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Portosystemic Shunt in Dogs… Symptoms, expectations and costs!

Portosystemic Shunt in dogs is usually a hereditary condition, which nowadays, selective breeding has made it reasonably uncommon.   However, it does still happen, and when it does, you and your poor loved one aren’t going to care that this is now considered a relatively “uncommon” condition.

After all…

When a dog does suffer from this condition, it does cause them quite a bit of pain, and if left untreated, Portosystemic Shunt is likely to be fatal.  This is why we wanted to take a moment and discuss what it might be like to own a dog diagnosed with this condition. This way, you’ll not only know what to expect, but you may also be able to diagnose the problem sooner so that your dog can get the care they need more quickly.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right in.

What is a Portosystemic Shunt in Dogs?

Portosystemic Shunt occurs because a portal vein allows blood to bypass the liver without cleaning. This allows bile acid to circumvent the system, leading to your dog’s eventual death if left untreated.  Now, one thing you’ll want to be aware of is that when a portosystemic shunt proves to be a “chronic” condition, in which case your pet develops these shunts over and over, the result will be an increase in blood pressure within the liver itself which is common referred to as portal hypertension which as you may or may not know is an equally dangerous medical condition.

What causes a dog to develop a Portosystemic Shunt?

It is believed that there is a hereditary form of this condition and a state brought on by trauma or illness. The latter variation is particularly prevalent in older dogs. Portosystemic shunts can also be brought on in conjunction with other intrahepatic (meaning “of the liver”) conditions such as Hepatic Encephalopathy, liver disease, or any other condition that adversely affects the systemic circulation of the blood or liver function.  In such cases, the “shunt” becomes a “symptom” of a more extensive, potentially more dangerous medical condition.

Congenital cases of portosystemic shunts…

They are also common.  In cases like these, the “shunt” is believed to be formed when the fetus is still in the womb. The primary cause for this to occur seems to be linked to what is called the Ductus Venosa.

The Ductus Venosa…

It is a blood vessel that the embryo grows to allow oxygenated blood from the mother to bypass the liver. This vein never truly dissipates in dogs with Portosystemic Shunt (or PSS), and blood flow is forever altered. Of course, this can only happen with the congenital variant of this condition.

Microvascular Dysplasia…

It is another known cause for the development of shunts and occurs when the shunt or portal vessel completely bypasses the liver. This is known as microvascular Dysplasia.

The problem with all…

Of these different types of “shunts,” is that your dog’s blood isn’t filtered sufficiently or adequately by the liver allowing excess toxins to remain within the bloodstream.  And when these toxins reach the brain, your dog will display hepatic symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

  • Strange or unusual behavior,
  • Head pressing (you may witness your dog pushing their head against walls or other objects),
  • Seizures,
  • Pacing,
  • and periodic moments of blindness.

Common Affected Breeds

There are two variants of shunt – one where the portal vessels go around the liver (extrahepatic) and another where they go through it but do not exchange contaminated blood. The former is common in smaller dogs, while the latter is likely in more giant breeds. Mixed-breed dogs cannot be accounted for either.


Bear in mind that if you are a mongrel’s proud owner, they may well be congenitally predisposed towards this condition without your knowledge.

The breeds known to be prone to this condition are:

Treatment Options

First, you will want a board-certified veterinary surgeon to diagnose this condition through a liver biopsy. Once you have a definitive diagnosis, the next step is to either endure surgery or, if surgery is impossible due to the location, provide ongoing medical treatment that will relieve the symptoms somewhat for your wee doggy.  To that end, your vet may prescribe Lactulose, ammonia, or ammonium borate crystals.

Now when surgery is…

A cellophane band known as an Ameroid Constrictor is placed inside the portal vessel to stop blood from passing through it, thus encouraging it to use a different route and clean its toxins. When there is more than one portal vein, this can become tricky.

This brings us to where we remind folks that we at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, veterinarians, or medical professionals.  We are all a bunch of folks passionate about animals and only want what’s best for them.

This is why…

If you feel your pet may have Portosystemic Shunt (or any other health issue), you will first want to have them checked out by a vet ASAP!  Because the truth is, an early diagnosis will often lead to the “best” medical outcome for your pet regardless of what is bothering them, but beyond that, diagnosing a medical condition early could save you a bundle in medical costs!

This is also why…

We here at IndulgeYourPet also recommend that any new pet owner take a moment and see what it might cost for you to purchase a pet insurance policy for your new animal.

Now will a pet insurance policy be suitable for everyone?

No, probably not.  But until you fully understand what these policies “will” and “won’t” cover and how much these pet insurance policies cost, how will you know if one might be right for you?

For more information on who we feel currently offers the “best” pet insurance policies out there, we would encourage you to check out our Best Pet Insurance Policies article.

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