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Published: Apr 04, 2012

Icterus, commonly known as jaundice or yellow jaundice, is a condition that may develop rapidly or over time in dogs.  The classic feature of jaundice is the presence of a yellow pigment in skin or tissues. A yellow hue is often most apparent in the white tissue of the eyes. Jaundice is not a disease itself, but a clinical sign of an underlying more serious problem.

Jaundice in dogs may be difficult for owners to spot if their dog has pigmented skin or dark hair. The eyes, gums and upper ear flaps are all good areas to check for jaundice, as the condition tends to be a bit easier to spot in these locations.

If you suspect your dog has icterus, the next step is to take the canine to a veterinary clinic in order to diagnose the underlying cause of the problem. The three most common causes of jaundice in dogs are the destruction of red blood cells causing anemia, liver disease or obstruction of the bile duct.

Each of these underlying causes may be brought on by a wide range of diseases and illnesses. For example, red blood cells can be destroyed by parasites, heartworms, cancer or autoimmune disorders. The bile duct may be obstructed by pancreatitis, gallbladder problems, abdominal trauma or various types of cancer.  The initial evaluation of jaundice by your veterinarian will include a thorough physical examination as well as blood work and radiographs (xrays) for dogs. It is important for your veterinarian to be involved, so that the exact cause can be found and treated properly.

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