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Are liver shunts common?
by Barb K
Are liver shunts common?How common are liver shunts in the Maltese breed? As I stated before on this message board, my six-year old Chloe has a shunt but is now doing well with diet and antibotics. It has been very difficult for me to watch my Chloe suffer with an occasional flare-up. I passionately love this breed, but I can't go through a liver shunt again. What are my chances? I hope a breeder will be able to answer this for me. I have seen photos of a Havanese. How are they related to the Maltese? Are they as loving? Do they have the same problems as Maltese? Thanks ahead ot time for input into this situation.


Hi Barb, Jay can give you my email if you want to talk. Our Arthur has a shunt too. He will be 4 on May 16th but he isn't doing very well right now. We have 3 other Maltese with no problems and have never had a pup with a shunt. I don't think shunts are a common problem with the breed. They are genetic and any breeder with a heart would be sure not to pass on the chance of a puppy with a shunt. Best of luck to Chloe and you too. I know what it's like.

Dear Barb, About six weeks ago my little 17month old male Maltese was diagnosed with liver shunt. He had the operation to correct the shunt (takes 8 weeks for closure to occur) three weeks ago. (His shunt was 1cm) He is now home and doing extremely well - we still have our bad days but I'd say 80% of the time he is great. He is like a puppy again. In 4 weeks I have to return to the hospital for a test to ensure the operation was successful. I am like you I would love to get another addition to the family but I am very fearful of going through the emotional drain again not to mention the expense. I have read so much information on shunts if you would like me to fax you please contact me. Has your little one had the operation? My Bailee is still taking anti-biotics plus he is on a low protein diet and I will slowly start introducing his normal diet once I get the next results back. Barb, I think the shunts are becoming more common. I know (in Australia) there are a couple of breeders whom breed pups from studs who they know have shunts. Chin Up -- I know what you are going through, I would not wish this on my worst enemy. Regards, Christine & Bailee
Could you please tell me what the symtoms of a liver shunt are. How was it diagnosed? Thanks for more details,
Signs of liver shunts could include poor weight gain, sensitivity to sedatives (especially diazepam), depression, head pressing (pushing the head against a solid object), seizures, weakness, salivation, vomiting, poor appetite, increased drinking and urinating, balance problems and frequent urinary tract disease or early onset of bladder stones. If the signs of problems increase dramatically after eating this is a strong supportive sign of a portosystemic shunt. These are all pretty nonspecific signs. This is frustrating since there is not a really easy test for this condition. As far as tests, there is almost one - special dyes injected into the liver circulation that show up on X-rays can outline the problem pretty clearly....most of the time. But this is a pretty invasive test making it a poor choice for "screening" purposes.

Most shunts cause recognizable clinical signs by the time your Maltese is a young adult but once in a while one is diagnosed at a later time in life. The oldest dog I have heard of a diagnosis of this condition that was previously undetected was 8 years old. Since the severity of the condition can vary widely depending on how much blood flow is diverted past the liver it is possible for a lot of variation in clinical signs and time of onset of signs to occur. Often, this condition is recognized after a puppy fails to grow, making an early diagnosis pretty common, too.

Dear Karen, My little boy was diagnosed after a bile acid testing which returned abnormal. It was indicated to me (by a liver shunt specialist) that these were pretty clear signs that he had one. A test was then performed where dye was inserted (somehow??) and the shunt did not show up during this test. On opening a shunt was discover that was 1cm!
Besides the signs Jay listed are some we noticed with our dog. The first was his pee pee pad glittering like sparkle after the urine had dried. This was ammonium urate crytals. There's also a syndrome called hepatic encephalopathy. In Arthur's case it caused temporary blindness and hyperactivity. Even though blind he couldn't stop walking, even when being held with his feet off the floor. Blood tests can show mildly elevated liver enzymes, low blood urea nitrogen and total plasma protein concentrations, hypoglycemia and low serum cholesterol. An x-ray or ultrasonogram will show an underdeveloped liver, much smaller than it should be for the size of the dog. I wouldn't have gone on so long but our first vet was unable to diagnose it. Even suggested he was faking to get attention. Sometimes you need to be ready to change vets or at least ask the right questions.
Thanks Jay...I had posted here awhile back because we had to rush Jazz to the hospital. She was acting like she was drunk and toxicity tests were negative. They thought it was a seizure but it went on too long. Then they thought low blood sugar attack maybe from stress. Then they thought maybe liver shunt. Anyway, we have no idea what it was. If it happens again I'll bring this up because some of the symptoms were there. Her balance (drunk like state) was off. The Dr. thought she was starving to death. She is still only 6 lbs and 11 mths old and a VERY finicky eater. In fact, the Vet put her on canned food which she gobbled up at first but now doesn't like that very much any more either. Oh well, thanks again.
Karen, One of the best things about Jay's site is helping us to learn more about our babies (Thanks, Jay). Another symtom of liver shunt is anorexia. Arthur was always better after a trip to the vet because he almost always got an antibiotic for another misdiagnosis. Then a few weeks later he would be down again. Just in case you may want to start teaching Jazz now that crushed ice is a treat and that lettuce and other high fiber fruits and veggies are fun to eat. Chicken broth with salt will help to make sure she is thirsty enough to drink plenty of water with the hot weather coming up. Smaller meals spaced through the day also help. I really hope it isn't a shunt but none of these things will hurt her either way. Good luck.
Thanks for your responses Starr. I will have her to the Vet in May for the heartworm and flea meds and I will have her checked over again!

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