Diagnosing Liver Cysts in Dogs

Liver cysts are common and the occurrence of cysts may be linked to certain drugs or the pet's diet. Cysts are lumps that are filled with liquid or different soft cells. Cysts are not considered dangerous, but it is important to detect and diagnose them, to ensure they are not malignant.

Symptoms of Canine Liver Cysts

Cysts may affect the liver of dogs at any age. Cysts develop due to an accumulation of cells that are benign. In very rare cases (less than 1%), the cysts can turn into malignant tumors. Due to the fact that they are located on the liver, the cysts cannot be felt by palpating the dog's abdomen. Typically, the liver cysts will not cause pain and discomfort, but the dog may present a few symptoms.

Watch out for symptoms such as:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea, which occur if the cysts affect the performance of the liver
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Yellowing of the eye whites (jaundice), but only if the dog has several cysts that cover a large surface of the liver and hinder its normal functions
  • Enlarged abdomen, if the liver is inflamed

The symptoms can indicate the pet has a liver problem, so you will have to get to a vet and have a few tests done.

Veterinary Consultation

A veterinary consultation will be performed, so that the vet observes any other subtle symptoms in the dog. The vet will determine what tests to perform to detect the problem.


An analysis of the urine will indicate if the liver functions are affected in any way. The urine may show abnormal levels of creatinine, but the results may also be normal.

X-Rays and Ultrasounds

If the vet suspects a cyst, the best way to detect it is to perform x-rays or ultrasounds. The cysts will show up on film and the vet will see the exact location of them.

Biopsy of the Cyst

Liver cysts may be composed of liquids, liquids wrapped in a connective membrane or air. A biopsy of the cyst is needed to determine the composition of the cyst and to see if there are any harmful cells in the composition of the cyst. The biopsy will be performed by making a small incision at the level of the liver, according to the results of the x-rays and ultrasounds and taking a sample of the cyst for analysis. A biopsy will also differentiate between a cyst and a tumor, and help the vet decide on the best course of treatment.

Cyst Treatment

If the tests show that the dog has a liver cyst and the cells are benign, the pet may not get any type of treatment. The cysts will rarely grow and in most cases may disappear without any type of treatment. The dog will have to be monitored and periodic tests will be needed to see if the cyst evolves. However, if the pet's liver functions are affected by multiple cysts, these will have to be removed.