Canine Liver Cancer Diagnosis

Canine liver cancer, or hepatic neoplasia, causes cancerous tumors to grow in your dog's liver. Tumors may be primary, meaning they originated in the liver, or secondary, meaning they have spread to the liver from another part of the body. Secondary liver cancer is the most common type of liver cancer in dogs, while primary cancer originating in the liver remains rare. Here's what you should know about canine liver cancer, its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

Causes of Canine Liver Cancer

Secondary canine liver cancer, the most common type, occurs when cancer spreads to the liver from another part of the body. Primary liver cancer may occur due to toxic exposure. The liver's detoxifying function leaves it vulnerable to the accumulation of carcinogenic substances. Many chemicals, such as those produced by the fungi that grow on rotten food, become carcinogenic when processed by the liver.

Primary canine liver cancer is most common in male dogs older than ten years of age. 

Symptoms of Canine Liver Cancer

If your dog develops liver cancer, he might display some of the following symptoms:

  • Pale gums
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing

A number of other diseases affecting the liver can produce similar symptoms. Hepatitis, parasites, bacterial and viral infection can all cause symptoms similar to those of canine liver cancer. If your dog's liver cancer is secondary, he may display other symptoms not related to impaired liver function, depending on what other organs in his body are affected by cancer.

Diagnosing Canine Liver Cancer

Your vet will need a complete medical history and a complete physical exam to diagnose canine liver cancer. Be sure to tell your vet if you have recently traveled with your dog. Your dog may have contracted a fungal, bacterial or viral infection from another region that is affecting his liver.

Your vet will be able to tell if your dog's liver is enlarged by palpitating his abdomen. Blood and other laboratory tests can help your vet evaluate your dog's liver function. Ultrasounds and X-rays can help your vet look for tumors and fluid accumulation in the liver and other internal organs. If your vet suspects liver cancer, he will perform a biopsy on your dog's liver to look for cancerous cells.

Treating Canine Liver Cancer

If your dog is very ill, he will need to be stabilized before treatment can begin. IV fluids and blood transfusions can treat dehydration and anemia due to internal bleeding. If blood loss is sudden and severe, an external pressure wrap may be applied to stop it.

If possible, your vet will try to surgically remove all of the tumors from your dog's liver. Many liver cancer tumors are single tumors that can be easily removed. Your vet can remove up to 80% of your dog's liver without harming your dog. Your vet might prescribe chemotherapy drugs to keep the cancer from coming back. 

If the tumor can be surgically removed, the prognosis for canine liver cancer is good. Many dogs enjoy several years of continued good health after surgery to remove a cancerous liver tumor.