Bile is a yellow fluid that is made in the liver and helps in the digestion of fats. Bile drains from the liver through ducts into the gallbladder. In the gallbladder the bile is concentrated and stored. The gallbladder contracts and releases bile into ducts that drain into the intestine when a meal has been ingested.
It is common for dogs to develop problems with the gallbladder that require surgical intervention. Most commonly we see dogs develop mucous accumulation in the gallbladder (called a gallbladder mucocele) A mucocele can cause obstruction of the duct draining the gallbladder and eventually cause rupture of the gallbladder wall. Dogs and cats can develop gall stones, but they usually only cause a problem if there is infection associated with the stones, or one of the stones blocks the duct that drains the gallbladder. The gallbladder can also rupture from blunt or penetrating trauma. It is rare to see cancer of the gallbladder in small animals.
Animals with gallbladder disease often present with mild signs of lethargy, decreased appetite and/or vomiting. In cases of prolonged obstruction or trauma, they can become very sick and present to the hospital in shock. Blood tests are helpful to determine if the gallbladder is obstructed and an abdominal ultrasound is accurate at diagnosing gallbladder disease and determining the need for surgery. Early treatment of gallbladder disease results in the best prognosis.
Surgical treatment of gallbladder disease usually involves removal of the gallbladder. Dogs and cats can live normal lives without a gallbladder as long as the ducts draining bile from the liver are not obstructed. If the ducts are blocked, a biliary rerouting surgery needs to be done. This involves making a hole in the gallbladder and sewing it to a hole made in the intestine so bile can flow directly from the gallbladder into the intestine.
The recovery after surgery depends on the underlying disease and the health of the patient prior to surgery. Dogs and cats that are not very sick prior to surgery can often go home the next day. If the gallbladder is ruptured and there is severe infection, the prognosis for recovery is only about 50%.
Gallbladder surgery – Dr. Lori Ludwig (Board Certified Surgeon)