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Maltese & liver shunt & liver shunt

by Joyce Mitchell

Churchill, our 7 mo. old male Maltese was purchased from a breeder in Overland Park, KS. Through a pre-op (neuter) blood test, it was discovered he had a liver shunt. The blood tests have been analyzed by specialists in California, and the shunt is confirmed. I am curious about what I should expect from the breeder in this situation. Still to confirm reports that this breeder has had previous situations with liver shunt in her dogs. His prognosis is not good.It is either congenital or hereditary - also confirmed. We are thinking she has promoted in-breeding. We paid a considerable amount for him, over $500. We love him and he is a part of our family, but I would like to stop this breeder from breeding and selling inferior pets. Our first Maltese was old and it took us 8 mos. to recuperate from putting him to rest. We dread going through this experience again. Any thoughts out there for us? Thank you


Please bear in mind when reading topics pertaining to health issues, that many of these questions were answered by helpful Maltese owners with no formal education in veterinarian medicine. When in doubt seek a professionals advise.

Joyce, I don't know what you can do about the breeder other than word of mouth--perhaps someone else has an idea. Just wanted to convey my sympathy for what you all must be going through. I know that when my Higgens died I was devestated and, for the first few months I had Lucy, my heart was in terror that I would lose her too--if she even coughed funny I had her at the vet (good fortune for the vet!). So I know how you must be feeling. Perhaps something can be done to resolve the health problem. I will think good thoughts for you.
-cathy brown

Joyce, Many conflicting emotions surfaced this morning as I read your post.First let me say my thoughts are with you. We all know the loss of a special family member. Preparing for another loss so soon can be unbearable. My hope is that Churchill has a complete and speedy recovery.

The words "liver shunt" sets off a panic in most breeders. I don't know any breeder that would want to see this happen in their line or would want to sell a puppy with this condition. Unless it is a back yard breeder or a puppy farm, a breeder has too much too loose to deliberately breed dogs that are known to pass on this condition to their off spring.

I am glad that this is talked about more openly now than in the past. But I am wondering if you discussed this situation with your breeder. If you trusted this breeder enough to buy a puppy from her, you should have trusted her enough to tell her the results of the tests before telling the world.

Although this site offers us the opportunity to discuss our dogs with others, and I agree, alot of valuable information is exchanged here, I wonder if the breeders are contacted when health problems turn up in the pups that they bred. This is the biggest advantage that we have over buying a dog from a pet store. The breeder can and should be held responsible for any genetic defects but this should be done only in a responsible manner. It is too easy to hurt someone's reputation these days over the internet.
-concerned owner

We just took our beautiful little guy, Gizmo, back to the breeder, on our veterinarians advice. (We had just lost our Yorkie-mix in June to a liver tumor, and our vet didn't want us to have to go through the stress of possibly losing another dog so soon.) Gizmo was diagnosed with partial liver shunt after one of his seizures (he had several), and has other problems as well, including extremely limited vision. Corrective surgery for liver shunt is performed at U.C. Davis with an 80-85% success rate, but at $1200 for the surgery alone, plus the room and anesthesiologist etc, plus all the other tests required before the surgery, it was out of our price range. Part of the success rate depends on how severe the shunt is. I'm so sorry to hear that your puppy has the same problem.

I am sorry to learn about your puppy but curious as to the "blood tests" that were ran that gave the diagnosis of "liver shunt." As far as I know from my readings and discussions with my Vet. the only accurate way to diagnose a liver shunt is by biopsy or autopsy, or in a few cases radioactive dye test??? As far as I know blood tests will show "liver malfunction" which could be caused my a multitude of things since all blood is filtered through the liver. Also, there are "acquired" shunts. Less serious shunts and/or liver disease can be treated with strict diet with good results. Some shunts can be repaired with surgery. If I were you I would have lots of questions for my Veternarian and anything I could learn I would pass on to the breeder. I do not believe there is any evidence to support the theory that liver shunts are caused by "inbreeding." Perhaps you could site your sources. Does anyone know whether any test breedings have been done on affected dogs that have proven that liver shunts are inherited? I try to stay current on genetic disorders but science is progressing at a faster rate than I can keep up with. Perhaps our in house Vet will give some help here?

I hope that your puppy is one that can live a long and happy life with controlled diet. Please keep us posted.
-Beverly Passe

Joyce as I breeder I agree no one wants to breed problems in their babies.. Have you talked to your breeder yet? I know I would want to know and help in such a situation.
-Carol A

To all who responded, thank you. And to answer a question by some of you, I contacted the breeder a month ago and alerted her to the problem. She adamantly confessed that she has never had that problem in any of her dogs. Since then, I have confirmed that she used to breed Yorkies, and one (that I know of) of them had the same thing as our Maltese - a liver shunt. Surgery for the Yorkie was $1500.00. So this is not a relevation to this breeder,that she has had other dogs with the same problem.My intention of going on the internet with this problem is to see if any other Maltese owners have perhaps purchased a Maltese from this same breeder. We are still nvestigating all options available to us, and the internet was just one of the areas we are pursuing at this time.
-Joyce Mitchell

The university of Sydney are researching Liver shunts in maltese a large number of dogs have been tested and a large number of breeders will not sell puppies unless tested. It is a blood test. Inbreeding does not start liver shunts the gene has to be there in the first place. Thomas Graves instructor/resident at michigan state university wrote a very interesting article on liver shunts. I hope this helps

Our Arthur Guy DeHarpseal was diagnosed with liver shunt after a year of symtoms and changing vets. He always seemed better after taking antibiotics. He is now doing well with 1/4 of a 250 mg Flagyl twice a day for 7 days and then nothing for 12 days. We've tried to stretch it further, because even the antibiotics could hurt him over the long run, but on the 13th day he tells us he's not feeling well by sleeping on the end table. Our vet diagnosed him with a blood test and an xray that showed the undersized liver and an enlarged right heart. She had another Maltese brought in with the same condition a few months later and he had previously been determined to be sterile. We were told Arthur was sterile too but he was never tested. Can anyone tell me if this is true of all dogs with liver shunt? I don't want to subject him to surgery now that he is feeling so well but I don't want to accidently pass this trait on to any pups.

Liver shunts and your dog being sterile are two different problems you should get your boy desexed so you will not pass these genes on.

Thank everyone for your input. As stated previously, we continue to work closely with our vet to get to bottom of Churchill's possible health problems.

I just today had a liver shunt surgery done on a Maltese. The vet informed me just an hour ago that he was able to close it 80%. I am thoroughly disappointed as the vet is guarded in his prognosis. I was hoping she would live a happy healthy life after this. Does anyone know what I can expect from this point?

First of all, I want to thank everyone for their concern and information regarding Churchill's medical problem. We continue to do tests that are non-invasive at this point in time. We will handle bigger decisions as they come our way. An excellent article "Canine Portal Caval Shunt" from Health Research by Vicki Cooper is on the internet. If you have not read it and are interested, it is very informative. The breeder and I have had a lengthy conversation and I can assure everyone, she is a caring and reputable breeder. Also, the Yorkie I referred to earlier with the liver shunt, was not bred by her. She is very concerned for Churchill, and us, and is very supportive. I know everyone is interested in Churchill's progress and probably liver shunts, in general. The least invasive thing we have decided to do is have the blood draw, due tomorrow, sent to a different lab. When those results are returned, we'll go on to the next step. As we progress through this thing, I will keep you all posted, if for no other reason, so maybe those who are interested can learn from our experience. In the meantime, I continue to research the subject and work closely with our vet.

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