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Liver Cancer in Dogs and Cats

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options for Pets With Liver Cancer

By Mary Kearl. December 09, 2013 | See Comments

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    vet verified

    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

    DVM

A Dog And Cat Laying Together

Liver cancer is an extremely rare diagnosis in dogs and cats. Rare or not, it's still a very dangerous and potentially deadly disease if not diagnosed and treated.

While liver cancer in dogs and cats is rare, that doesn’t make it any less scary if your pet is hit. Tumors of the liver cells make up less than 1% of all tumors in cats and dogs, but cancers from other regions of the body, commonly the spleen, pancreas, and GI tract, do often spread to the liver. In dogs, the disease typically strikes at an older age—10 to 11 years old and beyond; while cats may develop liver cancer at anywhere from 2 to 18 years old. Cats are also more likely to have benign, non-cancerous tumors.

Causes of Liver Cancer

There is no single known cause of liver cancer in pets. In dogs, age is a risk factor. Exposure to poisonous plants, toxins, chemicals, or molds may also be a cause. A history of chronic illness may also play a role.

Liver Cancer Symptoms

According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, half of all cats (50%) and most dogs (75%) with liver cancer show signs of the disease, some of which include:

A pet with benign liver tumors will likely show no signs of the disease.

Treatments

To determine whether your cat or dog has liver cancer, your vet will do blood work, take x-rays, do an ultrasound, and possibly administer a CT scan or an MRI.

The majority of tumors found in the liver can be removed through surgery. Cancer that has spread throughout the liver (diffuse), however, is not usually operable. Chemo may be advised, but a biopsy will be necessary to determine if your animal’s cancer will be responsive to the treatment.

The outcome of tumor removal via surgery varies by the type of tumor. Pets who have successfully had tumors removed via surgery can often live for years after the surgery. After surgery, your pet will likely take a couple of weeks to recover and then need to go back to the vet for a follow-up visit.

Your pet’s vet may recommend a specialized diet for dogs and cats with liver disease. Particularly because appetite loss is a symptom and may also result from treatment, proper nutrition can be very beneficial, even reducing hospital time, limiting post-operation issues, and helping your pet heal.

Pain is likely to continue, even resulting from treatment, so pain management will be an important part of your pet’s treatment plan, too.

More on Cancer

Causes and Prevention of Cancer in Dogs and Cats
Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs and Cats
Feline Leukemia: 5 Things You Should Know

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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