1. If your pet becomes jaundiced or icteric while on medication, discontinue the medication and contact your veterinarian immediately.
  2. Be sure to avoid feeding your pet fatty food.
  3. Animals with jaundice may suffer from concurrent clotting abnormalities. For this reason it is important to keep them indoors and minimise the risk of any trauma until examined by a veterinarian.
  4. Seek immediate veterinary attention.


Jaundice occurs when there is an increase of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a by-product of the breakdown of red blood cells.


  • Yellow tinged gums
  • Yellow tinged eyes (most visible on the whites of the eyes)
  • Yellow tinged skin
  • Bright yellow to fluorescent yellow urine

Other signs may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Vomiting
  • Bruising
  • Abdominal pain
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Drinking excessively (polydipsia)
  • Urinating excessively (polyuria)
  • Blood in the urine (haematuria)
  • Behavioural changes (usually depression)
  • Fever
  • Collapse


  • Jaundice can occur due to increased breakdown of red blood cells, decreased processing of the bilirubin by the liver, or obstruction of the elimination system.
  • For this reason, causes are categorised as pre-hepatic (or pre-liver), hepatic (pertaining to the liver) or post-hepatic (referring to the gall bladder and bile duct. Some causes of jaundice for each category are listed below.
    Pre-hepatic – Anaemia due to

    • Infection (for example leptospirosis)/sepsis
    • inflammation
    • Immune mediated disease
    • Cancer
    • Drug or toxin
    • Drug reactions
    • Red blood cell enzyme deficiencies


    • Liver cancer (primary or secondary)
    • Fatty liver (hepatic lipidosis)
    • Hepatitis due to inflammation, infection or immune mediated disease

    Post-hepatic –

    • Tumours of the bile duct
    • Obstruction of the bile duct
    • Pancreatitis
    • Gallstones


After performing an examination your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic tests including blood tests to evaluate overall tests as well as tests for specific diseases (for example, leptospirosis). Your veterinarian may recommend further tests including liver function studies, abdominal ultrasound, fine needle aspirates or even biopsy.

Treatment involves supportive care including intravenous fluids and specific treatment for particular conditions. Depending on the cause, treatment may also involve anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, anti-emetics, liver protectants, medications to promote excretion of bile, gastroprotectants, blood transfusions and drugs to promote blood clotting. A special diet may be prescribed.

Some conditions, for example gallstones or distinct liver tumours, may require surgery.


Bexfield N & Watson P (2001) Treatment of canine liver disease 1. Drugs and dietary management. In Practice 31:130-135.

Bexfield N & Watson P (2001) Treatment of canine liver disease 2. Managing clinical signs and specific liver diseases. 31:172-180.