While the puppy develops inside his mother, there is an extremely small chance of a shunt occurring. While a dog is a foetus, he needs assistance from the mother’s liver to help detoxify his systems. Embryos don’t have a functioning liver until near the end of the gestational period.
At the start of gestation, a naturally existing liver shunt pushes the blood into his liver and then out again where it heads straight for his heart. So the mother’s body needs to handle the detoxifying process for both herself and her foetus.
Ductus venosus is the name of the liver shunt that works while a puppy is still developing inside his mother. Just before puppy is born, this shunt must close so the puppy’s liver will start to work properly on its own.
If the shunt doesn’t close off prior to birth, leaving an open shunt, this is known as a patent ductus venosus and the puppy is born with this intra-hepatic liver shunt. This occurs if there’s a genetic anomaly, meaning that the blood gets routed around the liver when it should flow through it. The extra shunt also happens when the pup
is growing in utero.
Indicators and symptoms
There are various signs and symptoms that a liver shunt may exist and stops the liver from performing its two main functions:
• Distribution of protein to help the pup grow better and possess functional nutritional response.
• Proper detoxification of the body.
There are two types of symptoms to watch for:
1. Toxicosis. This can depress the puppy’s central nervous system and cause diarrhoea, vomiting, stupor and lethargy. In the most extreme cases where the detoxification process isn’t occurring and toxins cross the brain-blood barrier, your puppy may experience seizures and various nervous system side effects.
2. Failure to thrive. If this problem happens, your puppy may not grow properly. His muscle tone can be poor; he may remain very small in size; he’ll sleep much more than normal, and he won’t develop as well as other puppies in his litter.
Dog breeds that are prone to having an intra hepatic shunt include: Labradors, Samoyeds, Australian cattle dogs, Old English sheepdogs and Australian Shepherds.
Small dog breeds more commonly have extra hepatic shunts and these breeds include: the Jack Russell, Lhasa, Poodles, Shih Tzu, Cairn Terrier, Maltese and Yorkshire Terriers.
Using blood tests to detect a liver shunt
Diagnosis a liver shunt in a puppy is extremely hard to do. If he’s born very small, doesn’t put on weight or thrive, and has visible issues with his central nervous system, they’re definite indicators to check. However, in mild cases it may be hard to correctly identify if the shunt isn’t very significant.
Certain blood tests can help identify the presence of a shunt. The puppy’s Blood-Urea-Nitrogen (BUN) level may be low (this is a kidney measurement), as can albumin levels (a circulating protein). AST and ALT (liver enzymes) may be higher than normal and they indicate that the liver has been damaged.
The main test to determine whether a liver shunt does exist is a test for bile acids. The liver creates these acids and they’re stored inside the gallbladder which then secretes them to enable your pet to properly absorb fat. They’re then absorbed by the small intestine and the back to the liver for recycling.
If your Pomeranian’s liver doesn’t have sufficient blood flow to recycle the acids, their value can become very high when blood works are done. Most labs find that the values of the bile acid is lower than 20. You may be able to identify a liver shunt is present in your pet because her bile acids are more than 100.
It’s essential that your vet does pre-anaesthetic bloodwork and checks your puppy’s internal organs is because puppies are usually neutered or spayed when they’re six months of age and checking that his organs work properly isn’t necessary for a puppy that young.
If your puppy takes twice or three times as long to recover from an anaesthetic, the vet may be surprised, or even shocked, to discover the puppy does have a liver shunt. If his blood isn’t flowing properly, the anaesthetic can’t be dispersed properly because it’s the liver that processes anaesthesia. It’s the worst way to learn of the existent of a shunt.
Your Veterinarian should always be proactive and check blood work and organ functions prior to having anaesthesia for the very first time. Your dog’s liver function must be sufficient to cope with anaesthetic at any time.
Extra diagnostic tests
Other diagnostic tests are the only way to learn if the puppy has a liver shunt and whether it’s intra (in the liver) or extra-hepatic (outside the liver). These include: CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, portography (testing the liver’s blood flow) and surgical exploration.
If you know your puppy’s quality of life is poor, then it’s time to carry out these tests as they can be costly. If your puppy isn’t growing as well as he should, or has signs of central nervous system issues, it’s time to consider what tests to carry out. If his health is deteriorating to the point where he may have to be euthanised, that’s certainly a time to run these tests.
Once the vet has got the results of all these tests and knows what the exact problem is, he can evaluate whether surgical intervention is appropriate because this is the best method for treating most liver shunt scenarios.
However, if it’s an intra hepatic shunt, it’s harder to fix with surgery, the prognosis isn’t very good and there the risk of other complications occurring after the surgery has been carried out.
On the other hand, extra hepatic shunts can be fixed quite easily through surgery. This can prevent further complications and ensure your pet has good quality of life.
Treating a liver shunt in your Pomeranian puppy
If your Pom does have a liver shunt but there are no visible symptoms and it’s only because of blood work that you learn that your pet has a problem, there are various forms of treatment that can be used (other than surgery).
There are a number of herbal compounds and neutraceuticals that can help your pet’s body detoxify itself. These include: dandelion, milk thistle, acetyl methionine and SAM-e. You can also use various Chinese herbal remedies and other homeopathic concoctions to help his body become detoxified
Look at the food you give your dog and how much nutrients are contained in each different type of food. As carnivores, dogs must be fed protein to live a healthy life.
His liver processes protein so if there’s a shunt, he can’t deal with the protein he’s given and his diet needs to be modified so he eats less protein. He can’t be on a NO-protein diet or he may suffer from hypoproteinemia.
Because you feed him less protein, the type and quality of protein you do feed him MUST be top quality protein such as human-grade meats. In an ideal world, choose organic, raw meat as the base for his meals. It’s critical that you learn more about what constitutes high and low quality protein and your vet can offer advice in this matter. Many of the commercially available diets for dogs with liver shunts contain a low grade of protein. While it IS rendered, the dog will still have difficulty processing the protein.
The perfect diet, if your beloved pet has a liver shunt, is a homemade diet. Then you know exactly what you’re feeding your dog. Talk to a pet nutritionist for expert advice so you’ll know what you can and can’t feed your dog. While food needs to be low in protein, it also has to satisfy his nutritional requirements with regards to vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and antioxidants.
Dogs with shunts are more prone to bladder stones due to a reduction in minerals in their diet. If you can give him sufficient nutrition, you’ll hopefully avoid that problem, as well as any additional stress on his kidneys.
Your pet nutritionist will work with you to design a well-rounded diet that has less protein but more of the healthier foods to ensure he lives a long, healthy, happy dog, despite the existence of a liver shunt that prevents his liver from performing at 100% efficiency.
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