Jaundice (Icterus) in Dogs

Overview of Jaundice in Dogs

Jaundice, also referred to as icterus, describes the yellow color taken on by the tissues throughout the body due to elevated levels of bilirubin, a substance that comes from the breakdown of red blood cells. Jaundice can be found in dogs with blood parasites, toxins, heartworm disease, cancer, gall bladder diseases, and infections.

Regardless of the cause, jaundice is considered abnormal in the dog. Jaundice is recognized by a yellow color to the animal’s skin. It is often more apparent in the whites of the eyes, in the skin at the base of the ears, along the gums, and in the skin of the abdomen. There are three primary classifications of causes of jaundice.

Causes of Jaundice (Icterus) in Dogs

Prehepatic Causes

Prehepatic causes are those occurring before the blood passes through the liver and are also referred to as hemolytic causes. These result from a breakdown of red blood cells.

Hepatic Causes

Hepatic causes are those disorders associated with the liver and include:

Posthepatic Causes

Posthepatic causes are disorders that occur after blood passes through the liver and include disorders that result in blockage of the bile flow from the liver.

What to Watch For

Diagnosis of Jaundice in Dogs

Baseline tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, and urinalysis are recommended in jaundiced patients. The tests also evaluate electrolytes, blood sugar, protein level, and urine concentration. Additional tests may include:

Treatment of Jaundice in Dogs

There are several steps your veterinarian might recommend to treat the jaundiced patient symptomatically, especially during diagnostic testing and prior to obtaining an underlying cause and beginning specific therapy. These include:

Home Care

Administer all prescribed medication as directed by your veterinarian. Observe your pet very closely. If clinical signs are not improving and/or are getting worse, contact your veterinarian at once.

Remove any drugs or other substances in the environment that may have triggered the jaundice.