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Liver Cancer In Dogs: What You Need To Know

Liver Cancer In Dogs: What You Need To Know

Your dog getting a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. The last thing we as dog owners want is to see our dogs suffer. Unfortunately, sometimes we still have to. It’s hard to understand all of the information your vet is providing you with, and we are left with many unanswered questions. Here is what you need to know about liver cancer in dogs.

What is it?

Liver cancer in dogs is a tumorous growth in the lining of the liver. The liver is the organ responsible for removing toxins from the body, it also takes part in digestion and other processes.

Cancerous tumors most often result from metastatic cancer from other parts of the body. Primary liver cancer is very rare.

There are several types of liver cancer that can affect dogs. The most common one is hepatocellular carcinoma. Other types are rare.

The placement of a dog’s liver shows where liver cancer occurs
Credit: Life Learn Inc.

What causes liver cancer in dogs?

The causes of primary liver cancer are mostly unknown. But there are a few factors that are known to increase the likelihood.

One huge factor is age. Liver cancer most often appears in dogs that are olden than nine years old.

Exposure to toxins and certain medications can cause liver damage, that increase the likelihood as well. Hepatitis can be a factor too.

You can read all about preventing cancer in dogs here.

What are the symptoms?

In many cases it can be completely asymptomatic until the tumor is already large enough to cause some serious problems. Dogs may show some of the following symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures

Your ver may detect abnormalities during your dog’s regular examination. Hepatomegaly or the enlargement of the liver, abdominal pain, and pain during palpation may point towards serious conditions such as this one.

Golden retriever losing it’s appetite due to liver cancer
Decreased appetite is a possible symptom of liver cancer

Is liver cancer in dogs painful?

Like we previously stated, in most cases it’s asymptomatic. Your dog may feel discomfort or pain when you put pressure on his abdomen. As this cancer is in most cases metastatic, the canine may be feeling pain from it’s primary tumor.

Either way, if you in any way feel that your dog is experiencing pain, contact your vet so they can give them something to ease the pain.

How to diagnose it?

A multi-faceted approach is the most common way to diagnose liver cancer. Your vet may run some lab tests seeking for signs of liver insufficiency and dysfunction. The veterinarian may also take a urine sample too.

Other equally as important tests include: Radiographs or ultrasounds and biopsy or needle aspiration to do an examination of the cancerous liver cells.

Dog radiographs are a possible way for diagnosing liver cancer in dogs
Liver cancer diagnosis is with the help of radiographs

How to treat liver cancer in dogs?

The treatment is generally surgical removal of the tumor. It largely depends on the size and type of the tumor that has formed.

Massive tumors are in most cases removable with surgery. Bigger tumors are also less likely to metastasize, which makes the recovery much more likely.

If several masses have appeared throughout the entire liver, it isn’t possible to remove it surgically. Unfortunately, chemotherapy usually isn’t effective as well. These types of tumors do have a tendency to metastasize, most often to the kidneys, lungs, spleen and intestines. The prognosis for this type of liver cancer isn’t too optimistic.

What is the prognosis? How long do dogs with liver cancer live?

Even though liver cancer sounds terrifying, it can very often be successfully removed. Dogs with operable tumors may live for up to five years after the operation, if the cancer hasn’t spread to other organs.

Inoperable liver tumors on the other hand can have a much darker prognosis. Sadly, in most cases dogs only live from 3 to 6 months after getting diagnosed.

Chemotherapy can delay the progression, but in most cases it isn’t curative.

Discuss with your vet the ways to keep your dog as comfortable as possible.