Similar in appearance to the urinary bladder, the gallbladder is a small organ that holds fluid within the body of humans and some animals. This organ usually works quietly next to the liver but sometimes it develops problems and diseases that negatively affect a dog.

It is responsible for many functions, including the digestion and absorption of fatty acids. Damage to the liver or any of the structures related to it can lead to serious illness in dogs.

Between different lobes of the liver lies the dog’s gallbladder, a sac-like organ that serves as a storage for the bile that the liver produces. The gallbladder is connected to the bile duct which empties into the intestine. This common bile duct is also connected to several ducts from the liver and serves as the passage for the bile produced by the liver cells into the gallbladder.

When a dog ingests food that contains some fat, the gallbladder contracts to empty its bile contents into the intestine and help digest the fat in the diet for absorption. Without the help of bile acids produced by the liver and released by the gallbladder, a dog is not able to absorb fat molecules.

Health problems or conditions that affect the gallbladder will result in changes in the production and release of bile acids and fat metabolism. Additionally, gallbladder problems can result in severe health complications that can be life-threatening if not treated or addressed properly.

Diseases that affect the dog’s gallbladder often result in a wide variety of symptoms, depending on the specific cause. Dogs suffering from any form of gallbladder disease will often present with some degree of abdominal discomfort, a decrease in appetite, and generalized weakness.

Some breeds are at higher risk

Certain breeds, as well as older, female dogs, have an increased risk for gallbladder problems, although gallbladder disease has been reported in almost every breed of dog, including mixed breeds. High-risk breeds include:

  • Shetland sheepdogs
  • Cocker spaniels
  • Miniature schnauzers
  • Chihuahuas

Not all dogs show clinical signs

Just like people, gallbladder diseases in dogs don’t always cause clinical signs, and many are found incidentally. However, sometimes these diseases can cause serious illness.

The most common signs of gallbladder disease include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Yellowish color to the whites of the eyes, skin and inner ear (icterus or jaundice)

With the exception of icterus, the most common signs overlap with lots of other diseases. When signs occur, more diagnostic tests are needed to pinpoint the gallbladder as a source of illness.

Diagnosis and treatment

The three most common diseases affecting the gallbladder of dogs are:

  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
  • Gallbladder mucocele (collection of thick, gelled bile)
  • Gallstones

Many experts promote ultrasound as the one of the best ways to look for gallbladder problems. Gallstones and gallbladder mucoceles have a very characteristic appearance on ultrasound, so it is easy for a skilled ultrasonagrapher to diagnose these diseases.

Both medical and surgical treatments are available for gallbladder disease in dogs. Gallbladder surgery for our veterinary patients is not as sophisticated as in humans, but it is sometimes the best option. Left untreated, some diseases can lead to gallbladder rupture, which can be life-threatening.

Your veterinarian can guide you toward appropriate diagnostic tests if a gallbladder problem is suspected. The good news is that many of these diseases are treatable and have good long-term outcomes if caught early



Veterinary Centers of America
American College of Veterinary Surgeons
UC Davis
Washington State University
American College of Veterinary Surgeons
Dogs Naturally
Dr Conor Brady