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Liver Cancer in Dogs

A diagnosis of liver cancer for your dog can be earth-shattering. However, depending on the type of liver cancer your dog has, it may not be hopeless. Our Lexington veterinarians use advanced diagnostics and treatments to provide the best possible care to our canine cancer patients.

Are All Tumors in a Dog’s Liver Cancerous?

The liver is responsible for removing toxins from the body, helping digestion, and assisting the body with blood clotting.

Tumors discovered in a dog’s liver are frequently benign. Metastatic cancers located elsewhere in your dog’s body can spread to the liver and cause cancerous tumors there.

If your furry friend has received a diagnosis of liver cancer, this may mean your dog has another type of metastatic cancer that has spread to the liver, rather than actual liver cancer (which is rare).

What is Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC)?

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) can cause actual liver cancer. HCC is the most common type of cancer that originates from the liver. However, there are also some other types of cancer that can be identified in dogs, including mesenchymal sarcoma, bile duct carcinoma, and neuroendocrine tumor.

Hepatocellular carcinoma may appear as:

  • Massive - A single large tumor discovered in the liver
  • Diffuse - Cancer found throughout the entire liver
  • Nodular - Several masses spread throughout the liver

It’s imperative to remember that a massive hepatocellular carcinoma is found, this term does not describe the size of your dog’s tumor, but rather is the term for a single large tumor.

The most common form of hepatocellular carcinoma is the massive tumor, which also tends to be easier to remove.

All forms of primary liver cancer will metastasize to other parts of your dog’s body if left untreated.

What is Metastatic Cancer of the Liver?

Metastatic cancer of the liver refers to cancer found in your dog’s liver that has spread from somewhere else in his body.

Common cancers that can lead to metastatic liver cancer in dogs include:

  • thyroid cancer
  • osteosarcoma
  • lymphoma
  • intestinal carcinoma
  • pancreatic cancer
  • transitional cell sarcoma
  • mast cell tumors
  • hemangiosarcoma
  • mammary carcinoma.

Which Dogs Are Most Prone to Liver Cancer?

While liver cancer is most often diagnosed in older dogs, it can also impact younger dogs.

Though hepatocellular carcinoma has not been linked to any specific breeds, breeds which are predisposed to other types of cancer that may metastasize to the liver include poodles, German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Golden Retrievers.

Symptoms of Liver Cancer in Dogs

Dogs who have liver cancer will often be asymptomatic in the disease’s early stages, which means the disease will have advanced considerably by the time symptoms appear.

Common symptoms of liver cancer in dogs include:

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Increased urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin, eyes and gums)
  • Weakness

Vets will sometimes spot the signs of liver abnormalities such as liver enlargement, abnormal blood work results or abdominal pain on palpation, during routine physical exams.

Diagnosing Liver Cancer in Dogs

Your vet may run lab tests to look for signs of liver dysfunction such as a urine sample test to diagnose liver cancer. Diagnostic imaging tests such as ultrasounds or radiographs may also be completed, and a needle aspiration of the liver or biopsy can reveal cancerous cells.

After diagnosing your dog with liver cancer, your veterinarian will work with you to determine the best treatment plan for your dog’s condition.

How Long Do Dogs Live With Liver Cancer? 

Though hepatocellular carcinoma may sound like a terrifying diagnosis but, the liver is capable of regenerating. This means that even if a large portion of your pooch’s liver is removed, it can rebuild itself.

Hepatocellular carcinoma tumors also grow slowly, giving your dog’s vet the time and opportunity to operate and remove the affected portions of your dog’s liver, increasing his chances of full recovery.

Surgery to remove this tumor is usually the most effective way to treat liver cancer in dogs. If your vet is able to surgically remove a massive liver tumor, this will generally give your dog a good prognosis, and he may live for years following treatment.

Cancer treatment for your dog can include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. The type of treatments used and our approach to care will depend on your vets predictions of best possible outcomes, and your knowledge of your dog’s personality and needs.

Unfortunately, some malignant tumors such as tumors from a metastasized cancer and diffuse hepatocellular carcinoma tumors cannot be removed, and the prognosis is poor (typically about 3 to 6 months).

Though chemotherapy can sometimes delay the progression of cancer, it is unlikely to cure it. In these cases, your vet will work with you to determine how you can keep your dog most comfortable.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Contact our vets in Lexington if you are worried your dog may have cancer or want to discuss cancer treatment if your dog has already been diagnosed.

Emergency Care

Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency is open 24/7 for emergencies and is accepting patients for advanced diagnostic appointments. Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lexington companion animals. 

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