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Objective— The purpose of this study was to determine the signalment, history, clinical signs, diagnosis, treatment, outcome, and factors affecting outcome of dogs and cats surgically treated for bile peritonitis.

Study Design— Retrospective study.

Animals or Sample Population— Twenty-four dogs and two cats surgically treated for bile peritonitis.

Methods— The medical records of dogs and cats surgically treated for biliary effusions at the Ohio State University and Michigan State University between 1987 and 1994 were reviewed. Statistical analysis was performed to compare factors affecting outcome.

Results— The cause of the biliary effusion was determined in 24 animals, and resulted from disruption of the biliary tract secondary to trauma (n = 13) or necrotizing cholecystitis (n = 11). Determination of the bilirubin concentration of the abdominal effusion was the only diagnostic test that was 100% effective in diagnosing bile leakage before surgical intervention. The bilirubin concentration of the effusion was consistently at least two times higher than the serum bilirubin concentration. Bacteriologic culture and sensitivity revealed that a septic, biliary effusion was usually associated with multiple types of gram-negative bacteria. The overall survival rate was 50% (13 of 26). The peripheral white blood cell count was significantly lower in survivors (mean 20,608/uL) compared with nonsurvivors (mean 35,712/uL). The immature neutrophil count was also significantly lower in survivors (mean 686/uL) than in nonsurvivors (4,852/uL). Only 27% (3 of 11) of the animals with a septic biliary effusion survived. In contrast, 100% (6 of 6) of the animals in which no bacteria were isolated from the abdominal effusion survived. Open abdominal drainage was not a successful treatment for 7 of 9 animals with septic biliary effusions. Survival was not significantly affected by the distribution of the peritonitis, cause of biliary effusion, or duration of clinical signs before surgical intervention.

Conclusions— Patients with sterile biliary effusions have a much lower mortality rate than those with septic biliary effusions. The successful treatment of sterile biliary effusions does not require open abdominal drainage, and is not affected by the duration of the effusion.

Clinical Relevance— This retrospective study provides information that may aid the surgeon in the diagnosis and treatment of bile peritonitis.