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BRAND NAME: ACTIGALL
Ursodeoxycholic acid, what we call “ursodiol,” is one of the bile acids produced by the Chinese black bear and it has been used in the treatment of liver disease for centuries. Nowadays, however, it is produced in the laboratory rather and not extracted from bear gall bladders.
HOW THIS MEDICATION IS USED
There are many benefits to the use of ursodeoxycholic acid in the treatment of liver disease:
Removal of Toxic Bile Acids
Heretofore, the bile acids we have mentioned are "good." They carry away toxins and assist with digestion. This is all fine and dandy inside the confines of the GI tract but some bile acids are very damaging to the liver if they are reabsorbed. In dogs and cats, toxic bile acids are produced when intestinal bacteria consume "good" bile acids and convert them into "bad" ones. The intestine must avoid reabsorbing toxic bile acids and try to only reabsorb the safe kind for recycling. Ursodeoxycholic acid is a non-toxic bile acid. The intestine will preferentially reabsorb ursodeoxycholic acid over more toxic bile acids when the two types are together in the intestine.
Increased bile flow
Small amounts of toxic bile acids get reabsorbed into the liver and are dealt with promptly when the liver is healthy. When the liver is not healthy these bile acids build up and damage the liver further. Ursodeoxycholic acid is what is called a choleretic, which means it improves the flow of bile through the tiny ducts into the gall bladder and improves the flow of bile from the gall bladder into the intestine. In other words, it helps the flow of bile, which in turn facilitates the removal of toxic bile acids (as well as other toxins excreted in bile) from the body.
Ursodeoxycholic acid also appears to have beneficial effects in normalizing immune reactions in the liver and may be useful in the treatment of cirrhosis and chronic active hepatitis.
Ursodiol is typically given once or twice daily with food. If a dose is accidentally skipped, do not double up on the next dose but give the next dose as scheduled. Store Ursodiol at room temperature, away from light. Compounded liquids should be stored according to the producing pharmacy recommendations.
No serious side effects have turned up in any of the testing of this medication on dogs and cats. The occasional patient experiences some nausea. (Ursodeoxycholic acid is toxic to rabbits, baboons, and rhesus monkeys.)
The use of ursodeoxycholic acid can lower blood cholesterol levels.
There is a possibility that chronic use of ursodeoxycholic acid in cats may deplete the body of the essential amino acid taurine, thus necessitating dietary supplementation with this amino acid. Dogs are able to manufacture their own taurine internally so this issue is not problematic for them. Your veterinarian may recommend a taurine supplement for a cat on ursodiol.
INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER DRUGS
Ursodeoxycholic acid should not be given at the same time as aluminum containing antacids (such as Amphojel) as these compounds may bind together and impede the action of the ursodeoxycholic acid.
Concurrent use of ursodiol with estrogens may reduce the effectiveness of ursodiol.
CONCERNS AND CAUTIONS
The capsule size is inconveniently large for dosing small animals. A compounding pharmacy is generally needed to produce an appropriately sized medication. The capsule can be split and the inner powder sprinkled in food or a compounding pharmacy can create a flavored oral suspension. Ursodiol has a naturally bitter flavor which is hidden when intact capsules are used.
If the common bile duct is obstructed with a gallstone, it's not appropriate to increase bile flow. In such a situation, the use of ursodeoxycholic acid would not be recommended.
The bile acids test is a common blood testing in monitoring liver function. Lately, concern has been raised that the use of ursodiol will falsely elevate this test. While it is not known for sure whether this is actually a problem, it has been suggested to discontinue this medication for a couple of days prior to a bile acids test.
Ursodiol is best given with food.
Page last reviewed: 8/22/2020