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Obstruction Of The Bile Duct In Dogs

Obstruction Of The Bile Duct In Dogs

Obstruction of the bile duct, or simply biliary obstruction, is when one of the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the intestine via the gallbladder becomes blocked.

Two types of bile ducts are

  • Intrahepatic ducts: a network of small tubes (ductules) inside the liver that collect and carry bile to the extrahepatic ducts.
  • Extrahepatic ducts:Two parts - right and left hepatic duct. They fuse to become the main hepatic duct as they descend from the liver and run directly en route to the small intestine. The cystic duct (duct from the gallbladder) also opens into the main hepatic duct. From this point onwards, the bile duct is known as choledochus (the common bile duct). The common bile duct passes through the pancreas before depositing into the small intestine.

Bile fluid is produced in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and released in the small intestine to help with digestion. In the small intestine, bile helps the body to break down, digest, and utilize foods appropriately. When a dog has a biliary obstruction, the bile ducts are blocked and bile is backed up in the liver. Consequently, bile can’t flow to the small intestine and the buildup of bile in the liver causes cirrhosis. If not treated, it can be deadly.

The cause of bile duct obstruction is indefinite or highly variable, and so is the prognosis.

Symptoms Of Obstruction Of The Bile Duct

  • Jaundice (yellow tinge of skin and sclera of eyes),
  • White or clay-colored or beige stools (due to bile or bilirubin)
  • Dark yellow or brown urine
  • Weightloss/irritability
  • A swollen belly (enlarged liver and spleen)
  • Ascites (fluid in the belly) bloating or abdominal pain
  • Feelings of abdominal fullness
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Liver failure (if the biliary obstruction is not treated)

Treatment Options For Obstruction Of The Bile Duct

There is no separate treatment for biliary obstruction. The treatment depends on the underlying disease or condition or any exposure to toxins.

Recently, veterinarians started to try endoscopic retrograde cholangiography (ERC) as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool for minimally invasive endoscopic treatment of extrahepatic biliary obstruction (This has been already used for humans).

Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and pain medication will be used to control infection and inflammation.

Hypoproteinemia (low level of protein in the blood) is common in some dogs so nutritional support may be provided with the feeding tube.

Other drugs and the need for surgery will be entirely at your vets’ disposal after determining the grounds of the obstruction.

Home Remedies For Obstruction Of The Bile Duct

Check with your vet for foods (Hepato-Protectants) designed specifically for dogs with liver problems. Experienced pet owners may recommend a homemade diet. Antioxidants, SAMe, artichoke extract, milk thistle, vitamin E, Zinc, and other supplements can also be provided to support liver function.

Follow all of the veterinarian’s instructions and adhere to your dog's drug schedule properly (don’t miss a dose or overdose).

If any specific diet has been suggested to your dog, follow the diet very strictly, and never provide or allow others to give your dog treats or other food.

Prevention Of Obstruction Of The Bile Duct

Prevention of biliary obstruction is not possible because of the reason that either it occurs for varied reasons or it is hereditary.

It is essential to adhere to the veterinarian’s care instructions, as recovery will depend on your dog’s cause of the disease and course of treatment.

Affected Breeds Of Obstruction Of The Bile Duct

Miniature Schnauzer, Shetland Sheepdog, Middle Age Dogs, Senior Dogs, Boxer, Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Pitbull Terrier, Pug, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Schnauzer, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Weimaraner

Additional Facts For Obstruction Of The Bile Duct


Obstruction of bile ducts may be caused by several factors that involve:

  • Liver
  • Bile ducts
  • Gall bladder
  • Pancreas

The main reasons for obstruction of bile ducts are:

  • Gallstones (this is the chief troublemaker)
  • An abnormal narrowing of the duct (Biliary stricture)
  • Inflammation in the bile ducts
  • Liver cysts
  • Infections, including hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis or scarring of the liver
  • Pancreatitis
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • An injury due to liver surgery or the gallbladder
  • Trauma
  • Parasites
  • Tumors of the liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, or pancreas
  • Tumors that have spread to the biliary system
  • A choledochal cyst (present in puppies)


  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTCA)
  • Urinalysis and bloodwork
  • Serum biochemistry profile
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound, CT scan


Potential complications of biliary obstruction, if not treated, are serious and can be life-threatening.


The outcome of obstruction of bile duct treatment is based on the etiology. If left untreated, it can lead to sepsis and will be life-threatening. When the obstruction is due to chronic liver pathology, the prognosis is usually poor. Obstructions of bile ducts caused by cancer often have a worse prognosis.

Proper diagnosis of this disease is always best left to your vet to make sure that it is not progressing into a serious form.

As in many cases, the biliary obstruction etiology is often serious in nature and it can be treated efficiently if it is diagnosed early.

When To See A Vet

Contact your vet right away, if you notice any of the following:

  • Yellow, jaundiced look to skin, gums, and ears
  • Vomiting blood/blood in stool
  • Swollen lymph nodes, neck, belly, and head

Food Suggestions For Obstruction Of The Bile Duct

Nutritional management for biliary obstruction: Diet high in protein, high fiber, and low fat

  • Protein - chicken breasts, turkey breasts, liver, ½ Cup Raw Salmon (cooked if you prefer)
  • Omega3s - salmon, tuna, and herring
  • Whole-grain bread, rice, cereal, green beans, peas
  • Antioxidants - Blueberries, blackberries, Steamed broccoli, spinach, cooked yellow squash, kale, green beans
  • Flavonoids - blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, eggplant, etc
  • Beta carotene foods - orange, yellow, and green leafy vegetables and fruits (such as tomatoes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, broccoli etc)


As biliary obstruction is a disorder of unknown origin, treatment will depend on the predisposing cause or any exposure to harmful toxins

Regular follow-up appointments with your veterinarian are essential as recovery would be slow. Always follow the progress and adjustment of the drugs or treatment techniques as necessary.

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