Thursday, October 4, 2018

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Jaundice (Icterus)

Dog skin comes in a variety of colors; yellow is not one of them.


Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Jaundice (Icterus)

Jaundice (also known as icterus) is a term describing yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, caused by deposition of bile pigments. The easiest areas to spot jaundice are in the mucosa (such as the gums) and the sclera (whites of the eyes).

The orange/yellow pigments (bilirubin) is a byproduct of a normal process of breakdown of dead red blood cells in the liver. It has, however, no business ending up anywhere but in bile--make its way through the digestive system and ultimately be eliminated with other waste.

Jaundice is broadly considered a symptom of a liver issue. Is it?


Since the liver is where dead red blood cells are metabolized, it is a reasonable conclusion. Let's not forget the whole picture, though.

dead red blood cells → liver → galbladder → GI tract

This means that jaundice has three main causes: prehepatic (ie RBC destruction), hepatic (liver disease) and post-hepatic (usually biliary duct obstruction).

Liver disease


Any disease or condition that damages or destroys liver cells can hinder the liver's ability to process the waste red blood cells. Underlying causes can be infections, toxins, adverse reaction to medications.

Bile duct obstruction


Even if the liver has done its job perfectly but the bile ducts became blocked, everything backs up. Bile flow becomes obstructed and the whole process of bilirubin elimination breaks down.

Red blood cell destruction


When abnormally large numbers of red blood cells are destroyed, the liver is simply unable to keep up. In such a case, jaundice will be accompanied by anemia as well.

Therefore other symptoms that can come with jaundice might include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, fever, paleness, increased drinking a urination, bleeding, and others.

No matter the cause, jaundice is a serious red flag


If your dog becomes jaundiced, they are VERY unwell. You need to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.


Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?


Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.


Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is an award-winning guide to help you better understand what your dog is telling you about their health and how to best advocate for them. 

Learn how to see and how to think about changes in your dog’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Some signs that might not trigger your concern can be important indicators that your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. Other symptoms, while hard to miss, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or limping, are easy to spot but can have a laundry list of potential causes, some of them serious or even life-threatening. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is a dog health advocacy guide 101. It covers a variety of common symptoms, including when each of them might be an emergency. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog has won the following awards:

14 comments

  1. Fortunately, we have not had to deal with jaundice. But yes, very scary, and I would immediately head to the vet!

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    1. I'm glad to hear you didn't have to deal with this. Yes, yellow dog is a very ill dog.

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  2. Great post! It's always good to be aware of warning signs for health issues in our pets. I'm glad this is one I've never had to deal with before.

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    1. I hope that everybody would recognize this as a big problem. I thought it would be interesting to explain how and why it happens.

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  3. Thank goodness I have not had to deal with this but great to know about it - great post

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    1. Thank you. I'm glad you didn't have to deal with this.

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  4. I've heard of babies having Jaundice but not pets. Who knew? Thanks for sharing this informative post to keep all of us pet parents educated. I would have never guessed this is something dogs can have.

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    1. Well, any creature that has red blood cells, liver and gallbladder, can get jaundice ;-)

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  5. Jaundice would, I promise you, have us at the emergency vet in no time at all!!

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  6. I'll have to keep a closer look at my dogs' eyes, since I normally can't see their skin. Although will the jaundice show up on their bellies?

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  7. Yes jaundice is very serious in dogs (and humans). We would be straight to the vet.

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  8. Once again, a great informative post. Pinning to share.

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  9. Jaundice is so scary! I'm glad that's not something we have ever encountered with our pack. Definitely something to watch out for! Thanks for sharing

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  10. Thankfully, jaundice is an obvious indication that something is wrong. Often-times, it's a guessing game. I would definitely be heading to the vet if my dog's eye whites turned yellow.

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