affected by congenital liver shunts are:

  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Maltese
  • Irish Wolfhounds
  • Beagles
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Australian Cattle Dogs
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Old English Sheepdogs

Acquired Liver Shunts

This type of liver shunt is typically acquired when high blood pressure results within the veins that connect the digestive system to the liver - often due to liver disease such as cirrhosis. Oftentimes, dogs that develop acquired liver shunts get it when they’re older.

Having a pet camera such as the Petcube Cam can help you detect behaviors that may possibly indicate health issues such as liver shunts. It’s an affordable, smart, and HD pet camera with a 24/7 online vet. That way, you can easily monitor your pet.

Symptoms of Liver Shunt in Dogs

Generally, dogs with liver shunts may exhibit a combination of the following symptoms:

Monitoring our dogs is important especially when it comes to checking in on their health. Detecting any signs and symptoms can go a long way in being able to address them early on. If your dog shows symptoms of liver shunt in dogs for example, bringing them to the vet for proper diagnosis can be life-saving.

The Petcube Cam 360 is a great way to be able to monitor our pets 24/7. The camera has a 1080p full HD video, 360-degree panoramic view, and an 8 x zoom capacity for the details. With the Petcube Cam 360, you can easily spot when something’s out of the ordinary. Not to mention, you also get access to a 24/7 online vet service, allowing you to consult with certified vets about your pet concerns.

Treatment for Liver Shunts in Dogs

Treatment would depend on the type of liver shunt a dog has, their overall condition, and their age.

For example, small dog breeds with congenital shunts only have one abnormal blood vessel situated outside of their liver, making them good candidates for surgery. Meanwhile, large breed dogs with shunts often have a single shunt within the liver. While surgery is still the usual recommendation, the procedure may be more complicated than the former. On the other hand, dogs that have acquired shunts usually have several abnormal vessels so surgery may not be advised due to their underlying condition.

Medical management of liver shunts may help improve a dog’s condition in the following cases — before surgery, when surgery is not an option, or when surgery may not fully solve the issue. Typically, veterinarians recommend a diet that has just the right amount of protein without the excess, reducing byproducts such as ammonia in their system. Research also suggests that soy-based protein may be more beneficial to patients compared to meat-based protein. Smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day may also help.

Certain medications may also be of big help in the medical management of a dog’s liver shunt. Antibiotics, for example, are often prescribed to reduce gut bacteria. Oral lactulose may also help encourage healthier transit of stool as well as reduce the pH level in their gut, thus reducing ammonia absorption.

Because Liver Shunts may also be serious, having the support that you need in case of any pet emergency would go a long way. Petcube understands this, thus establishing the Pet Emergency Fund. So how does it work? Simple. Having a Pet Emergency Fund subscription gives you $3000 yearly for pet emergencies for upto 6 pets. Not to mention, you don’t have to worry about paying the bill since they pay your clinic directly. You also get access to a 24/7 online vet service for emergency triage and first aid advice. All these features help you focus on your pet’s treatment and recovery.

Prognosis for Liver Shunts in Dogs

A number of factors may affect the prognosis of dogs with liver shunts. These factors may include the underlying cause, the severity of symptoms, and whether surgery is done.

According to Dr. Karen Tobias, a University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine professor of small animal soft tissue surgery and board-certified surgeon, about one third of dogs that have liver shunts can be managed successfully by a change in diet along with medications. Dogs with liver shunts situated outside the liver and undergo surgery using ameroid constrictors or cellophane bands have a high chance of success. On the other hand, shunts within the liver are more complicated but prognosis may still be good after surgery.

In one study involving 126 dogs with a congenital liver shunt, patients that underwent surgery had significantly survived longer than patients that were only medically treated. 90% of those who had surgery and 63% of those who had medical treatment were still alive 1500 days after.


What is an example of homemade dog food for liver shunt?

Note that a liver shunt diet for dogs should consist of not more than 18% protein (which should ideally come from good quality egg, dairy, or vegetable protein). They would also benefit from a low-purine diet with a mix of nuts, fats, dairy, fruits, and vegetables.

The University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine. recommends a chicken and cottage cheese diet with a recipe of: 2 cups of white rice, 1 cup of 2-percent-fat cottage cheese, 4 ounces of dark meat chicken, 4 tablespoons of canola oil, and 2 ounces of mixed vegetables. To add to this recipe is eight scoops of canine multivitamin supplement and L-Methionine for liver health.

Dog liver shunt surgery cost - What are the estimates?

liver shunt in dogs surgery cost would depend on various factors. If it is extrahepatic, workup and surgery estimate is $3,500 - $5,000, depending if CT is needed as well. If it is intrahepatic, workup and surgery estimate is $4,800 - $7,500 for open surgery and $8,500 - $10,000 for the coiling procedure. More details here.

Is there a liver shunt testing for puppies?

There is currently no genetic test to determine if a dog or puppy is predisposed to portosystemic shunts. However, dog breeds that are commonly affected include: Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese, and Miniature Schnauzer.


A liver shunt in a dog may either be congenital or acquired. Depending on the type, symptoms, a dog’s condition, and their age, treatment options may vary. Treatment may include surgery and medical management (including diet and medications). Because liver shunts can be serious, if you detect any signs in your dog, it is best to have them checked with their veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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