Diagnosis & Treatment of Liver Shunts in Pets

Treatment of Liver Shunts in Pets at PetCare Veterinary Hospital

Definitions and Pathology

  • Liver shunts are vascular abnormalities that redirect a portion of blood circulation around the liver, thus bypassing filtration of the blood by the liver, which results in accumulation of toxic waste products within the body.
  • This is a common congenital abnormality seen in dogs and cats that may result in poor growth (runt of the litter), vomiting/diarrhea, excessive drinking/urination, stones in the bladder, and periods of altered mentation or even seizures.
  • Liver shunts come in several varieties, including:
    • Single intrahepatic (single vessel within the liver)
    • Single extrahepatic (single vessel bypassing outside of the liver)
    • Multiple extrahepatic (multiples vessels outside of the liver)


  • The diagnosis of liver shunt is usually suspected in young animals with certain clinical symptoms and blood work abnormalities indicating less than adequate liver function.
  • Additional testing is typically required to establish a diagnosis and may include liver function testing (bile acid measurements), X-rays, abdominal ultrasound, computed tomography (CT scan), technesium scanning, or exploratory surgery.

Treatment Options

  • Patients with shunts that are very small, causing few, if any, clinical signs of disease, may be successfully managed with or without surgery.
  • In most cases, surgical exploration and attenuation (decreasing blood flow) or ligation (completely stopping blood flow) of the shunting vessel is the best method of treatment for liver shunt.
  • Most commonly, a shunting vessel is identified and either ligated acutely with suture or attenuated with an ameroid ring that acutely decreases blood flow and gradually stops blood flow over time.

Post-Operative Recovery

  • Most patients spend 12 nights in the hospital with the remainder of their recovery in the comfort of their own home.

If you have questions about liver shunt surgery for your pet, you can schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified surgeons at PetCare by calling (707) 579-3900.