What Causes Gallstones in Dogs?

What Causes Gallstones in Dogs?

Health & Safety

When dogs develop gallstones it is a very painful condition that's needs to be treated sooner rather than later to prevent prolonged discomfort. The stones that form in the gallbladder are mainly made up of calcium along with other substances that are secreted through the gallbladder and some dog breeds are more predisposed to the condition than others.

Breeds that are known to be more prone to developing gallstones include the following:

  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Poodles
  • Shetland Sheepdogs

Symptoms to Watch Out For

Some dogs show no signs or symptoms of there being a problem when they have gallstones. However, if a dog has an infection as well, they may well display the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice
  • Fever

Gallstones can be caused by several things which includes a compromised gallbladder where the flow of bile is interrupted. Bile may have a thicker than normal consistency which is referred to as becoming 'sludgy' or it could be saturated with calcium, pigment or cholesterol and this leads to the stones forming which can ultimately block the ducts.

However, inflammation or a tumour could also be responsible for stones forming. Another cause could be low protein which could trigger stones to develop in the gallbladder. Should any bacteria enter this can then lead to a serious infection setting in.

Problems caused when the flow of bile gets interrupted includes the following:

  • Insufficient amounts of bile reach the intestines which can result in a dog developing indigestion and ultimately stomach ulcers will start forming
  • A backwash of bile impacts liver function which could result in a dog suffering from a condition known as cholangiohepatitis and this results in a dog becoming jaundiced
  • Bile backs up into a dog's pancreas which can lead to a condition known as pancreatitis which is a swelling of the pancreas


Most of the time when a dog develops gallstones, the vet would recommend treating them with the end goal being to dissolve the stones rather than use any sort of invasive surgery to remove them. If there are any complications like a jaundice, a dog would need to be given vitamin K1 intravenously. Should the liver be compromised, vitamin E would normally be given to help support organ function.

Some dogs would also need to be given a course of antibiotics to combat any bacterial infection that might have taken hold or to prevent an infection from flaring up. However, if a dog's condition is very serious immediate surgery might be necessary to remove the stones which could be causing a blockage and therefore preventing any bile from flowing through as it should. If the stones are not removed as a matter of urgency, it could prove fatal.

Diet Plays an Important Role

Dogs that develop gallstones would need to be fed a special high protein diet that's fat-free which a vet would typically recommend they be given long-term to reduce the risk of them developing any stones again.

Prevention is Easier than Cure

It goes without saying that prevention is much easier than cure when it comes to gallstones which is why feeding your dog a correctly balanced diet is so very important, especially if they are a breed that's more predisposed to developing the condition. It's also essential to treat any early symptoms before they turn chronic and therefore harder to resolve.

The Role Vitamin E in Treating Gallstones

Adding Vitamin E to a dog's diet has been seen to effectively reduce the chances of them developing gallstones. However, you should always check with your vet first before adding any sort of supplement to their diet,

Homeopathic Treatments

These days many owners choose to go down the homeopathic route when treating a dog suffering from chronic gallstones. However, this type of alternative treatment needs to be administered by a qualified homeopath who specialises in treating dogs and other animals.

Removing the Gallbladder

Occasionally, a vet might need to remove the gallbladder altogether and dogs can go on to lead very normal lives if this is the case much the same as it is in people.


Any sort of gallbladder disorder, when diagnosed and treated early enough typically has the best outcome. However, most of the time, a problem goes unnoticed for too long which means treatments tend to start later than they should, but with the advancement in veterinary medicines and surgery, the treatments available are that much more effective today than ever before.


If you think your dog may have developed gallstones and are just not their usual selves, you need to get them along to the vet for a thorough check up. The vet would need to carry out a few tests which could include taking some X-rays to establish if it is gallstones that are causing the problem. More often than not, the stones can be treated with specific medication which dissolves them. However, if the problem is chronic, a vet might recommend surgically removing the stones, or they may even recommend removing your dog's gallbladder altogether. Dogs, much like humans can lead very normal lives even when their gallbladders have been removed.



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