Jaundice (the medical term is icterus) refers to an excessive accumulation of a yellow pigment in the mucous membranes of the nostrils, sclera, gingiva, genitals, pinnae, and other areas.
This is due to the high concentration of yellowish bile pigment called bilirubin formed as a result of a breakdown of hemoglobin present in red blood cells (RBCs). Usually, this pigment is excreted, but if the dog’s body can’t excrete it fast enough or too much bilirubin is produced, there is an accumulation that results in icterus.
Jaundice is considered to be a symptom, not a disease in its own right. Many conditions have an effect on this process in dogs.
You must find out what is wrong with your dog before you can try to deal with the symptoms of jaundice.
Symptoms Of Jaundice
Liver Disease and Obstruction
- Abdominal swelling and pain
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Increased urine output with an orange color
- Pale stools(In cases of obstruction)
- Chronic fatigue
- An unstable walk.
- Blood clotting problems (as the liver cannot make some clotting factors)
- Liver cirrhosis
- Fluid-filled abdomen
- Neurological signs (Disorientation, Compulsive pacing, Head pressing, etc)
Symptoms Caused by Red Blood Cell Destruction
- Black or “tarry” stools, or dark blood in feces or urine (hematuria) or vomit
- Bruises, or worse bruises, than usual on the skin (purpura)
- Swelling of the face or jaw
- Loss of appetite
- Labored breathing
- Exercise intolerance
- Pale gums, ears, and eyes (masked by jaundice)
- Pica (e.g. Eating sand)
Treatment Options For Jaundice
For liver diseases:
The primary disease needs to be taken care of before your dog will have any chance of surviving. Diagnosis of obstructive liver disease should be early, then only the problem can be treated successfully.
Jaundice secondary to red blood cell destruction:
The primary cause of destruction should be addressed.
Ehrlichiosis, for instance, your vet will treat your dog with an antibiotic (such as antibiotic doxycycline).
Any additional treatments will be provided based on the dog’s clinical condition. (anemic dogs that also have Ehrlichiosis will be given blood transfusion)
For Infectious causes, treatment is targeted toward the breaching pathogen.
Broad-spectrum antibiotics are initially started and once cultures and blood tests have been obtained, then the antibiotic choice may be changed
For the anorexic, nauseated, and systemically ill dogs, hospitalization for supportive therapy such as intravenous fluids might be required.
Home Remedies For Jaundice
No matter how badly you want relief for your dogs or what you hear from other dog owners, talk with your vet before trying any home remedy.
Milk Thistle - 50 mg for each pound
Vitamin E - 400 IU
S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAM-e) - Try to find pills as close to the dog’s recommended daily dose as possible
Zinc: Fore liver disease associated with the copper buildup
Turmeric: 1 tsp/ daily for a large dog
Artichoke: Artichoke “liver cure” pills are available
Dandelion: Dandelion leafs to reduce liver fat accumulation
Practitioners also recommend methionine, natrium sulphate, and Carnitine.
Prevention Of Jaundice
Prevention from Jaundice can be done only by preventing underlying causes. Pet owners should discuss how to prevent the possibility of bile disorders with their vet.
Affected Breeds Of Jaundice
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency
Copper-Associated Chronic Hepatitis
West Highland White Terrier
Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia
English Springer Spaniel
American Cocker Spaniel
Additional Facts For Jaundice
Depending on factors causing the bilirubin levels to rise, there are three types of jaundice:
- Prehepatic: Higher than normal levels of bilirubin may reflect the increased breakdown of red blood cells. (immune-mediated haemolytic anemia, Babesia parasites)
- Hepatic: The liver’s inability to remove bilirubin from the blood and excretes it as bile. (hepatitis, liver tumors, some medications (e.g, paracetamol))
- Posthepatic: the bile duct blockage will result in increased bilirubin in the blood. (cholangitis, pancreatitis, etc).
Jaundice caused by liver disorders and/or liver obstruction:
- Liver tumors
- Inherited conditions (e.g. copper-associated)
- Idiopathic hepatitis (cause is not known)
- Leptospirosis and other infections (viral, fungal, and bacterial)
- Medications like acetaminophen, phenobarbital for epilepsy, and many others)
- Severe trauma (injuries, accidents)
Red blood cell destruction (jaundice):
- Cancer (lymphoma and other types of blood cancer)
- Hypophosphatemia (low blood phosphorus)
- Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (either congenital or from systemic lupus)
- IMHA secondary vaccinations, drugs, cancer, and vaccinations
- Inherited blood deficiencies (prominent in Alaskan Malamutes, Beagles, English Springer Spaniels, Basenjis, etc)
- Incompatible blood transfusion
- Microangiopathic hemolysis (e.g. heartworm, vascular tumors (hemangiosarcoma), splenic torsions)
- Zinc, lead, Onion, and other toxicities
- Infection (babesiosis, leptospirosis, Ehrlichia, and others)
Diagnosis depends on several possible causes as in each category listed above. As a result, determining the cause of jaundice requires a series of tests.
- Chemistry Panel
- X Ray of the Abdomen and Chest
- Liver Biopsy
Jaundice alone isn’t that fatal (however it can make dogs feel quite awful), but there a few underlying conditions that are often dangerous and potentially deadly if untreated.
The mortality rate also depends on the underlying illness. With a problem like IMHA, however, about one-third of dogs do succumb to the disease.
Prognosis depends on underlying illness and severity. When jaundice in your dog is secondary to red blood cell destruction, the prognosis is typically good provided that the primary disease can be managed successfully.
When jaundice is caused by a liver problem, the prognosis varies greatly. Some diseases are treatable, but when a dog has severe chronic hepatitis or liver cancer, all you can do is provide good palliative care.
Also, the prognosis depends on the stage at which the damage has progressed. In cases of chronic liver failure, the disease would have progressed deeply by the time many pet owners take their dogs to the vet and the chances of pulling through are poor. So, early diagnosis holds the key to a good outcome.
When To See A Vet
Appropriate diagnosis of this symptom is always best left to your vet to make sure that it is not progressing into a serious form.
Dogs affected with multiple organ diseases have significantly shorter survival times if left untreated. However, as many causes of jaundice are slowly progressive, dogs can survive several years after initial diagnosis with therapeutic interventions.
Food Suggestions For Jaundice
The checklist for Jaundice
- Appropriately formulated fresh food diet
- Protein (moderate levels of bioavailable protein)
- Leafy greens and fresh vegetables
- Add safe dairy products (cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and yogurt)
- Omega fats (omega-6 and omega-3 in a 4:1 ratio) and antioxidants
- Low in Phosphorus (0.2% - 1% dry matter)
- Stick to smaller, tasty meals ( feed him 4-5 times a day)
- Regulated treats that are part of the daily calorie intake
- Avoid foods high in copper (organ meats)
Lean meats or meat alternatives
As Jaundice is not a sign and disease in itself, treatment will depend on the predisposing cause.
There is no evidence to support the reoccurrence of Jaundice. However, always follow the progress with regular checkups and keep an eye on any appearance of symptoms you noticed in the past.