Liver Biopsy for Dogs

A liver biopsy is a surgical procedure used in the diagnosis of liver diseases. There are two different types of liver biopsies:

  1. using a fine needle aspirate guided by ultrasound to collect a sample of liver tissue requiring a less invasive procedure, or
  2. an actual surgical procedure whereby a doctor views the liver and any lesions on it and surgically removes a piece of the liver for laboratory examination.

As with any surgical procedure there are risks; however, an actual surgical procedure has a higher risk level than a procedure using a fine needle aspirate guided by an ultrasound. However, the procedure using the fine needle aspirate has been known to miss lesions that would help in the correct diagnosis of an illness.

Diagnostic Tools

A biopsy is a very important diagnostic tool, giving correct diagnosis for liver disease, tumors, cancer or hepatitis. It is used after a veterinarian palpates the abdomen for tumors and/or lesions and takes x-rays of the liver itself. Very often these x-rays determine the next procedure.

An ultrasound is used to pinpoint the location of the lesions so that a fine needle aspirate can be inserted into the abdomen and then into the lesion itself. Then fluid is withdrawn so laboratory analysis. This is a considerable less invasive procedure, requiring less “down time” with a less eventful, shorter recovery period. However, sometimes lesions are missed and then so is the diagnosis.

Sometimes a veterinarian will opt for the more invasive surgical procedure of a biopsy because it produces more accurate test results. By actually taking a piece of the liver to be tested in a laboratory, the test results are more accurate and conclusive. Any pieces of the liver taken actually regenerate in time. However, some liver disorders disrupt the production of the coagulation quality of the blood, making excessive bleeding a serious and potentially fatal possibility. All dogs are monitored for several hours after a liver biopsy for any signs of hemorrhaging.

Diseases of the Liver

Liver disease can be caused by:

  • parasites
  • viral infections
  • cancer
  • hepatitis
  • bacterial infections
  • inflammations
  • toxic reactions
  • obstructive bile duct disease
  • the use of certain medications

The use of the biopsy is to rule out certain possible causes in order to narrow down to the real cause of the medical condition. Only then can a comprehensive treatment plan be formulated.

A biopsy will confirm inflammation, liver destruction and fibrosis, however it will not necessarily pinpoint the exact cause of the condition, only the ruling out of possible candidates.

Biopsy Preparation

In the event that a biopsy is necessary, there are several factors to consider. A biopsy is a surgical procedure and can produce some negative events. There is a considerable amount of healing time needed after any surgery. Since this surgery is taking place at a time when the dog is already experiencing trauma, his reactions to it may be severe. It may take longer to heal since the immune system is already taxed. There may also be excessive bleeding due to the fact that the liver may not be producing the proper amount of coagulation factors. Monitoring the dog’s reaction to the surgical procedure is key for a quick and uneventful recovery.