According to the University of Tennessee, Yorkshire terriers have a nearly 36 times greater risk of liver shunt development than all other breeds combined. Fortunately, most Yorkies respond well to surgery correcting this congenital issue. While Yorkies can experience other liver issues, only liver shunt is common in the breed.
Also known as a portosystemic shunt, a liver shunt doesn't allow your Yorkie's liver to adequately remove toxins from his bloodstream. When your dog was in utero, his mother's liver filtered out her fetuses' toxins via a bypass of their portal blood vessel. After birth, the shunts should close rapidly within the puppies, if everything proceeds normally. In Yorkies affected by liver shunt, this closure doesn't occur and their blood doesn't filter through the liver. That means toxins accumulate in their bodies.
Affected Yorkies show liver shunt signs at a young age. These include unusually small size -- even for a tiny Yorkie -- lack of muscle development, weight loss or failure to gain weight. Neurological problems, including seizures and temporary blindness, may ensue. Other signs include odd behaviors such as pressing the head into a wall or other solid object; frequent staring into space; circling or pacing and lack of energy in a young animal. The skin and coat appear unhealthy. Some Yorkies might experience vomiting or diarrhea, as well as constant thirst, drinking and peeing.Your Yorkie might not exhibit all of these symptoms -- if he does, he's an obviously sick puppy -- but it's obvious that something is not right with your dog.
Your vet performs various diagnostic tests in order to confirm a liver shunt. Blood work generally reveals if the dog suffers from high liver enzymes and low blood urea nitrogen, indicative of a shunt. A urinalysis might contain crystals or evidence of infection. Your vet conducts an ultrasound, computer axial tomography or magnetic resonance imaging scan to make a definite diagnosis.
While some dogs are treated medically for liver shunt, surgery offers the best option. If your dog can't undergo surgery, your vet might prescribe a low protein diet, along with medication that decreases toxin absorption. Antibiotics help get rid of any infections your Yorkie has, along with elimination of harmful toxin-producing bacteria. According to the University of Tennessee, about one-third of medically managed dogs do well and live a normal lifespan. The downside is that about 50 percent of medically managed dogs are eventually euthanized due to neurological issues.
Your own vet might refer you to a specialist for your Yorkie's liver shunt surgery. When your Yorkie undergoes surgery to repair the shunt, the surgeon closes off the bypassing blood vessel, forcing the blood flow back into the liver. Often, the liver's interior blood vessels aren't well-developed, so they can't open easily. In those cases, the surgeon generally installs a constrictor that eventually closes the shunt, or places a suture around the shunt. It takes approximately one month for the liver shunt to close using these methods. Most Yorkies recover well, but some might experience drops in their blood sugar post-surgery. Some canines also experience seizures. Your dog will stay in the veterinary hospital for a few days after surgery for recuperation and observation.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.