Liver Shunt, more appropriately known as Portosystemic Shunt (PSS), is not unique to Irish Wolfhounds. It is a congenital disease wherein the blood vessels which usually pass blood through the liver to cleanse it of toxins do not mature properly. Before puppies are born, their blood is filtered in the mother's liver, passing back and forth through the umbilical cord. After birth, the blood vessels which bypassed the puppy's liver should close within a few days.
Fortunately the occurrence of PSS is not high, but all puppies should be tested for PSS before leaving the breeder. It is heartbreaking for a new owner to have to see a puppy being slowly poisoned. While surgical treatment is available, it is complicated and expensive.
Testing for PSS is simple. The puppies need a blood sample taken after eating and the level of bile acids in the blood is measured. If the test shows high concentrations in a puppy, the test should be repeated with blood draws before and after eating. This can usually definitively diagnose PSS. An ultrasound may be required to determine the specific abnormality of the shunt if surgery is to be performed.
This page was last updated 05/01/2019.