Diagnosing Liver Cancer in Dogs

Liver cancer in dogs can be one of two types; primary, meaning that the cancer originates in the liver, or secondary, meaning that the cancer has spread to the liver from some other part of the body. Primary liver tumors can sometimes be successfully treated through surgical removal. Treatment of secondary liver cancer is much more difficult, since by this time the cancer has already spread, possibly throughout the body.

Canine Liver Cancer

There are two types of liver cancer in dogs, primary and secondary. Primary liver cancer is cancer that originates in the liver, while secondary liver cancer spreads to the liver from some other part of the body. Of the two, secondary liver cancer is the more difficult to treat.

Primary liver cancer is less common than secondary liver cancer. It usually occurs in geriatric animals older than ten years of age. Male dogs are somewhat more susceptible to this form of cancer. Rarely, primary liver tumors spread to other parts of the body.

Secondary liver cancer spreads to the liver from other parts of the body. It usually appears in the liver as multiple tumors.

Symptoms of Dog Liver Cancer

The symptoms of dog liver cancer grow more pronounced as the disease progresses. They include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bloody stools
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Pale gums
  • Jaundice
  • Anemia

Diagnosing Dog Liver Cancer

There are several other diseases of the liver that can cause symptoms very similar to the symptoms associated with canine liver cancer. Hepatitis, leptospirosis, viral and fungal infections might cause similar symptoms.

Because symptoms of canine liver cancer are usually quite unnoticeable during the first stages of the disease, and because the symptoms of liver cancer emulate the symptoms of other liver diseases, liver cancer in dogs is not usually diagnosed until late in the cancer's progression. Your vet will diagnose liver cancer using some of the following diagnostic tools:

  • Liver biopsy
  • Abdominal and chest X-rays
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Clotting tests
  • Urinalysis
  • Biochemical profile
  • Complete blood count

Treating Canine Liver Cancer

If your dog's liver cancer is primary, and especially if the cancer is detected early, then surgical removal of the tumors may prove an effective treatment. If all of the cancerous cells are removed upon surgery, your dog could survive from one to many years following diagnosis.

If your dog's primary cancer has already spread, or if he's suffering from secondary liver cancer that has spread from another organ, then the prognosis is much worse. Your vet may recommend chemotherapy, though chemotherapy has not been shown to be particularly effective in the treatment of canine liver tumors. Radiation and medication are also used to treat canine liver cancer.

Low carb, high fat and high protein canine cancer diets, whether cooked at home or purchased commercially, can help ease the burden on your dog's liver to give him an optimal chance for extended life or recovery. Nutritional supplements can also support your dog's liver function and help his body eliminate toxins. While these products may not sure liver cancer in dogs, they may improve your dog's quality of life and even extend his lifespan slightly.