Articles Index/Portocaval Shunt
Posted 12/18/97

HEALTH UPDATE: Portocaval Shunt in Norfolk Terriers


Norfolk owners may be interested in the Yorkshire Terrier breed column in the August [1990] issue of the AKC Gazette. The column deals with a health problem found in Yorkies (and a number of other breeds) called Portocaval Shunt. Dogs afflicted with this condition have a malformation in which abdominal blood vessels are not connected properly and blood from the intestine bypasses the liver and goes directly to the heart and brain without being detoxified. In this disease, seizures will occur shortly after a meal since ammonia is produced during protein digestion.

While this condition is not common in Noroflks, ANTA is aware of four cases that were diagnosed within a fairly short period of time approximately 18 months to two years ago. Interestingly, while the Yorkshire columnist says this condition is hereditary and can be blamed, at least in part, to extreme inbreeding in that breed, the four Norfolks who were diagnosed (two in the US and two in Europe) shared no common ancestors for at least five generations.

Once properly diagnosed, surgery can be successfully performed on small breeds having this condition. The problem seems to be, however, that many veterinarians have never seen a case of Portocaval Shunt, and therefore do not easily identify it.

The four Norfolks diagnosed as having this problem were all described as being exceptionally sweet and loving in nature. They suffered a variety of symptoms, including blind staggers, loss of appetite, and seizures. Upon examination, they all had extremely high white blood counts.

According to the Gazette column, there are bio-acid tests which can be done to detect the presence of Portocaval Shunt. A blood sample is drawn after fasting the dog. Then, a high fat food is fed to the dog and another blood sample is drawn several hours later. The percentage of fats and acids in the blood will show if the dog is "clear," "borderline" or "severely" affected.

Thankfully, this condition seems to be very rare in Norfolks. It may be prudent, however, to file this information for future reference should your young Norfolk begin exhibiting any of the signs mentioned above.


ANTIC, Autumn 1990


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