My Dog's Skin Is Turning Yellow - Jaundice in Dogs
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The skin and mucus membranes of healthy dogs should have a pink hue. There are some exceptions for dogs which have dark skin or patches of skin. Since the skin of most dogs is covered in varying lengths of hair, we can usually tell the color by looking at the gums and eyes. On some dogs, you can see the skin on their belly if the hair is sufficiently fine. When we see alterations in this color, we can assume there is some alteration to their health and well-being.
At AnimalWised, we look at the reasons my dog's skin is turning yellow. This is a symptom caused by jaundice in dogs, something which has its own specific causes, symptoms and treatment.
What is jaundice in dogs?
Jaundice is a characteristic yellowish coloration of the skin and mucous membranes. We can observe this phenomenon if we look at the skin, gums, tongue, genitals, nose or eyes of our dog. When we monitor our dog's eyes for changes in color, we will notice it by looking at the sclera (the ‘whites’ of the eye). The cause of this yellowing is elevated bilirubin levels. Bilirubin is a yellow/orange pigment that is part of bile, a secretion of the liver that aids digestive processes and is stored in the gallbladder.
Bilirubin is the substance that results from the degradation or destruction of hemoglobin, a protein used by red blood cells to transport oxygen. When red blood cells end their life, they break down into their different components, releasing bilirubin in the process. High bilirubin levels in dogs occurs as a result of different pathologies. These can range from hemolytic anemia, in which large amounts of red blood cells are destroyed, to a liver problem that causes bile to accumulate in the blood and tissue.
Is jaundice in dogs contagious?
The realization that a dog's skin has turned yellow can be very shocking to any caregiver. It is normal to worry not only about the health of the dog in question, but also about the possibility if it is contagious. This could be especially worrying if there are other dogs or animals in the home.
Jaundice in dogs is not contagious in itself. As a symptom, it is not a disease, but a sign of an underlying disease. Most of these causes are not contagious, something we will go into below. The minority of causes are contagious, with infectious hepatitis being one of the few. In this case, the hepatitis which causes poor liver function can be infectious, but this doesn't mean jaundice itself is contagious.
Learn more about what happens when diseases are not treated with our article on liver failure in dogs.
Causes of jaundice in dogs
As we have mentioned, there are numerous causes that may be behind an increase in bilirubin in the blood. This results in the yellowing of the skin, eyes and mucus membranes of the dog, the condition we know as jaundice. The underlying causes of canine jaundice can be categorized into the following three groups:
- Hemolytic: derived from the destruction of red blood cells. There is so much bilirubin as a result of this destruction that the liver is not able to manage it, leading to accumulation in the liver tissue. This section includes types of anemia, some of which can be infection. It can also be caused by parasites that lead to jaundice in dogs such as Babesia canis or Ehrlichia canis.
- Hepatic: are due to a problem that affects the liver and prevents the correct development of its functions, meaning it cannot eliminate bilirubin. In this group we can find conditions such as cholangiohepatitis, cirrhosis or copper poisoning.
- Obstructive: an obstruction prevents the exit of bile from the liver, causing accumulation in the tissue and in the blood. Such obstruction can be due to diseases such as pancreatitis and enteritis, but may also be due to stones in the gallbladder, or stenosis or rupture of the bile ducts).
Learn more about hepatic failure with our article on the most common liver diseases in dogs.
Symptoms of jaundice in dogs
While a dog's skin turning yellow is one of the most obvious and worrying symptoms of jaundice in dogs, there are other signs we can look out for. These may be concurrent with the yellowing, but may also come before or after. The symptoms will differ depending on the underlying cause, but they may include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Polydipsia and polyuria (increased water intake and urination, respectively)
- Orange discoloration of feces and urine
- State of confusion
- Weight loss
Diagnosing the cause of jaundice in dogs
While we can easily detect our dog has jaundice when we see their skin turning yellow, only a veterinarian can diagnose the underlying cause. We need to take them for an examination as soon as we detect any of the symptoms. As many of these disease are progressive, the damage to the liver may be extensive by the time we see yellowing of the dog's skin.
To achieve a diagnosis, the veterinarian will perform a physical examination and carry out a series of tests. What tests are used will depend on the symptoms presented. Discovering the cause is essential to be able to administer treatment. The most common tests to carry out when jaundice in dogs is suspected are:
- Urine analysis
- Blood test
- X-ray and/or abdominal ultrasound
- Puncture or biopsy
- CT scan
Learn more about diagnosing diseases in dogs by understanding a dog's blood test.
Treatment of jaundice in dogs
The treatment of jaundice will depend on its cause. There are no medications for jaundice in dogs that will cure it directly, only treatments that will alleviate the symptoms. If you see your dog's skin is turning yellow and wonder how to treat it, taking them to the veterinarian for diagnosis is essential. Once treatment is administered, bilirubin in the blood will be able to return to normal levels, making the jaundice disappear.
Many dogs with jaundice are in such a serious condition, the veterinarian will hospitalize them so they can be stabilized. As stated before, many of the causes of jaundice in dogs are progressive or result from extensive damage to the liver. Stabilizing the dog with fluid therapy and medications may be necessary for the required treatment to take effect. In the most severe cases of anemia, a blood transfusion will also be necessary. The dog will have to remain in hospital until stable, after which time the treatment can be continued at home.
Sometimes a specific diet is required to help the functioning of the liver. Other times it is necessary to intervene with surgery. For example, this may be necessary when the bile duct has been obstructed or a tumor is detected.
Is jaundice in dogs curable?
Jaundice is curable if the underlying cause is treatable. The prognosis will depend on said cause, the severity of the damage it has caused and the time it takes to start veterinary treatment. For example, babesiosis can be resolved with a course of treatment, while chronic liver failure will require lifelong treatment. The latter will usually consist of dietary changes, medication and symptom management.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog's Skin Is Turning Yellow - Jaundice in Dogs, we recommend you visit our Intestinal problems category.