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.
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 after resulting from treatment, so pain management will be an important part of your pet’s treatment plan, too.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does a dog live with liver cancer?
The survival time for a dog with liver cancer can vary greatly depending on various factors such as the type of liver cancer, the stage of cancer, the age, the overall health of the dog, and the chosen treatment options. In general, liver cancer in dogs can be difficult to treat and has a poor prognosis. The average survival time for dogs with liver cancer is around 6 months to 1 year. However, some dogs may live longer if they receive appropriate treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
Is liver cancer in dogs curable?
Surgery to remove the tumor can be an effective treatment for liver cancer in dogs, especially if the tumor is detected early and has not spread to other parts of the body. However, the effectiveness of the surgery depends on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the overall health of the dog. In cases where the tumor is massive, surgery may not be an option or may not be effective in removing all of the cancerous tissue. In these cases, other treatment options, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, may be recommended to help slow the growth of the tumor and improve the dog's quality of life.
What is the main cause of liver cancer in dogs?
The exact cause of liver cancer in dogs is not fully understood, but there are several risk factors that have been identified. The most common cause of liver cancer in dogs is metastasis (spread) of cancer from other parts of the body, such as the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, or mammary gland. This is known as metastatic liver cancer. Other risk factors for liver cancer in dogs include exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, and industrial chemicals, chronic liver diseases such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, and genetic predisposition. Certain breeds of dogs, such as the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, and Doberman Pinschers, may be more prone to developing liver cancer than other breeds. Age is also a factor, as liver cancer is more commonly seen in older dogs.
Is liver cancer in dogs painful?
Liver cancer in dogs can be painful, although not all dogs with liver cancer will experience pain. The degree of pain can vary depending on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the individual dog's pain threshold and tolerance. In some cases, dogs with liver cancer may show signs of abdominal discomfort or pain, such as restlessness, panting, pacing, or reluctance to lie down. They may also show signs of loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. If the liver cancer has spread to other parts of the body, additional symptoms may be present such as difficulty breathing, coughing, and weakness.
Is liver cancer fast-growing in dogs?
The growth rate of liver cancer in dogs can vary depending on various factors, such as the type of cancer, the size and location of the tumor, and the individual dog's overall health. Some types of liver cancer in dogs, such as hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma, can grow rapidly and aggressively, while others may grow more slowly. In general, liver cancer in dogs can be difficult to detect in its early stages because the liver can continue to function normally even as cancerous cells are growing. This means that liver cancer may be more advanced and more difficult to treat by the time it is diagnosed. Early detection and diagnosis are key in improving the prognosis for dogs with liver cancer.
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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.