The liver is an essential organ for all animals, whether dogs or cats. Unfortunately, liver disease can be very challenging to treat as it is often associated with no symptoms whatsoever, especially in its early stages.
In today’s article, we’re looking at what types of liver tumors dogs can suffer from, their signs and diagnosis, what treatment options are available nowadays, and if liver cancer can be prevented.
Types of liver cancer in dogs
Primary liver tumors have a lower incidence in dogs. Many times, liver neoplasms appear as a result of metastatic cancer from other organs.
The most common type of liver cancer that dogs can develop is called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Tumors can be benign or malignant. The most common benign liver tumors in dogs are hepatomas, hemangiomas, hepatocellular adenomas, and leiomyomas. These can be treated easier compared to their malignant counterparts.
Malignant tumors, on the other hand, which include the HCC we have already mentioned, are capable of metastasizing to other organs. Besides hepatocellular carcinoma, dogs can develop fibrosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, leiomyosarcoma, and many others.
While cats tend to develop benign liver cancer, dogs have a higher likelihood of developing malignant liver neoplasms.
The biggest problem with liver tumors is that they are often asymptomatic. More often than not, when the dog does start showing symptoms, they might not be specific to liver disease at all.
Other signs can range from increased thirst and urination frequency/quantity to jaundice, where you will notice that your pet’s visible mucous membranes (the gums, the skin, and the conjunctiva) become yellow.
Since the liver is in charge of filtering and eliminating the toxins in an animal’s body, severe forms can lead to seizures, weakness, or prolonged lethargy.
A note that we have to make here is that taking your dog for one or two check-ups to the vet clinic per year can save you a lot of a hard time and even money. If your dog develops liver cancer and it is diagnosed in its early stages, it is much easier to treat, and the prognosis might be favorable.
What are the causes of canine liver cancer?
It’s difficult to tell just what the reason for a cancer case in dogs is. Some dogs are genetically predisposed to developing one form of cancer or another.
Others can be affected by environmental factors such as the food they eat, their living situation, and even if they tend to come in contact with toxic elements or pollutants. In terms of food, the additives, preservatives, and artificial colors that most commercial and cheap varieties now contain can also increase the risk of canine liver cancer.
It is true that the incidence of hepatic cancer in our canine friends is higher as they become geriatric patients. Most cases are diagnosed when the pets have reached the age of 8 or 9.
How is dog liver cancer diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will recommend a number of tests that will all prove their worth in the way of diagnosing the disease. These may include a complete blood count, biochemistry tests, and imaging methods such as an X-ray or an ultrasound.
If a formation is discovered on the surface of the liver, the vet might recommend a cytological examination (if there is also liquid inside the peritoneal cavity) or a fine needle aspirate.
Since the needle aspiration might not be conclusive enough, a liver biopsy might also be recommended. The procedure involves removing a small tissue sample and examining it under the microscope. This is a specific test that can help the vet set a clear diagnosis.
In treating any type of cancer in pets, there are 3 major therapy options that vets can recommend:
- Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy is rarely the chosen therapy for this type of tumor as it can be painful. Chemotherapy can also have its share of risks given that the metabolization of the meds is performed by the liver, too, so the risk of damaging the organ is even higher.
If the tumor is established as being a primary neoplasm of the liver and the mass is clearly confined to one part of the organ, the operation can be successful. In fact, more than 75% of all liver cancer cases are treated with surgery.
Diffuse and nodular types of cancer should not be treated using an operation. Since some veterinarians do not find it comfortable to surgically remove liver tumors, especially depending on their nature, they might refer you to a veterinary oncologist.
Prognosis and life expectancy
The prognosis of this medical condition depends on the exact type of tumor your dog has and the stage it has reached. If your canine friend has a benign tumor and it is confined to a specific region of the liver, more often than not, it can be successfully removed using surgery, and your dog will be able to continue his or her life normally.
On the other hand, if there is any evidence that the tumor is, in fact, a secondary neoplasm and that the primary one is located in another organ, surgery is not the right way of going about things.
Some dogs can live for up to 5 years after being diagnosed and treated for liver cancer. Others aren’t as lucky. Very aggressive neoplasms are usually associated with short life expectancies such as 3 to 6 months.
Is there any way to prevent liver cancer in dogs?
Given that the cause of hepatic cancer remains unclear, adequate prevention is not possible. You can at least try your best at making sure that your dog has a healthy liver by feeding him or her a high-quality diet (a homemade one can often be better than a commercial one).
Taking your dog to the vet clinic at least once a year (until the age of 6-7, twice after) can ensure that early stages are diagnosed and treated effectively.