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Liver Shunts: The Yorkie’s Nemesis

November 11th, 2008 · 3 Comments

If you own a Yorkie or other type of small breed dog, you will want to pay attention to this post about portosytemic shunts, also known as Liver Shunts.  It is known by some vets that 30% of all their liver shunt surgeries are performed on Yorkshire Terriers.  Why is this problem so prevalent in Yorkies?  I don’t really don’t know the answer.  There currently is no proof that a single dog or line would be responsible for a liver shunt.  It is more of a polygenetic disease, so it pretty much makes it very tough to answer the question of “How do I avoid this disease all together?”  When shopping for a puppy, I suggest you ask your potential breeder if there have ever been any cases of a liver shunt in their line.  If so, I would try to avoid that breeder.


liver shunt yorkie


Liver shunts can be a very serious ordeal for many dogs, especially smaller breed dogs such as Yorkies and Maltese.  Basically, a liver shunt occurs when a blood vessel bypasses the liver tissue, causing the blood that is carried to other parts of the body to be unfiltered by the liver.  The livers function is to cleanse the blood of any sort of toxins, unwanted proteins, sugar, and bacteria.  If the blood never goes through liver because of shunt, this could cause some serious health problems for your dog.



There are different types of shunts, however small and toy breed dogs usually exhibit “extrahepatic” shunts.  This means that the shunt or blood vessel that is bypassing the liver is located on the outside.  This is good because it makes it easier to detect a liver shunt also facilitates the surgical process if needed.  Congenital shunts, usually seen in larger breed dogs, are usually found within the liver, which makes it tougher to see and operate on.



So what are the signs to look for if you suspect your dog to have a liver shunt?  Signs of a liver shunt are often seen at a young age.  Such signs can include poor growth, circling, disorientation, blind staggers, and unresponsiveness.  Many of these signs are very similar to hypoglycemia.  If you see your dog exhibit any of these signs, I recommend taking your dog to the vet to get tested for a liver shunt.  The vet may have to run a series of blood tests to determine if there is a possible liver shunt.  To be completely sure, your vet may need to do an ultrasound and possibly some X-rays.



Dogs with liver shunts can be treated with drugs and intravenous fluids and antibiotics.  However, I’ve seen that most liver shunts are handled by surgery to have the actual shunt closed up.  In many cases, the shunt may have to be closed slowly to allow the liver to adapt to the new blood flow, in which case 2 surgeries may be needed.  After surgery, you must keep your dog on a low protein diet.  My advice to people that own smaller breed dogs is to keep them on a low protein diet all the time.  I usually keep my little ones on a diet that consists of no more than 30% protein.

All in all, let’s hope our little ones never need to worry about such a disease.  However, if you suspect that your puppy or dog may have a liver shunt, see a veterinarian right away.

Tags: Health Tips

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jesscot09 // Oct 10, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Portosystemic shunts are a common topic of
    conversation amongst breeders and owners of small and toy breed dogs. Congenital portosystemic shunts are being diagnosed with increasing frequency, and many breeders and veterinarians are questioning whether heredity may play a role in the spread of this disease. Stop Your Dogs Aggression

  • 2 JBrand Yorkies // Nov 21, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Thank You! Very helpful explaination of this problem…excellent graphic.


  • 3 admin // Dec 15, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Your welcome. I am glad these articles are helping others!

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