A Primer on Liver Cancer in Dogs

Liver cancer is most common in older dogs. 

Liver tumors can either

  • originate in the liver—primary liver cancer,
  • or can reach the liver from other areas through metastasis

Metastasis is the process by which cancer cells from the primary tumor site move to other parts of the body—such as the liver—via the blood or lymph fluid.

A Primer on Liver Cancer in Dogs

What does it look like

Signs of liver cancer can be very general and often include loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and/or vomiting.  More specific symptoms include jaundice, swelling, and fluid buildup in the abdomen.

Dogs may also experience seizures or other signs of brain inflammation. This happens when toxins accumulate in the blood and affect the brain, known as hepatic encephalopathy.

Liver cancer diagnosis

Diagnosis of liver cancer usually involves a combination of physical findings, x-rays or ultrasound, and blood tests.  

Blood tests often reveal high liver enzymes and/or bile acid levels.  To confirm the diagnosis, your veterinarian may want to take a biopsy. A liver biopsy involves inserting a needle through the abdomen into the liver to remove cells or sections of tissue for microscopic evaluation.

Liver cancer treatment

A surgeon can remove an isolated tumor involving only a single liver lobe. The veterinarian will recommend follow-up chemotherapy recommended for certain types of cancers (e.g., lymphoma).

However, tumors involving multiple liver lobes, or those already metastasized to/from other organs, are difficult to treat and carry a poor prognosis.

Your vet may prescribe palliative therapy, such as corticosteroids or a specialized diet. This temporarily helps your do feel better and reduces the amount of work the liver normally does in the body.

Related articles:
Jaundice (Icterus) in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Turning Yellow?

Further reading:
Liver Tumors and Cancers in Dogs

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