The gallbladder stores bile, which is produced in the liver. Bile helps with digestion. Cholelithiasis, or the presence of gallstones, occurs when the gallbladder retains too much bile and cannot get rid of it, leading to a buildup of stones. This typically happens after an infection. Many dogs can have gallstones without presenting clinical problems. Your veterinarian will typically only treat the condition if it is causing a problem for your dog.
In a great many cases, gallstones may build up in the gallbladder without causing much of a problem at all. In fact, many cholelithiasis diagnoses only occur when a vet is investigating another health problem. It’s quite possible that your dog has a buildup of gallstones, but they are not causing him any problems. However, gallstones can lead to infection. In which case, the symptoms, when presented collectively, will point quite clearly to an issue with the gallbladder.
Vomiting and Lethargy
A dog suffering from the presence of gallstones will typically become lethargic and may begin to vomit. While these two symptoms alone can point to a number of possible problems, when they're accompanied by tenderness around the abdomen and, perhaps most tellingly, jaundice, they should lead your veterinarian to a definitive conclusion of cholelithiasis.
Lack of Appetite
In common with vomiting and lethargy, a loss of appetite is a common symptom of a great many issues. However, the presence of gallstones may cause your dog to lose his appetite. It’s important to rule out other causes of appetite loss. For example, if your dog is passing loose stools and is eliminating more frequently, this is more characteristic of an abdominal or digestive problem, rather than gallstones.
Clue in the Gums?
Jaundice, where the skin turns yellow, is a strong indication that either the kidneys aren’t working properly or that the gallbladder isn’t eliminating bile effectively. In cases where jaundice occurs unaccompanied by the symptoms of kidney problems, such as dehydration, excessive urination and swelling, it is highly probable that the cause is gallstones or gallbladder illness. However, since dogs are covered in fur, it’s difficult to tell whether their skin has jaundiced. The most reliable way to check is to inspect the gums and eyes. When jaundiced, a dog’s gums will take on a pale gray color and the whites of the eyes will appear yellow.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.