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Vet Radiol Ultrasound. 2000 May-Jun;41(3):261-71.

Ultrasonographic appearance and clinical findings in 14 dogs with gallbladder mucocele.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Sciences, Foster Hospital for Small Animals, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, MA 01536, USA.


Fourteen dogs with enlarged gallbladders and immobile stellate or finely striated bile patterns on ultrasound are described. Smaller breeds and older dogs were overrepresented, with 4/14 Cocker Spaniels. Most dogs presented for nonspecific clinical signs such as vomiting, anorexia and lethargy. Abdominal pain, icterus and hyperthermia were the most common findings on physical examination. All dogs except one had serum elevation of total bilirubin and/or alkaline phosphatase, alanine aminotransferase and gamma glutamyl transferase. All dogs were diagnosed with a gallbladder mucocele upon histologic and/or macroscopic evaluation. Ultrasonographically, mucoceles are characterized by the appearance of the stellate or finely striated bile patterns and differ from biliary sludge by the absence of gravity dependent bile movement. On ultrasound, gallbladder wall thickness and wall appearance were variable and nonspecific. The cystic or common bile duct were normal sized in 5 dogs although all 5 had evidence of biliary obstruction at surgery or necropsy. Loss of gallbladder wall integrity and/or gallbladder rupture were present in 50% of the dogs, all located in the fundus. Gallbladder wall discontinuity on ultrasound indicated rupture whereas neither bile patterns predicted the likelihood of gallbladder rupture. Pericholecystic hyperechoic fat or fluid were suggestive of but not diagnostic for a gallbladder rupture. Cholecystectomy appears to be an appropriate treatment for mucoceles, if not to treat a gallbladder rupture, at least in most dogs to prevent it since gallbladder wall necrosis was identified by histology in 9 of 10 dogs. Mucosal hyperplasia was present in all gallbladders examined histologically. Positive aerobic bacterial culture was obtained from bile in 6 of 9 dogs. Cholecystitis was diagnosed histologically in 5 dogs and 4 dogs had signs of gallbladder infection solely upon bacterial bile culture. Gallbladder infection was not present with all the mucoceles suggesting that biliary stasis and mucosal hyperplasia may be the primary factors involved in mucocele formation. Based on the results of our study, we suggest two alternate courses of action in the presence of a distended gallbladder with an immobile ultrasonographic stellate or finely striated bile pattern: a cholecystectomy when clinical or biochemical signs of hepatobiliary disease are present or a medical treatment (antibiotics and choleretics) and patient monitoring by follow-up ultrasound examinations when the patient does not have clinical or biochemical abnormalities. An aerobic bile culture should be obtained in all patients, by ultrasound-guided fine needle aspirate or at surgery.

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