Canine Liver Cancer Prognosis

The prognosis for canine liver cancer worsens as the disease advances. Canine liver cancer occurs in two main types. First, primary liver cancer arises within the liver, with the most prevalent being hepatocellular carcinoma. Such tumors usually do not metastasize, nor spread to other parts of the body, but may. Primary liver tumors do, however, often grow and invade surrounding normal liver tissue, eventually adversely affecting function.

Secondly, metastatic liver cancer originates in other parts of the body and spreads to the liver through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. Because canine liver cancer may spread undetected until it is too late for treatment to be effective, it is considered one of the deadliest forms of canine malignancy. The best defenses against canine liver cancer are vigilant observation by owners and regular medical checkups.

Difficulties in Diagnosing Liver Cancer Early Enough

A remarkable organ, the liver synthesizes proteins, stores and metabolizes fats and carbohydrates, secretes bile to aid digestion, rids the body harmful biological bi-products, and breaks-down outside toxins that enter the body. Having such an important role, the liver is built to function at a severely reduced capacity. Unfortunately, a diseased liver may, as a result, remain asymptomatic for an extensive period, allowing cancerous tumors to grow unchecked.

Symptoms of Canine Liver Cancer                                         

Canine liver cancer may produce virtually no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Nonetheless, you should watch carefully for an array of symptoms that will increase in number and severity as canine liver cancer progresses. Your dog may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms once afflicted by liver cancer:

  • Vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Pale feces
  • Increased urination
  • Orange-colored urine
  • Increased thirst
  • Pale gums
  • Weakness of the limbs
  • Coughing
  • Blood in the sputum
  • Jaundice  (often noticed by owners in the whites of the dog’s eyes or on patches of skin)
  • Neurological effects, like pacing and seizures

Diagnosis of Canine Liver Cancer

Your dog’s vet may decide to test your dog for the presence of liver cancer. Here are types of tests that may be performed:

  • Palpating the abdomen to detect swelling of the liver
  • Blood work-up
  • Urinalysis
  • Ultrasound
  • Chest x-rays
  • CT scan
  • Fine-needle biopsy of affected liver tissue

Such tests determine whether a primary tumor exists only in the liver or a malignancy in another part of your dog’s body has settled in the liver. The conclusive test for cancer is the biopsy, which involves injecting a laparoscope, or camera, into the liver to harvest a sample of tissue.  

Treatment for Canine Liver Cancer

In cases of primary liver cancer, your dog’s vet will likely recommend surgery. Even when large tumors are found deep within the abdomen, surgery can successfully treat many of them. In fact, more than half of the liver can be excised, after which it will be able to regenerate the lost tissue. The prognosis is favorable if the cancer has not spread.

In cases of metastatic liver cancer, your dog’s oncologist may recommend surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments, depending on the type of liver cancer detected and how far it has advanced.

With any form of hard-to-treat or untreatable canine liver cancer, the emphasis will increasingly shift to making your dog as comfortable as possible.