Find out more about liver shunt disease in chihuahuas

Research suggests that Chihuahuas can be prone to a liver disease called liver shunt disease, along with Shih Tzu, Jack Russell Terriers and a few other small breed dogs. It is a difficult one to deal with and if you find yourself with a chihuahua that has been diagnosed with liver shunt disease it’s going to affect how you look after her. You can find out more about health issues for tiny chihuahuas here

What is liver shunt disease?

Liver shunt disease is a vascular defect, called a portosystemic shunt, that diverts blood from flowing correctly through the liver. The livers’ job is to filter toxins from the blood and if unfiltered blood can bypass the liver it can cause issues for your chi.

How does my chihuahua get it?

Liver shunt disease is a birth defect, it occurs when the ductus venosus vein fails to close just after birth. When puppy is in the womb the mother’s system deals with blood cleaning, what should happen after birth is this by-pass vein should close, forcing the puppies’ liver to take over. If this vein fails to close then blood will continue to bypass the liver and therefore toxins will not be removed. This vein can run through the liver or be external. There also appears to be a gender bias towards females.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include tiredness and weakness, head pressing, disorientation and episodes of eyesight problems’, excess weeing and drooling. Symptoms are often neurological because of the toxins in the blood affecting the central nervous system. It can also affect the gut and cause urological problems. Symptoms may appear after a high protein meal. In the event that you observe any of these symptoms, it would be advisable to take your furry friend to a Veterinarian, as early diagnosis means higher chances of a quick recovery.

How can it be treated?

Vets don’t seem to know why this defect occurs and don’t have any advice on how to prevent it. But the good news is there are treatment plans available.


In some cases, surgery is possible. If they can reach the vein and tie it off the liver should start to function properly again.

If surgery is not possible (the vein runs internally through the liver) the condition can be managed. Dr Karen Becker from Healthy Pets says:

These tools include nutraceuticals and herbal compounds that aid detoxification such as:

  • SAM-e
  • Acetyl L-carnitine
  • Milk thistle
  • Dandelion

There are also some very helpful homeopathic and Chinese herbal medications that aid blood detoxification. I recommend you find a holistic/integrative veterinarian who can tailor a supplement program to meet your dog’s specific health needs.

She goes on to say;

You will also need to feed you dog a lower protein food, high quality human grade food is best. Home cook if possible as the quality of the protein must be high. Read more about managing liver shunt disease by Dr Karen Becker.

If you manage this condition in your chihuahua we would love to hear how its going. Please post comments below.

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