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Portosystemic Shunt in Dogs… Symptoms, expectations and costs!

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

After all…

When a dog does suffer from this condition, it really does cause him or her 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 that has been diagnosed with this condition this way you’ll not only know what to expect, you may also be able to diagnosis the problem sooner so that your dog can get the care he or she need more quickly.

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

What is a Portosystemic Shunt in dogs and what does it do?

Portosystemic Shunt occurs because a portal vein is allowing blood to bypass the liver without being cleaned. This allows bile acid to circumvent the system which leads to your dog’s eventual death if left untreated.


One thing you’ll want to be aware of is that when a portosystemic shunt proves to be a “chronic” condition in which case you 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 as well as a form brought on by trauma or illness. The latter variation being particularly prevalent to 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 systemic circulation of the blood or liver function.

In cases like these…

The “shunt” becomes a “symptom” of a larger potentially more dangerous medical condition.

Congenital cases of portosystemic shunts…

Are also a common.  In cases like these, it is believed that the “shunt” is 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…

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

Microvascular Dysplasia…

Is another known cause for the development of shunts and occurs when the shunt vessel or portal vessel completely bypasses the liver entirely.this is known as a microvascular Dysplasia.

The problem with all…

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

Symptoms that may include:

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

Affected Breeds

There are known to be 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 of these is common in smaller dogs while the latter is likely in bigger breeds. Mixed breed dogs cannot be accounted for either.


Bear in mind that if you are the proud owner of a mongrel 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 of all, you will want a board-certified veterinary surgeon to diagnose this condition through taking 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 biurate crystals.

Now when surgery is…

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

Which brings us to…

Were we like to remind folks that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, veterinarians or medical professionals.  All we are is a bunch of folks who just happen to be passionate about animals and only want what’s best for them.

This is why…

If you feel like your pet may have Portosystemic Shunt (or any other health issue for that matter) the first thing that you’re going to want to do is have him or her check out by a vet ASAP!


The truth is, an early diagnosis will often lead to the “best” medical outcome for your pet regardless of what is bothering him or her, 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 right 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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