Yorkie Liver Shunts…Symptoms and Treatment

Last Updated on January 16, 2022 by Griselda M.

If your Yorkie suffers from poor growth, possibly it has a portosystemic shunt (Yorkie liver shunts) which is a liver condition. The liver shunt in Yorkies is one of the common conditions that affect Yorkies and other small dogs breeds. The liver is responsible for removing the toxins from the blood and body. Normally, the blood of the intestine and stomach goes to the liver to go through a filtration process. Then the filtered blood goes back again to the circulation. However, the liver shunt hinders the normal function of the liver. To know how this happens, please, read till the end.

What Is Yorkie Liver Shunts?

The liver shunt is a Yorkie liver disease in which your puppy develops an abnormal shunt. This abnormal shunt connects the portal vein with another blood vein. So, the shunt does not allow the intestine and stomach blood to go to the liver for filtration. Thus, the unfiltered blood goes with its toxins to the blood circulation again.

What Is The Liver Shunt In Yorkies Symptoms?

Yorkies that suffer from liver shunt can not metabolism the proteins well causing neurological, systemic, and behavioral symptoms. Additionally, some Yorkies show these signs after getting older or if they had urinary problems such as stones or bladder infections. Signs of the portosystemic shunt are;

  • Poor growth
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Appetite loss
  • Constipation
  • Seizures
  • Ataxia
  • Blindness
  • Head pressing
  • Excessive drinking and urination
  • Presence of blood in the urine
  • If the puppy went under anesthesia, it may take a long time to recover.

What Are The Causes Of Yorkie Liver Shunts?

The liver shunt develops either congenitally or acquired though it is usually congenital in Yorkies. Acquired liver shunt occurs due to severe liver disease such as cirrhosis in which small shunts develop. While congenital liver shunt develops right after birth.

Furthermore, during pregnancy, the baby has a large shunt called the ductus venosus. The function of this duct is to carry the blood quickly through the fetal liver to the heart. Normally, this shunt closes after delivery, however, if it keeps open, the liver shunt condition develops.

How Does The Vet Diagnose Yorkie Liver Shunts?

The vet will listen to the history of your puppy from you. Then he/she will perform some lab tests and additional diagnostic tests.

Lab Tests Include:

  • Complete blood picture/count (CBC): The result of the test will show mild anemia or the red blood cells will be smaller than normal.
  • Serum chemistry: The test result will show low blood urea nitrogen and albumin. Moreover, the liver enzymes (AST, ALT) will be higher than normal.
  • Bile acid test: If your Yorkie has a liver shunt, the bile acid concentrations will be high. Additionally, if the test shows a mild increase in bile acid, the vet will request another test in three to four weeks.

Additional Diagnostic Tests Using Medical Equipment Include:

  • Ultrasound with Doppler flow analysis
  • Portography: this is an x-ray test that is performed by injecting a radio-opaque dye into the portal vein. The function of this test is to show the blood vessels supplying and/or bypassing the liver.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT): The aim of this nuclear scan is to measure blood flow through the liver
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Laparotomy surgery: this is exploratory surgery: Doctors use this surgery as a final step to diagnosing the condition.

liver shunt in yorkies

What Is The Treatment Of Yorkie Liver Shunts?

The portosystemic shunt can be corrected surgically, however, there are some medications that can stabilize the Yorkie. In the beginning, the vet will prescribe the following medications to reduce the toxins produced and absorbed in the large intestines;

  • Antibiotics to reduce the bacterial overgrowth in the intestine
  • Lactulose: lactulose is a sugar that will change the PH of the large intestine. So, the bacteria-producing toxins won’t be able to do their function. It changes the PH by reducing the absorption of ammonia and other toxins.
  • Symptoms relief medications: the vet will prescribe medications to ease seizures or vomiting or any other symptoms.
  • Diet changes: the vet will advise you to reduce the amount of protein in your puppy’s diet. Instead, opt for high-quality and digestible protein diets.

What About Yorkie Liver Shunt Life Expectancy?

Before speaking about life expectancy, let me tell you something about the difference between liver shunt in small breeds and large breeds. The liver shunt of small breeds including Yorkies is extrahepatic. In other words, the new forming abnormal shunt is present outside the liver.

On the other hand, the liver shunt of large breeds is present inside the liver (intrahepatic). The prognosis of small breed dogs with liver shunts is better than those of large breeds. That is why Yorkies with liver shunts live for longer periods than large-breed dogs.

Additionally, about one-third of Yorkies that received medical treatment lived without symptoms and the medications could manage the condition successfully. According to a study published in the journal of the American veterinary medical association, surgical treatment of liver shunt is more successful than medical treatment. They concluded that dogs that were treated surgically could survive for longer periods than those who were treated medically with no ongoing clinical signs.

Learn more about The Lifespan Of A Yorkshire Terrier And How To Extend It?

How To Feed Yorkies With Liver Shunts?

Nutrition plays a critical role in correcting signs of the liver shunt. Proteins are the basic nutrient in your pet’s meal, however, you have to reduce it a little to manage the liver shunt signs. When the body metabolizes proteins, it produces ammonia that can make signs of liver shunts worse.

Furthermore, proteins including meats, organ meats, or fish are examples of proteins that you should reduce. Moreover, you can use some other protein alternatives, for instance, egg, dairy, and soy protein. According to this study, soy protein is a successful protein alternative for dogs with liver shunts as it supports liver functions.

Wrap Up

The portosystemic shunt or liver shunt is a common health condition between Yorkies. It prevents the growth of your puppy in addition to affecting the nervous system causing neurological signs. If you noticed any of the previous signs, visit the vet at once. For further questions, please leave them in the comments below.

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