Diagnosing a Liver Tumor in Dogs

A liver tumor in dogs involves one of two forms. A primary liver tumor originates in the liver. Metastatic cancer originates in other organs.

Symptoms of each form of liver cancer often appear similar, but tests and treatment options differ. It's important to know the different symptoms, tests and treatment options for each.

General Symptoms Suggesting Liver Tumor in Dogs

In most cases of liver cancer, primary symptoms include:

  • Anemia

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Jaundice

  • Lack of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Swollen abdomen

  • Weight loss

Because other ailments share similar symptoms, it's important to seek veterinary care for tests. The earlier a dog is seen for treatments, the better the dog's prognosis.

Liver Tumor Tests Your Veterinarian Might Suggest

In the veterinarian's office, your dog will undergo a physical exam. During this exam, the vet will often palpate the abdomen to feel the size of the liver and see if there are obvious lumps. X-rays and ultrasounds may be required.

X-rays of the chest provide great views of the liver. Your veterinarian will generally take x-rays from all angles. CT scans and ultrasounds of the abdomen also provide a clear picture of the tumors and how far they've spread. Images will show how much the liver has expanded. Ultrasounds and x-rays also help provide images of any fluid that has built up in the chest cavity that can cause the breathing problems.

In addition, blood will be drawn to check the blood count and get a blood chemistry panel that checks the levels of electrolytes in the bloodstream. The blood sample is also used to do a blood clotting test. Veterinarians specifically look for the white cell count and the amount of albumin, blood sugar and bilirubin. This presents a picture of how well the liver is functioning. Blood clotting properties start in the liver, so if blood is failing to clot, it's a sign that the liver has problems.

If liver cancer is apparent, your veterinarian will recommend a biopsy to learn as much about the tumor as possible. The biopsy will help the vet determine if the tumor is malignant or benign. X-rays and ultrasounds will help the veterinarian pinpoint if the tumor spread from another area of the body.

Metastatic Liver Tumor in Dogs

Metastatic liver tumor in dogs come from another area of the body. They can come from any other organ, often the spleen is one, and there is usually more than one tumor.

Sometimes, liver masses are benign and do not need to be removed. If they are malignant, they will be surgically removed. Chemotherapy and radiation may be suggested.

Primary Liver Tumor in Dogs

Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common primary liver tumor. The tumors do not spread to other organs, but they do crowd liver tissue. Surgical removal of the liver tumor and surrounding tissue is generally recommended. Up to 50 percent of a liver can be safely removed because healthy tissue will grow back.

With hepatocellular carcinomas, radiation and chemotherapy are not commonly used. The tumors rarely respond to those treatments. Surgery usually removes all the cancerous tissue.