What Causes Gallstones in Dogs?

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What Causes Gallstones in Dogs?
Smaller breed dogs, such as poodles, are more succeptible developing gallstones. (poodle image by palms from Fotolia.com)

Dogs, like their human companions, have gall bladders, small, balloon-shaped organs that store bile the liver creates. Bile flows from the liver through a bile duct into the gall bladder, then out through another duct into the small intestines, where it aids in digestion. When problems with the bile and its flow occur, gallstones can develop. Smaller breeds, such as miniature schnauzers and poodles, are more prone to developing gallstones, according to PetMD.

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Gallstone Symptoms

Gallstones in dogs often form when the gall bladder fails to properly move bile into the small intestines, resulting in a slowing of the bile in the gall bladder. Gallstones can cause inflammation in the gall bladder, blocking the bile ducts. That may cause hepatitis and erode the gall bladder's walls. Vomiting, listlessness, jaundice, abdominal sensitivity and diarrhoea are symptoms a veterinarian needs to treat. Treatment typically includes antibiotics and stone-dissolving medicines, says veterinarian Dr. Tracy Dewhirst.

Gallstone Formation

A dog's gall bladder's primary function is to store and transport bile. If the bile becomes "supersaturated" with calcium, pigment, cholesterol or other secretions, gallstones form, according to PetMD. Tumours and the routine shedding of dead cells also can cause gallstones. Gallstones primarily consist of bile, calcium, proteins, salts and cholesterol deposits. If the stones are causing the dog health problems, a veterinarian may perform blood tests to check enzyme levels or give the dog an ultrasound to assess the gall bladder's condition. Medications that dissolve gallstones and boost bile flow typically are prescribed.


Gallstones in dogs typically do not cause any discomfort or medical problems. They often are discovered when the dog receives an X-ray or an ultrasound for another issue, Dewhirst says. However, gallstones can develop as a secondary problem resulting from a previous infection, or cause inflammation in the gall bladder that leads to infection. If gallstones become problematic for the dog and infection is the diagnosis, a round of antibiotics is generally advised.

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