Dog Gallbladder Attack Symptoms

Updated November 21, 2016

Dogs do not suffer from actual gallbladder "attacks" the way that humans do, although many of the same diseases can affect both species. Gallbladder disease is somewhat difficult to diagnose in dogs, because the symptoms are similar to those of other diseases. When the gallbladder is not functioning correctly, it can lead to problems with digestion, cause abdominal pain and create an imbalance of enzymes and nutrients.

The Gallbladder

The gallbladder is a balloon-like non-vital organ located between the lobes of the liver. The gallbladder stores bile, which is produced in the liver. Bile breaks down fats in partially digested food. The bile is stored in the gallbladder between meals, where it becomes concentrated and increases in potency. When bile is released from the gallbladder, it enters the small intestine through a tube called the bile duct. There are three main categories of disease that can affect the gallbladder: obstructive, non-obstructive, and rupture of the gallbladder or biliary ducts.


The symptoms of gallbladder disease resemble many other diseases, which makes diagnosis of gallbladder problems difficult. Symptoms may include loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, light coloured stools and jaundice. Some dogs may experience abdominal pain and fever. Gallbladder diseases are usually fairly progressed before diagnosis is made.

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam along with a complete blood count and blood serum analysis. He may take X-rays of the abdomen; however, the best diagnostic test is an abdominal sonogram.


Although some inflammatory problems can be treated with antibiotics, the best course of treatment is surgical removal of the gallbladder. Since the disease has usually progressed to a serious state before surgery, the chance of complications after surgery are usually high especially in the case of a rupture, Twenty to 50 per cent of dogs may not survive the first two to three days after surgery. After gallbladder removal, bile flows directly from the liver and is not as concentrated, so dogs should be fed a low-fat diet.

Obstructive Diseases

The most common reason for obstruction of the gallbladder in dogs is pancreatic disease. The inflammation of the pancreas puts pressure on the gallbladder, which keeps the gallbladder from constricting and releasing the bile.

Although uncommon, gallbladder stones (choleliths) may form and become lodged in the opening of the biliary duct, obstructing the flow of bile.

Mucocele is a build-up of mucous in the gallbladder which leads to decreased motility and a build-up of biliary sludge, which in turn may cause blockage of the bile duct.

Non-Obstructive Diseases

Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) can be caused by bacterial infection, obstruction from choleliths, cancer or inflammation of surrounding tissue.

Necrotizing cholecystitis is an infection in the gallbladder, and is a common cause of gallbladder rupture.

Emphysematous cholecystitis is a build-up of gases in the gallbladder and is caused by gas-producing bacteria such as E. coli or Clostridium perfringens.


When the gallbladder is unable to empty bile into the bile duct, it will become inflamed and infected, and this will ultimately lead to the gallbladder bursting or rupturing. This can also be a direct result of trauma such as being hit by a car.

A ruptured gallbladder is a true emergency. The bile and infectious material may leak into the abdomen causing peritonitis, which is an infection of the lining of the stomach, and is life threatening.

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