Liver shunt disease in chihuahuas

Liver shunt disease in chihuahuas

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.

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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Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of the author unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective authors, who retains copyright as marked. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified pet health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of the author and encourages you to make your own pet health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified pet health care professional


  1. Paula
    September 7, 2017 / 2:37 am

    My dog was diagnosed with this at age 17 after he was diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Disfunction. Vet had never seen a case in a dog that old. She gave us special food, but I couldn’t get him to eat it and nothing was said about a low-protien diet.

  2. August 26, 2020 / 1:53 am

    My puppys symptoms started when he was just has 5 months old. It just took 3 Vets to determine finally determine what it was. NOW he’s 4 1/2 years old and he’s been on Sam-e and Milk Thistle for the past 4 months.. Nothing was said about a low protein diet and he’s been eating a high protein diet. So NOW I’m going to change it. My poor Danny Boy is not doing well. If they had diagnosed it when he was just 5 months, he could of had surgery. BUT we will keep fighting. I am determined to get my baby better.

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