Like all other types of canine cancer, primary liver cancer in dogs presents itself in many different ways. Some dogs show all of the symptoms that liver cancer can cause, whereas other dogs only express a few symptoms, and they might be so mild you don't see them right away.
But what are these symptoms of this type of cancer? We'll talk about the side effects that this disease causes, and then we'll take you on a walk through the diagnostic tests and treatment options for dogs with liver cancer. There's more than one type of canine liver cancer, so we'll introduce you to all four forms, too!
Symptoms of Liver Cancer in Dogs
The symptoms of liver cancer often go undetected until a large tumor has developed. Until the tumor becomes noticeable, the cancer is mostly asymptomatic because you can barely tell that the dog is exhibiting any unusual behavior. However, just because it's not apparent to the naked eye doesn't mean the dog isn't experiencing symptoms of canine liver cancer.
As cancer moves from the early stages into the intermediate, and sometimes late stages, you'll be able to pick up on the symptoms of this disease in your dog, which includes:
- Changes in urination patterns
- Constipation followed by diarrhea
- Exuding more heat than normal
- Slightly higher temperature or fever
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Dizziness and low energy
- Extreme lethargy
- Almost always sleeping
- Excessive consumption of water
A Closer Look at Canine Liver Cancer Symptoms
There are some uncommon symptoms that your dog may present. There are reports that dogs with liver cancer also experience frequent vomiting, coupled with seizures that come and go. In the later stages of this canine cancer, some dogs have severe and life-threatening bleeding in their abdominal region.
Known as abdominal hemorrhaging, these bleeds stem from necrotic tumors, which means that the lymph nodes picked up on the presence of cancerous cells and worked to kill many of them, which is good but also detrimental to your dog's blood flood. If dead cancer cells become trapped in the bloodstream, the chance of hemorrhaging is increased. This is a prime example of why vets perform blood work on dogs that might have this disease.
Many of the cancer symptoms go hand-in-hand, so it makes sense that tumors can go undetected for so long. For example, a loss of appetite leads to weight loss. You could even reverse the impact and say that weight loss can cause a lack of appetite as well.
Little to no caloric intake, paired with a lack of energy, can result in fainting and dizziness, too. The symptoms often play off of one another and eventually worsen your dog's health over time, so the earlier you can spot signs of this cancer, the better the outcome will be.
How Liver Cancer is Diagnosed in Dogs
There are multiple different ways that this cancer is diagnosed in dogs. In the process of diagnosing this cancer in dogs, it's very likely that a variety of lab tests will be conducted to rule out other possible illnesses. From blood work and ultrasounds to radiographs and hormone imbalance tests, there are many ways of figuring out if there is something other than cancer making your dog unwell.
Veterinarians often look for blood clotting and hemorrhaging. They will also look for abnormalities in the urine. They will look at the heart first before going through with a biopsy. Since surgical biopsies are a more intense way of looking at potentially cancerous tumors, vets will wait to perform surgical biopsies until they are absolutely sure a biopsy is necessary. Needle aspirates are an additional way of diagnosing this type of cancer as well.
Not only do these diagnostic exams help eliminate other possible causes of the tumor, but they help vets figure out what kind of cancer your dog has as well. Once the vet has ruled out other possibilities and determines which type of liver cancer your dog has, a treatment plan can be compiled for your pet.
How to Treat Liver Cancer in Dogs
There are many treatments for cancer cells that have spread to the liver of your dog. The most common plan of action is the surgical removal of the tumor, but it's not the only option for treating this cancer.
The treatment options for liver cancer in dogs are:
- Palliative chemotherapy
- Radiation therapy
- Surgical removal
Type of Tumor in Dogs with Liver Cancer
There are four types of this cancer for dogs. The specific form of liver cancer that a dog is diagnosed with depends on the kind of tumor growing in the dog's liver. These four kinds of canine liver cancer are:
- Bile Duct Carcinoma
- Hepatocellular Carcinoma
- Mesenchymal Tumor Sarcoma
- Neuroendocrine Tumor Sarcoma
Bile Duct Carcinoma
Also known as cholangiocarcinoma, bile duct carcinoma is a type of liver cancer in dogs that is more so centralized in the bile ducts. Located very near to the liver, the bile ducts of the liver move bile to the gallbladder, and eventually, the bile is delivered into the small intestine. This disrupts the natural processes of your dog's internal functioning, which can create a significant backup, resulting in painful complications.
This is the type of primary liver cancer that over fifty percent of dogs with this cancer are diagnosed with, accounting for more than half of all canine liver cancer cases. Hepatocellular carcinomas start with cells known as hepatocytes, hence the name hepatocellular carcinoma.
As the most common type of this cancer, hepatocellular carcinomas are often not metastasis. As a result, hepatocellular carcinoma tumors are also not malignant. In other words, the tumors of this type of cancer do not run the risk of spreading to other parts of the body. Even though they spread to the liver and nowhere else in the body, the large tumor still impacts the liver in drastic ways.
Mesenchymal Tumor Sarcoma
As the name implies, mesenchymal tumor sarcoma is a type of cancer. The term mesenchymal refers to connective tissue in the central nervous system. More specifically, located in the liver of dogs, mesenchymal tumors stem from the cells that make up fibroblasts, blood vessels, muscles, and tissue in the central nervous system.
Neuroendocrine Tumor Sarcoma
Growing from the abnormal growth of neuroendocrine cells, neuroendocrine tumors, as well as the related sarcoma that follows suit, can form just about anywhere neuroendocrine cells travel. However, in relation to canine liver cancer, neuroendocrine tumors embed themselves into the nerves and neurons within your dog's liver.
Can a Dog Survive with a Tumor in the Liver?
Dogs cannot survive with a malignant and cancerous tumor in their liver for very long. If the tumor is benign and harmless, then it is more of an unnecessary disruption than it is fatal, but malignant liver tumors are incredibly dangerous. If the tumor is not removed from the liver and treated appropriately by professionals, a dog will eventually pass away from the disease.
How Long Can a Dog Live with Liver Cancer?
When pet owners learn of their dog's liver cancer diagnosis, one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is, "What is the median survival time of dogs with liver cancer?" We want our pets to live a long, happy life, so when we are met with a potentially deadly diagnosis, we think of the worst possible outcome and hope that it isn't true.
The treatment that a dog receives for cancer that has spread to the liver will play a significant role in the prognosis of canine with this cancer. For example, when a tumor is removed during a surgical operation, the median survival time of dogs with this disease that spreads to the liver is between one and two years. Most often, dogs will live for about a year and a half.
Is a Dog with Liver Failure in Pain?
Dogs with liver tumors are not in constant pain, but they are aware that something is causing them physical discomfort. It all starts with an overall feeling of uneasiness, or malaise, as the vet might refer to it. From there, a slow-moving onset of nausea as a result of the tumors will start affecting your dog's mood, and it will grow into a full-on vomiting spell.
With the inability to keep food down comes a significant drop in weight and little to no appetite, as well as abdominal pain stemming from the emptiness in your dog's stomach. Over time, your dog's body will begin showing subtle signs of jaundice, which worsens if the organ cannot fully bounce back or heal on its own. Jaundice is also the most apparent sign of liver failure.
When the liver starts failing due to the presence of tumors, it becomes dull, inflamed, and achy. As your dog's condition progresses, if proper treatment is not applied to the situation, then the liver itself can start to hurt physically.
From there, the tumors can intensify and cause backache as well. When medical intervention and professional care are added to the equation, dogs with liver cancer can receive relief from the pain that the disease naturally causes.
Approved by:Dr. Ivana VukasinovicDoctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade
Ivana Vukasinovic grew up in Serbia and attended the University of Belgrade where she received a degree in Veterinary medicine in 2012 and later completed surgical residency working mostly with livestock. Her first year of practice was split between busy small animal practice and emergency clinic, and after two more years of treating many different species of animals, she opened her own veterinary pharmacy where an interest in canine and feline nutrition emerged with an accent on fighting animal obesity. In her free time, she acts as a foster parent for stray animals before their adoption, likes to read SF books and making salted caramel cookies.
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