Understanding Liver Shunts in Cocker Spaniels

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

CockerSpaniel.org Volunteer Staff

2/21/20242 min read

a brown and white dog standing next to a window
a brown and white dog standing next to a window


Liver shunts, also known as portosystemic shunts (PSS), are a congenital condition that affects the liver's blood vessels, leading to abnormal blood flow and impaired liver function. While liver shunts can occur in dogs of any breed, they are relatively common in Cocker Spaniels and can have significant implications for their health and well-being. In this article, we'll explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for liver shunts in Cocker Spaniels:

Causes of Liver Shunts in Cocker Spaniels

Liver shunts in Cocker Spaniels are typically congenital, meaning they are present at birth. In affected dogs, blood vessels that should have closed shortly after birth remain open, allowing blood to bypass the liver and flow directly into the systemic circulation. This leads to a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream and impaired liver function.

Symptoms of Liver Shunts in Cocker Spaniels

The symptoms of liver shunts in Cocker Spaniels can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the age at which clinical signs develop. Common symptoms may include:

  • Poor growth or failure to thrive

  • Stunted development

  • Lethargy or weakness

  • Decreased appetite or weight loss

  • Excessive drinking and urination

  • Vomiting and diarrhea

  • Neurological signs such as disorientation, seizures, or circling

If you notice any of these symptoms in your Cocker Spaniel, it's essential to seek veterinary attention promptly for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis.

Diagnosis of Liver Shunts in Cocker Spaniels

Diagnosing liver shunts in Cocker Spaniels typically involves a combination of diagnostic tests, including bloodwork, urinalysis, imaging studies (such as ultrasound or contrast radiography), and specialized tests to evaluate liver function and blood flow. Your veterinarian may also perform a bile acid stimulation test, which can help assess liver function and identify abnormalities indicative of a liver shunt.

Treatment Options for Liver Shunts in Cocker Spaniels

The treatment approach for liver shunts in Cocker Spaniels depends on the severity of the condition and the dog's overall health. Treatment options may include:

  1. Medical Management: In some cases, medical management may be recommended to manage symptoms and support liver function. This may involve dietary modifications, medications to reduce ammonia levels in the blood, and supportive care to address gastrointestinal or neurological symptoms.

  1. Surgical Correction: Surgical correction is often recommended for dogs with liver shunts to redirect blood flow and restore normal liver function. The specific surgical procedure will depend on the type and location of the shunt, and your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist for evaluation and treatment.

  1. Minimally Invasive Procedures: In some cases, minimally invasive procedures such as transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) placement may be considered as an alternative to traditional surgery. These procedures involve the placement of a stent or shunt to redirect blood flow and improve liver function.

Long-Term Management and Prognosis

Following treatment for liver shunts, long-term management is essential to monitor your Cocker Spaniel's liver function and overall health. This may include regular veterinary check-ups, dietary management, and medication as needed to support liver function and manage symptoms. With appropriate treatment and ongoing care, many dogs with liver shunts can live happy, comfortable lives.


Liver shunts are a serious condition that can affect Cocker Spaniels, but with early detection, prompt veterinary care, and appropriate treatment, many dogs can experience significant improvement in their quality of life. If you suspect your Cocker Spaniel may be experiencing symptoms of a liver shunt, don't hesitate to consult your veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis. By working together with your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive treatment plan, you can help your furry friend overcome liver shunts and enjoy a brighter, healthier future.