Jaundice in Dogs

Jaundice is a condition that causes yellow eye whites, gums or skin and may occur in dogs of all ages. The yellow coloration is due to the increased amounts of bilirubin, a protein that is present in the red blood cells in the dog’s body. Jaundice may be indicative of a disease such as liver disease, kidney problems or infectious diseases.

Symptoms of Jaundice

Jaundice is not an illness but may be a symptom of a disease. The dog with jaundice will have yellowish eye whites, gums and other tissues that are normally white will be yellowish.

The mucous membranes are typically the first ones to be affected by jaundice.

In addition to the yellowish color, the dog may also be weaker, lack appetite or be lethargic. The dog may display other symptoms that may be typical for the diseases that cause jaundice.

Darker urine may be common in dogs with jaundice; this is indicative of the bilirubin that is produced in excess and is eliminated.

Causes of Jaundice

The causes of jaundice may be varied including anemia, heartworm, the lengthy administration of certain drugs (anti seizure drugs, acetaminophen (Tylenol), sulfa-type antibiotics or anti parasitic drugs), red blood cells parasites, leptospirosis, liver disease, kidney dysfunctions, bile disorders, autoimmune diseases that destroy red blood cells, trauma, pancreatitis, cancer or gallstones.

Diagnosing Jaundice

Jaundice can be easily diagnosed judging by the appearance of the mucous membranes and the eye whites. Blood work may also be necessary to establish the levels of bilirubin. Urinalysis may also indicate the presence of bilirubin.

The vet will perform additional tests to determine the cause of the jaundice. A complete blood count should be performed. Jaundice may be caused by anemia, liver dysfunctions, kidney problems or post hepatic biliary tract disorders.

Radiographs, x-rays or ultrasounds may be performed to analyze the liver or the kidneys and to establish the disease that causes the jaundice.

In some cases, a liver biopsy may be needed to establish if there are any liver tissue abnormalities.

Jaundice Treatment

The treatment of jaundice depends of the underlying causes.

If the jaundice is caused by the administration of certain drugs, these should be discontinued and if needed, replaced by other similar medications that won’t cause jaundice.

If the jaundice is caused by anemia, the dog may receive blood transfusions and glucose or a different diet.

When liver disease is causing the jaundice, the vet will recommend a support treatment and a change in the dog’s diet.

Fluid therapy, antibiotics, antacid medication, anti inflammatories or vitamin K may be needed for dogs that have bile disorders.

Surgery may be needed in some cases to treat underlying conditions that cause jaundice.

Preventing Jaundice

Jaundice may be prevented but not in all cases; liver diseases may be prevented with a suitable diet that is not rich in fats.

Vaccinations to prevent against hepatitis, adenovirus or leptospirosis may also prevent jaundice that is caused by these infectious diseases.