Diagnosing Canine Liver Disease with Urine Bile Acids

The analysis of urine bile acids is becoming an increasingly preferred tool in the diagnosis of canine liver disease. Hepatic or liver diseases are typically associated with a number of illnesses that can effect this vital canine organ. Older dogs may be particularly prone to developing liver diseases, which can be serious and potentially life-threatening.

The liver has several important functions, including essential roles like detoxifying the blood stream, creating protein and storing energy. Early diagnosis of hepatic disease may help reduce the risk of long-term liver damage, and may possibly improve the quality of life of an affected animal. Knowing how the disease is diagnosed may help owners make the best decisions regarding the care and treatment of their dogs. Here is a description of how urine bile acids are used to help diagnose canine liver disease.

What Are Urine Bile Acids?

Bile acids are a component of bile, a substance that is produced by the liver of most mammals, including dogs. Bile, which also contains salts, water and other organic material, plays a critical role in digestion and the elimination of waste products from the body. Bile acids aid in the absorption and digestion of fats and certain vitamins within the small intestine. They are derived from cholesterol and made by the liver cells or hepatocytes.

How Does a Urine Bile Acid Test Work?

In dogs with healthy livers, bile acid is created and stored in the gall bladder. When the animal eats, large quantities of the substance are secreted into the intestines. After performing digestive-related functions, a significant amount of this bile acid is reabsorbed by the liver cells for later use. This secretion and reabsorption process may occur approximately 20 times per bile salt molecule. Yet damaged hepatocytes may be unable to adequately reabsorb a healthy amount of bile acid. This can lead to a large levels of the substance escaping into a sick dog's bloodstream. Eventually, some of the unabsorbed bile acid is excreted from the body through the urine. Recently developed tests allow animal medical specialists to test urine samples for notable amounts of bile acid. Such a discover may serve as a helpful indication of a liver damaged by disease.

The Testing Process

Unlike some older diagnostic methods, urine bile tests do not require dogs to undergo invasive surgery, fasting or extensive blood work. A veterinarian may request a urine bile test based on the results of a physical exam and a dog's medical history. In some cases, a urine sample may be obtained from the dog on-site at the veterinarian's office. However, owners may also be asked to collect a sample at home. In this instance, an owner may be given a sealed and sterile container to hold the urine. Once home, it may be easier to collect the urine in a larger clean bowl or pan, before transferring it to the designated specimen holder.

Some animal experts advise the best times to collect a canine urine sample are in the morning or after an animal has finished a meal. Owners may also be advised to deliver a sample to the veterinarian's within two hours of collecting it. If this is not possible, the container may need to be refrigerated in order to preserve the sample. The length of time it takes to receive the results of the urine bile test may depend on the resources of the individual veterinarian or laboratory.