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Acquired Portosystemic Shunts in Small Animals


Sharon A. Center

, BS, DVM, DACVIM, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University

Last full review/revision May 2015 | Content last modified Jun 2016

Acquired portosystemic shunts (APSSs) form secondary to portal hypertension caused by 1) chronic liver disease (fibrosis, regenerative nodules), 2) congenital severe portal vein atresia, 3) acquired damage to the fine branches of the intrahepatic portal vein (noncirrhotic portal hypertension), 4) hepatic arteriovenous malformations, 5) congenital hepatic fibrosis associated with polycystic liver malformations (ductal plate malformations), 6) portal vein thrombosis or stricture, or 7) outflow obstruction through the hepatic vein/venules (thrombosis [Budd-Chiari syndrome], hepatic vein injury [veno-occlusive syndrome]). The main body of the portal vein lacks valves and maintains a blood pressure of <8 mmHg. Any disorder diminishing hepatic portal perfusion results in a hepatic arterial buffer response that increases hepatic arterial perfusion. High-pressure retrograde arterial flow into portal vasculature leads to formation of APSSs as blood follows the path of least resistance to the vena cava. In animals with extrahepatic portal atresia or portal thrombi, splanchnic circulatory hypertension leads to an APSS. In animals with occluded hepatic venular outflow or fibrotic hepatic remodeling, sinusoidal and postsinusoidal hypertension also results in retrograde flow of blood into the valveless portal system. APSSs represent nests of tortuous veins uniting portal vasculature with the abdominal vena cava.

The most common sites of APSSs are caudal to the left kidney, in the region of the colorectal vasculature, and associated with vessels of the spleen. Nests of small tortuous vessels can usually be identified during ultrasound examination using Doppler color flow. Although esophageal varicoceles are most common in people, this location does not predominate in animals. Surgical exploration for shunt ligation should not be done in animals with suspected PSVAs associated with APSSs, because finding an APSS confirms the presence of portal hypertension. Liver biopsies are needed to determine the underlying cause of portal hypertension.

Clinical signs of APSSs include episodic HE, PU/PD, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), and abdominal effusion. Laboratory abnormalities consistent with a primary underlying hepatic disease can be seen in addition to markers of shunting (RBC microcytosis, low BUN and creatinine, hypocholesterolemia, ammonium biurate crystalluria, and subnormal protein C activity). Hyperbilirubinemia may be present, depending on the underlying cause. Ligation of multiple APSSs is contraindicated, because this is a compensatory response to portal hypertension. Banding of the vena cava to reduce the extent of shunting is ill advised. Medical treatment to minimize signs of HE along with sodium restriction and combination diuretic therapy are used to control abdominal effusion. Dogs and cats with APSSs can live several years without clinical signs, some having a normal lifespan uneventfully when provided with appropriate medical and nutritional support.

Hepatic Disease in Small Animals
Overview of Hepatic Disease in Small Animals
Hematology in Hepatic Disease in Small Animals
Coagulation Tests in Hepatic Disease in Small Animals
Enzyme Activity in Hepatic Disease in Small Animals
Other Serum Biochemical Measures in Hepatic Disease in Small Animals
Hepatic Function Tests in Small Animals
Imaging in Hepatic Disease in Small Animals
Cholecystocentesis in Hepatic Disease in Small Animals
Liver Cytology in Small Animals
Liver Biopsy in Small Animals
Pathologic Changes in Bile in Small Animals
Nutrition in Hepatic Disease in Small Animals
Fulminant Hepatic Failure in Small Animals
Hepatic Encephalopathy in Small Animals
Portal Hypertension and Ascites in Small Animals
Portosystemic Vascular Malformations in Small Animals
Acquired Portosystemic Shunts in Small Animals
Other Hepatic Vascular Disorders in Small Animals
Hepatotoxins in Small Animals
Infectious Diseases of the Liver in Small Animals
Feline Hepatic Lipidosis
Biliary Cirrhosis in Small Animals
Canine Cholangiohepatitis
Canine Chronic Hepatitis
Lobular Dissecting Hepatitis in Small Animals
Canine Vacuolar Hepatopathy
Metabolic Diseases Affecting the Liver in Small Animals
Hepatocutaneous Syndrome in Small Animals
Nodular Hyperplasia in Small Animals
Hepatic Neoplasia in Small Animals
Miscellaneous Liver Diseases in Small Animals
Diseases of the Gallbladder and Extrahepatic Biliary System in Small Animals
Cholecystitis in Small Animals
Canine Gallbladder Mucocele
Other Disorders of the Gallbladder in Small Animals
Other Disorders of the Bile Ducts in Small Animals
Extrahepatic Bile Duct Obstruction in Small Animals
Cholelithiasis in Small Animals
Biliary Tree Rupture and Bile Peritonitis in Small Animals
Feline Cholangitis/Cholangiohepatitis Syndrome
Hepatobiliary Fluke Infection in Small Animals
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