Portosystemic Shunt


We have had an eventful few days with our gorgeous Indy doggie who hasn’t been that well.   I thought I would blog about it as we are pretty sure that he has a very rare genetic condition called a Portosystemic Shunt.  Which basically means that he doesn’t process toxins in the liver as he should.   We have been doing loads of research on the web and there doesn’t seem to be all that much literature on real life cases where dogs have been diagnosed with this condition at such a late age (Indy is about to turn 4).  Usually, it is picked up in small puppies where they fail to thrive (as they get sick from their food) and develop vomiting and  hepatic encephalopathy symptoms which can include being unable to stand up properly, weakness, depression, lethargy, and odd eating behaviours.

Unfortunately, the only way to cure him is to have an ultrasound to see where the shunt is (it could be out of the liver or inside the liver) and depending on where the shunt is located — the costs of surgery are quite high (in the thousands).

Indy having a portosystemic shunt would explain several things !! 

  • He has always been a fussy eater, he would try a certain food and eat it for a few days and then refuse to eat it.  In hindsight, he probably tried the new food and then it made him sick so of course he doesn’t want to eat it anymore! 
  • He has always been skinny and not interested in his dog food.
  • He has this weird habit of walking against the back of the couch and rubbing his head… which is common in dogs with a shunt. 

Nevertheless, up until a month ago he has been a pretty healthy dog, always particularly bouncy and so happy to see everyone.  But if we look back about 6 weeks ago he started to be less active.  Probably in the last month he has hardly needed to be walked.  He looked just a bit sad.  Then after trying a new food (which he loved!), he had an episode of lethargy, the wobbles and he just couldn’t relax as well as dribbling excessively.  We took him to the vet and they diagnosed him with having a possible gastrobug and they gave him a jab for nausea and a new dog food for sensitive stomaches to try.  Which of course we struggled to get him to eat.  At first he was just on a rice diet to make sure he had cleared out any bugs in his system. 

He seemed to bounce back a bit, but perhaps not quite his usual bouncy self!

Fast forward to last Friday, he destroyed his bed, totally eat the inside bits of it, I also discovered that he quite liked the look of the central vacuum hose and he nibbled on that a bit.  He only did this at night, during the day he would just lie down really not much enthusiasm for anything.  He was wobbly on his feet again.  On Friday night, he decided he liked the look of the central vacuum hose that he completely destroyed it and I also tried to eat the masking tape I had used to repair the early damage he had done.

So on Saturday I sent him along to the vet with Gary.  Unfortunately, they just decided that he was sick again and gave him the nausea drug but also took bloodwork but no results til Monday.  On Saturday afternoon, Indy ate 3 bowlfuls of food, he was hungry as, we thought oh no he has been starving and felt sorry that we hadn’t been giving him much food.

On Saturday night, he completely destroyed the garage, washing everywhere, he had chewed through boxes and eaten the roll of masking tape.  He could hardly move, he was drinking excessively and he didn’t even have the energy to lift his head out of the dog bowl.  He wasn’t eating again.

So on Sunday, Liam and I took him to the after hours vet (a  different one this time) and got his blood work done again and they processed it on the spot.  He had a really high white blood count so he was fighting an infection of some sort.  They kept him in over night, put him on an IV, started antibiotics and I had to go and pick him up on Monday morning at 7am to take him back to our normal vet. 

At 7am I picked him up, he seemed reasonably chirpy, dropped him off at our normal vet.  He seemed to be doing well.  They discovered that he had cut his mouth (probably on the vacuum cleaner hose) and that had become infected and he possibly had a bladder infection as well.  The vet rang to talk to me to say he was doing really well.  But then they fed him mid morning and after being reasonably happy he completely deflated, he wouldn’t even lift his head when his name was called.

That lead them to think that he  had a reaction to the food because of the shunt. 

The three bowlfuls of food he ate on Saturday afternoon was a high protein based formula for dogs with sensitive stomaches which  is quite possibly the worst thing that we could have done.  As high protein causes more ammonia to go to the brain and hence he had such an episode on Saturday night and it obviously made him feel awful.

So what to do… well it is possibly to medically manage his diet, low protein, raw fruits and vegetables etc.  But that is such an unknown path.  Firstly, if we did decide to take  the path of surgery then he has to be stablized first anyway.  He will also be on a lactulose to help him stay regular and help him process food properly.   Surgery may not even be possible or an option anyway.  I have read online that most dogs don’t last long after diagnosis 3 to 10 months is usually the norm. But really there arent many documented cases of medically managed Portosystemic Shunts.

You would think, if he has had this since birth that if diet made him feel so awful fixing his diet might just make the world of difference to him.  But ultimately, we don’t know how much an impact it will have and I guess only time will tell.

This morning we saw him at the vet and he appeared happy to see us and pretty normal.   Today he has had 3 meals of liver diet food and seems not to have reacted so hoping that Indy will keep eating it long  term as well.  Although, being the sceptist, in the past he has eaten new foods no problem only to develop problems further down the track with no eating it.

I will be picking him up shortly, before I do, popping in to Animates to buy him a crate to sleep in… at least then I know he is safe at night and can’t get into any mischief in the garage!!

It has sure been very quiet around here… with no doggie under  my feet as I sit on the couch, on greeting us at the garage door in the mornings, or sitting on Liam’s bed whilst I go get him from school.  I used to think that it would be so much easier to not have a dog (and it probably would be) but at the end of the day, I miss him more than I thought I would and actually all the extra work is kinda worth it to have him around.  

So that is our little sick doggie story.  The main thing is that he isn’t suffering and at the moment he doesn’t seem to be.  Will definitely write more in the coming weeks to tell his story in the hope that someone else might find our journey useful as it would have been for us searching the internet for answers to a relatively unknown condition.



7 thoughts on “Portosystemic Shunt

  1. Oh Michelle, I am so sorry! Poor Indy! I’m nearly crying because I know if this happened to Buddy I would be so upset and worried. It must be really hard for you guys, especially as it appears to be a rare illness with little available information. Hopefully a new diet will make the world of difference to him. I hope you can find out more information, either through your blog post or some other way.


  2. oh Michelle you made me cry. This is so sad, i hope you find out more fast! I would be a total mess if we went through this with Rocket.
    Hows Liam doing?
    Thinking of you. xoxox

  3. Aww poor thing… we had a dog with a rare genetic disorder (and diabetes) and he went completely blind but still managed to live a good long life. I hope Indy’s new diet will help him come back to normal, it’s as hard to see your pets sick as it is your children.

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