Liver Cancer in Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
A cancer diagnosis for your dog can be extremely heartbreaking. You may even find it hard to understand what the veterinarian is saying. Although liver cancer is the least common type of cancer in dogs, the veterinarian can fully explain to you what the diagnosis means for your four-legged friend.
Functions of the Liver
The liver of the dog functions the same as that of the human liver. The organ filter outs the toxins and other dangerous substances in the body. It helps the body retain vitality, energy, and overall health.
The liver gets its blood supply from the portal vein and the hepatic artery so that it can perform properly. However, this blood supply can also introduce cancer cells from other parts of the body to the liver.
The liver is a vital organ because it assists with blood clotting and digestion. If it is not functioning properly, then your dog will become sick. The good news is that liver cancer in dogs can be treated and managed.
What is Liver Cancer in Dogs?
When a vet finds a cancerous tumor in your dog’s liver, it can lead to two things. Either your dog is suffering from liver cancer, or it has another type of cancer that has spread to the liver. Liver cancer in dogs is not common, but your pet can, nonetheless, develop the condition.
More often than not, it is the result of hepatocellular carcinoma, which is the most common type of cancer that comes from the liver. However, there are other types of liver cancer in dogs including neuroendocrine tumor, mesenchymal tumor, and bile duct carcinoma.
There are three types of hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC:
- Massive: the cancer consists of a single tumor in the liver.
- Nodular: several tumors spread throughout the organ.
- Diffuse: already spread throughout the whole liver.
The most common type of HCC is a massive tumor. The good news is that it has a lower metastasis rate than the other types of HCC, and a veterinarian can easily remove it. However, when left undiagnosed, it can metastasize to other parts of the body over time, such as the lungs, lymph nodes, and other organs.
Once liver cancer is metastasized, it can lead to lymphoma, thyroid cancer, intestinal carcinoma, pancreatic cancer, fibrosarcoma, mast cell tumors, mammary carcinoma, hemagiosarcoma, transitional cell sarcoma, and pheochromocytoma.
What Are the Symptoms of Liver Cancer in Dogs?
To fully understand the symptoms, we must know that liver cancer comes in two stages.
In the first stage, the tumors grow in the liver. Then, in the second stage, the tumors spread to other organs.
An early diagnosis will certainly help your dog receive proper treatment and medication. The veterinarian will start the examination by feeling the dog’s body. A further diagnosis requires advanced steps to observe the dog’s liver through x-rays, sonogram, MRI, and CT Scan.
The liver cancer will usually show abnormalities including wounds and/or enlargements. A laboratory test will determine the type of cancer through tissue sampling or biopsy. Blood test, and urine tests will be conducted as well to further confirm the results. These tests are important to determine the specific treatment and medication plan based on the type and progression of the cancer itself.
The bad news is that the symptoms of liver cancer only manifest when the cancer has reached its advanced stage. Some of the symptoms include weakness, weight loss, diarrhea, hepatomegaly, abdominal hemorrhage, vomiting, polydipsia, loss of appetite, and lethargy.
As you can see, liver cancer shares its symptoms with other common diseases that can affect dogs. That’s why the disease can go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, especially during its early stages. Other liver diseases that have the same symptoms include leptospirosis, fungal or viral infection of the liver, and hepatitis.
Some dogs show less common symptoms such as seizures and vomiting. A necrotic tumor core can lead to abdominal hemorrhaging. Regular checkups with the veterinarian can help detect abnormalities in the liver of your dog. Abdominal pain or liver enlargement can indicate a liver problem that includes cancer. Blood tests can also help determine if there are abnormalities in the liver.
The dog’s liver can function properly during the early stage of canine cancer. That is why it’s easy for a veterinarian to diagnose the disease late, resulting in a poor prognosis. When left untreated, it can result in a brain condition known as hepatic encephalopathy.
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What Causes Liver Cancer in Dogs?
There is no definite cause of liver cancer in dogs, according to medical literature. Some doctors think that canine liver cancer occurs because of the absorption of pesticides and other environmental chemicals. Some think that it is due to the exposure to carcinogenic substances and human medication that compromise the immune system of the dog. If you don’t want your pet to develop liver cancer, then make sure household chemicals are kept in a safe place that’s out of your dog’s reach.
There are cases in which liver cancer in dogs happens due to aging. There are also instances in which it is a genetic issue. Trauma or infection can also result in canine liver cancer. Other causes of liver cancer include molds that grow on corn, diabetes, long-term use of painkillers, issues with the pancreas, fatty foods, and untreated heart worms, just to name a few.
If you observe your dog showing some indicators of liver problems, you should consult the vet right away. The vet will look at the dog’s medical records and diet. The vet will also do some blood tests, ultrasound, or x-rays to determine what is going on with your pet’s liver. Based on the results, the vet might also consider taking a biopsy of a tumor to find out if it is cancerous or not.
Available Treatment Options
After the diagnosis of liver cancer, your vet will discuss with you some available options of treatment. Primary liver cancer can be treated through surgery that removes the tumor from the liver. However, if the cancer has spread to other organs, surgery won’t be suggested.
A vet can easily remove a massive tumor in the liver. Up to 75 percent of the organ can be removed without affecting its normal functions. Massive tumors don’t metastasize, and dogs with massive tumors have a higher chance of recovery than other types of liver cancer.
Remember that a dog with nodular cancer has several tumors in the liver, while a diffuse tumor affects the entire organ. If your dog is suffering from any of these two types of liver cancer, surgery is not an option. Chemotherapy is also ineffective in these cases because the tumors can metastasize and spread to the lymph nodes, brain, spleen, intestines, kidneys, and the lungs. The prognosis for these cases is generally bleak.
The vet will also suggest diet changes to ensure that your pet gets the right balance of calories and nutrients required by the liver. Milk thistle and other supplements can also help the liver recover. By working closely with the vet, you can manage liver cancer in dogs and prevent total failure of the organ.
How to Prevent Liver Cancer in Dogs
Because the true cause of the disease is still unknown, there is also no clear way to prevent canine liver cancer. If you want to prevent the disease from occurring to your dog, you should work with your veterinarian. It is also important to pay attention to your dog’s exercise routines and diet. Make sure that you pay close attention to the overall health of your four-legged friend, as well as its happiness.
Don’t be discouraged when you find out that your dog has liver cancer. Keep in mind that liver cancer in dogs has a cure depending on its type. Make sure that you consult your vet as soon as your pet is showing signs of abnormalities, especially in its diet and weight.
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