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Does Cornflakes and fruit sound like a healthy breakfast? For you and I perhaps, but not normally for one of our furry four legged friends! However for Holly, a delightful lemon and white beagle, this is the norm – and she loves it! Holly was born a healthy normal beagle pup, and continued to be so until about 5 months of age. At this stage she started to become vaguely unwell, vomiting occasionally, and going on and off her food. Not like a normal puppy at all!

Holly was presented to Dr. Randall, who found that except for being underweight and small for her age, there was nothing much obvious from the outside. However a blood test was run at our Hospital, and this indicated that Holly liver was not performing well. This, along with her symptoms suggested to Dr. Randall that she might have a congenital porto-systemic shunt. The next day, blood was collected before and after a meal, and forwarded to Brisbane for analysis. These tests confirmed the diagnosis of congenital porto-systemic shunt.

So, what is a congenital porto-systemic shunt?

Well, congenital is easy – that means born with.

Porto-systemic shunt? Well, this describes the bypassing of the liver by a portion of the blood flow from the body. Normally, all the blood from the body, loaded up with by-products of the body functions, some quite toxic, goes through the liver which cleanses this blood before it goes to the heart and back out to the body again. This diagram might make it easier to picture.

This is a very simple and incomplete representation of a very complex system.

Essentially, an amount of blood full of toxins bypasses the filtering liver and goes back into circulation with toxins still on board. This makes the animal sick. Whether this is a large amount of the total returning blood, or a small amount, varies with each case.

The other bad thing that happens is that because the liver is getting less blood flow than normal, it shrinks, and does not do its job as well as it normally would.

What do we do about all this? It is extremely difficult to diagnose where the shunt is, or how many shunts there are. If this can be done, it is done at a medical referral practice like the University of Queensland. If this can be worked out, sometimes the shunt can be surgically tied off – correcting the situation. However this surgery is quite hazardous, with a high risk of failure!

Not surprisingly, with all the difficults, ifs, hazardouses etc involved, Holly’s owners elected to try conservative treatment. Initially this involved some intensive treatment involving drips and drugs to clear her system of the toxic substances not strained off by the liver. Holly responded well to this treatment, and soon had her appetite back again.

This is where the healthy diet comes in! The object is to control the symptoms by feeding foods that produce less toxic by-products. This way we are not relying on the liver to do this job. So, Holly is on a low protein, low fat, high carbohydrate, and high vitamin diet – and, lucky for her – she loves it.

Holly’s Diet

Breakfast: Apple, bowl of Corn Flakes, banana or other fruit.

Dinner: Brown rice, mixture of vegetables, cottage cheese, calcium powder, brewer’s yeast and corn oil. 1 x adult multivitamin; 1 x child Vitamin C; 1 x Choline tablet.

Treats: Fruit and veges.

Bones: Corn cobs.

 

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