What Is Liver Cancer in Dogs, And How Can It Be Treated?

Apr 2, 2024by Denise Lessard

Although liver cancer is deemed rather rare in dogs, there is still a small possibility that your canine best friend could be afflicted with this serious disease during his lifetime. And knowing the crucial details about liver cancer in dogs could mean keeping your pet clear of very serious consequences or even death.

We've put together this blog post to fill you in on everything you need to know about liver cancer in canines so you will have an idea of what to take note of. This includes an overview of dog liver cancer, its possible risk factors, the clinical signs to keep an eye on, how this disease is diagnosed, as well as the treatment options you can go for.

However, we'd just like to emphasize that this blog post does not constitute medical advice and is only for informative purposes. As a bonus, we're also going to reveal our favorite natural option when your dog's liver is afflicted with this serious health problem.

The right knowledge goes a very long way when it comes to liver cancer in dogs

If you’ve recently received a diagnosis of liver cancer for your pooch from your vet, you’re most likely anxious and asking yourself questions. We here at Zumalka are here to help. You can also check out our complete guide to dog cancer to learn more information about this serious disease.


Liver Cancer in Dogs in a Nutshell

Canine cancer of the liver in a nutshell

Also referred to as "hepatocellular carcinoma," canine liver cancer is basically cancer that affects a dog's liver cells. This serious health problem typically starts out when malignant tumors (or hepatocellular carcinoma tumors) progress into cancer.

When a dog's liver is afflicted with cancer, the actual liver cancer will typically strike only one portion or lobe of the organ. Nevertheless, some cases of this wellness issue can also possibly affect the entire liver and have an impact on several areas of the same. This type of dog's liver cancer will tend to have a more "nodular" aspect.

It is important to remember that the mere presence of a tumor does not mean that your pet is already susceptible to hepatocellular carcinoma in dogs. To properly diagnose liver cancer, it has to involve malignant or cancerous tumors and not benign tumors. We will discuss the difference between the two in just a bit.

Just to recap, not all liver tumors will end up becoming liver cancer. Even the fact that there are massive liver tumors present doesn't mean that they will turn into hepatocellular carcinomas sooner or later.


Is a Liver Tumor the Same as Liver Cancer in Dogs?

Dog looking at the camera

The short answer is no.

Unlike what a lot of people mistakenly think, the terms "liver cancer" and "liver tumor" are not interchangeable since they are different health issues altogether. However, it is possible that a tumor may progress into cancer should the former be malignant in nature.

When you say liver cancer in dogs, it involves the uncontrolled division and proliferation of abnormal cells. On the other hand, a liver tumor has to do with the irregular growth of tissues. This leads to the formation of masses that are also called neoplasms or lumps.

Benign liver tumors vs. malignant liver tumors

Having a "benign" tumor of the liver means that while it can grow pretty big in some cases, it won't spread to other organs or areas of the body. These internal organs may include the lungs, heart, spleen, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys, among others.

Moreover, while most large or massive tumors of the liver are benign in nature, they can still set off health problems in the long run since they can hinder its ideal function. Irregularities in the amount of liver enzymes as well as sudden liver abnormalities are deemed as the most common signs that a tumor may be present.

On the other hand, "malignant" tumors refer to those that contain rather aggressive tumor cells and tend to advance to other parts of the body. Compared to their benign counterparts, these masses spread and may turn out as actual liver cancer.

Additionally, it is important to take note that the term "massive hepatocellular carcinoma" does not describe the actual size of a tumor. It is instead used to call a single intact tumor located in a dog's liver. Relatedly, findings of diffuse hepatocellular carcinoma tumors usually don't lead to a good prognosis.


What is Primary Liver Cancer?

pug taking a rest

When you say primary liver cancer, it pertains to the very first abnormal growth or presence of cancer in a dog's liver before it has progressed into metastasized cancer. Hence, metastatic cancers located in other parts of the body subsequently found outside the liver cannot be considered as primary liver cancer or primary hepatocellular carcinoma.

Just to emphasize, primary liver cancer cannot be deemed as metastatic cancer and vice versa. In the same line, cancerous tumors, so long as they stay within the liver, are considered primary liver cancer.

How is it different from metastatic liver cancer?

Primary hepatocellular carcinoma is different from its metastatic cancer counterpart because the latter is already spreading to other parts of the body. Apart from significantly disrupting a dog's liver function, metastasized cancer can also affect the lymph nodes as well as cause unwanted blood clotting, among others.

Other types of metastatic cancer that can lead to hepatocellular carcinoma

The following metastatic cancer types are found to potentially cause occurrences of hepatocellular carcinoma in canines:

  • Bile duct carcinoma

  • Mast cell tumors

  • Pancreatic cancer

  • Intestinal carcinoma

  • Mammary carcinoma

  • Mesenchymal sarcoma

  • Transitional cell sarcoma

  • Malignant neuroendocrine tumor

  • Thyroid cancer

It is crucial to take note, though, that regardless if it is bile duct carcinoma, mast cell tumor, pancreatic cancer, intestinal carcinoma, mammary carcinoma, mesenchymal tumor, transitional cell sarcoma, malignant neuroendocrine tumor, or perhaps thyroid cancer, prompt veterinary medical attention is required.


What Causes Liver Cancer in Dogs?

Notwithstanding the strides we've made in modern veterinary medicine, the exact cause of canine liver cancer is still unknown. Studies show that there are many genetic and environmental factors to consider.

We'd just like to stress that most tumors are benign (noncancerous and do not spread), and the majority of liver tumors in dogs are malignant (cancerous and might spread). This is the reason why diagnosing liver cancer is a must as soon as you observe signs of liver abnormalities.

There are 4 types of liver tumors found in dogs (each corresponding to a different region of the liver affected):  hepatocellular tumors, bile duct tumors, neuroendocrine tumors (carcinoids), and primary sarcomas. So what makes a dog's liver cancerous? It is when cancer cells have already established a lot of ground.

The most commonly found in dogs are hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC). These generally present as a large, singular tumor on the liver. This usually affects the entire liver and is often characterized by either sudden liver dysfunction or liver enlargement, depending on the extent of the damage by cancerous cells.


Risk Factors of Canine Hepatocellular Carcinoma

While we've emphasized earlier that the exact cause of canine liver cancer is still unknown, there are some "risk factors" that are speculated to potentially have some links with this serious disease. Let's check them out in this part of our discussion:


Due to their weakening immune system responses, older dogs can be easy targets for liver dysfunction and hepatocellular carcinoma tumors. These can possibly become cases of primary liver cancers or massive hepatocellular carcinoma. While older dogs are more prone to liver cancer, younger dogs can be also afflicted with this disease.

Diet and environmental factors

Liver cancer-related issues like diffuse tumors and bile duct carcinomas may be caused by improper diet and exposure to harmful chemicals. These factors will mostly affect younger dogs whose immune defenses are still not that established.

Heredity and breed

What's alarming about diagnosing liver cancer is that it can affect just any breed. Besides medium to large pedigrees like German Shepherd dogs, this serious disease can also affect smaller breeds like Pomeranians and Pugs.


Common Symptoms of Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Dogs

While symptoms may vary, and some dogs are asymptomatic (meaning they show no symptoms), there are some signs of liver cancer in dogs—as well as in most liver tumors—you can be on the lookout for in your pet:

  • Lethargy

  • Weight loss (jaundice is also usually observed)

  • Diarrhea

  • Increased thirst and urination

  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and/or eyes since the liver's blood vessels are affected)

  • Liver enlargement

  • Recurring bouts of abdominal pain

Heads up: these symptoms of liver cancer in dogs are not exclusive.

If you notice a sudden onset of certain symptoms such as weakness, collapse, and/or lethargy, you should bring your dog in for a checkup right away. Most dogs present with the symptoms of liver disease at the time of diagnosis. 

And never ignore constant abdominal pain, too. Symptoms of liver cancer may appear to be that of common health issues, which makes this disease rather alarming. A key component in helping your dog overcome this wellness problem is early detection. These masses spread really fast if neglected!

Since the majority of liver tumors are metastatic, be aware of the onset of any of the above common symptoms if you’ve received a cancer diagnosis for your pup in the past. This may indicate that the cancer has spread to the liver. 

Again, we'd like to stress the importance of consulting with a pet wellness expert or a vet as soon as you notice symptoms of liver cancer.


How is Hepatocellular Carcinoma Diagnosed?

The most common procedure in the diagnosis of liver cancer is by fine needle aspiration. It involves directly extracting a sample from a dog's tumor or suspected cancer. A similar procedure to fine needle aspiration or FNA is a biopsy.

Other procedures utilized in the diagnosis of liver cancer include abdominal ultrasound, diagnostic imaging tests, complete blood count, and similar tests to come up with an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes these procedures are even combined like using diagnostic imaging tests with X-rays and the like.


Liver Cancer in Dogs: Life Expectancy

You’re probably asking yourself: how long can a dog live with liver cancer? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer.

Life expectancy depends on several factors, such as the severity, size, and type of the tumor, for example. Sadly, metastatic tumors found on the liver generally have a poor prognosis (approximately 3-6 months depending on the dog), and are more difficult to treat. 

Primary liver tumors such as HCCs that present as one singular mass are generally easier to treat, with a good prognosis and a smaller risk of spreading to other areas of the body.


Conventional Treatment Options for Canine Hepatocellular Carcinoma

The most common conventional options for this disease are surgical removal, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. These options may even be combined in some cases, depending on the extent of the disease.

However, we'd just like to be very clear that there are some adverse side effects that your dog can go through during these treatment options. These include lethargy, mouth sores, vomiting, and nausea, not to mention diarrhea and constipation.


Are There Natural Treatment Options? 

The answer is yes.

We here at Zumalka have designed PIPTOPET, a natural broadband antibiotic and antiviral product. 

A strong immune system is essential to helping your dog’s body fight disease. As an incredible immune system booster, this natural product promotes your dog's health. A strong immune system can help reduce the occurrences of secondary infections. 

You can think of PIPTOPET as a natural support intended to boost your dog's immune response against cancerous cells. And the best thing about it is it doesn't make your pooch vulnerable to adverse side effects!


About the author

Denise Lessard
Denise Lessard


Denyse Lessard is deemed as the “mother” of Zumalka, which was established more than ten years ago to provide easily accessible natural products for pet wellness worldwide.

Besides being a trained alternative medicine therapist, Denyse also has expertise in homeopathy, naturopathy and iridology, reflexology, as well as Chinese medicine. She is a long-standing member of the Professional Union of Homeopaths of Quebec, as well as the Association of Naturopaths and Naturotherapists of Quebec.

Denyse’s philosophy as regards pet wellness is not just about only dealing with disease and illness when they get in the picture, but keeping animals in ideal health each and every day.

Find out more about Denyse when you click HERE.

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