Thursday, November 1, 2012

Symptoms of Liver Cancer in Dogs and Life Expectancy

(Image credit to ‘Getty Images’)
Like in human, liver cancer in dogs is difficult to treat. Because the disease usually don’t generate the initial symptoms! Most of the cases are metastatic or secondary type (a cancer in the liver that is derived from other parts of the dog’s body – in other words, this type occurs when cancer cells in the other organs /parts of the body spread into the liver). 

You might also like to know more about facts of liver cancer in human, before continuing!

Another type is primary liver cancer - as the name suggests it is a cancerous tumor in the liver of dogs that occurs from the original cells of the liver. Though primary type is less common than secondary type, but both are also rarely diagnosed at early stage when the disease is at the most treatable stage.

Moreover, all tumors that form in the dog’s liver are not always considered cancerous tumor (malignant). Fortunately, most of them are non-cancerous tumor or often called as ‘benign’ tumor. And in general, benign is relatively easier to treat than malignant tumor.

What are the symptoms of liver cancer in dogs?

The noticeable signs and symptoms are more likely to occur when the disease gets worse into the advanced stages. On other hand, it’s so crucial to diagnose the disease as early as possible, because once again early stage of liver cancer is better in prognosis and easier to treat than another that is diagnosed at later stages.

Therefore, if you in doubt to the condition of your dog, it’s much better to see veterinarian promptly for clearly diagnosis. If your dog has liver cancer, the symptoms and signs that do occur may include some of the following:

Anorexia or loss of appetite

When there is something wrong with the liver of dog, loss of appetite or anorexia is one of the most common signs. If you notice any eating changes, you should begin to ask whether there is something wrong with your pet – report to a veterinarian promptly to keep safe and to get more advice!

Decreased weight

If you notice a weight loss, allow your veterinarian to know (particularly if it occurs without known reason)! As well we know that liver has important function to process all the building blocks, therefore if it cannot work properly then the body is also failure to maintain itself.

Diarrhea and vomiting

These symptoms are usually associated with gastrointestinal upsets or intermittent recurrent abdominal. Sometimes, constipation may also occur along with diarrhea and vomiting. 


The liver itself is very rich in blood -- this is one of the reasons of why dogs with advanced live cancer or other liver diseases are more likely to have spontaneous bleeding. Urinary tract, intestines, and stomach (abdominal) are common sites where the bleeding usually occurs. 

Therefore, there is a chance to find blood in the urine, stools, and vomitus. Sometimes, you may also notice punctate (pinhead-size) hemorrhages on the gums.  Bruises may also occur under the skin and lips.

In general, spontaneous bleeding is rare symptom. But if it occurs, it must not be ignored! Uncontrollable bleeding often signals a serious problem. Call a veterinarian promptly if you notice any uncontrollable bleeding!

Generalized weakness

Weakness usually occurs along with loss of appetite and weight loss. With the crucial function of the liver for the metabolism, it is reasonable for dogs to have lack of energy or weakness when their liver is unhealthy. Healthy liver is important to proper fat, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism.  

Moreover, dogs with liver cancer may also experience lethargy (progressive depression). It is usually characterized by loss of interest to go for walks or playing.


It is characterized by the whites of the eyes and yellow discoloration of the skin. It occurs when bile produced by the liver is accumulated in the tissues and blood. 

Skin, tongue, gums, and inside ears are usually common areas where the yellow discoloration can be found. Changes in urine (like color of tea or dark brown) also may occur - these can be caused by bile-excreted in the urine.

In addition, impaired liver function is not the single reason of jaundice. Jaundice may also occur due to the breakdown of many red blood cells. Therefore, this symptom is also pretty common in acute hemolytic anemia. 

** Having these symptoms doesn’t mean that your dog definitely has a cancerous tumor in the liver, because some of them also can be caused by other health conditions. In addition, below are other symptoms that also can be generated by other health problems associated with the liver of dogs:
  1. Hepatic encephalopathy! When the function of the liver is impaired, there is chance for ammonia to accumulate and result a poisonous effect on the brain - as a result, hepatic encephalopathy can occur (it a kind of brain dysfunction)! This problem then may cause head-pressing, mental dullness, sporadic weakness, disorientation and loss of coordination in dogs.
  2. Respiratory rate that increases than unusual. Moreover, dogs with liver disease may also experience difficulty breathing.
  3. Excessively thirst (or familiar called ‘polydipsia’) and frequently urination. Kidney salt balances and dramatic shifts in serum are usually the major causes of these problems.
  4. The accumulation of fluid that occurs in the abdomen (ascites)! Increased pressure in the nearby veins of the liver and low serum proteins are some factors that can cause ascites. A dog with this problem usually has a bloated /swollen look. 
Causes of liver disease in dogs

Both metastatic and primary tumors are some major factors that can cause a liver failure in dogs. There are some drugs, toxins, unfriendly chemicals, a number of diseases, and even some plants that can damage the liver. The following are pieces of information about these issues:
  1. Leptospirosis and canine hepatitis can directly affect and damage the liver.
  2. Corticosteroids, analgesics, dewormers, antibiotics, Cheque drops, anticonvulsants, diuretics, antifungals, and anesthetic gases are some drugs that can damage the liver, particularly when they are given in prolonged use or excessively dosage.
  3. Toxic amounts of iron, selenium, arsenic, and phosphorus are some unfriendly chemicals that can produce liver toxicity. Moreover, insecticides and tetrachloride also can be toxic for the liver of dog.
  4. Aflatoxin (it usually grows on corn), blue green algae, ragwort and certain mushrooms also can be harmful substances for the liver of your dog.
  5. Anemia! The amount of O2 (oxygen) in the liver cells can decrease if dog have hemolytic anemia. This also can affect the liver to work.
Additionally, liver disease is also more likely to occur in pets that get a severe & blunt blow to the front of their abdomen. Being hit by a car or else is usually the common cause of this kind of trauma.

How do you know if your dog has liver cancer?

Having symptoms of liver cancer is a warning sign that there is something wrong with your pet. But once again, if you notice one or some of these symptoms – this doesn’t mean that your pet definitely have the disease.

In other words, diagnosing liver cancer is not enough from the symptoms that are present. To make a clearly diagnosis, a veterinarian need to perform several tests. 

Blood tests

These may include blood chemistry profiles, completely blood counts, and blood tests to analyze ammonia levels & bile acids. Liver cancer often causes changes in the amount of red blood cells, particularly decreased amount of red blood cells.

The disease is also often associated with the abnormal levels of decreased blood urea nitrogen, elevated bilirubin, and elevated certain liver enzymes (particularly like ‘alkaline phosphatase ‘ –ALP and ‘alanine aminotransferase’ –ALT). And blood chemistry profile test is used to reveal and analyze these decreased & elevated properties. 

Imaging tests

As the name suggests, these tests are focused to find the abnormal conditions in any part of the body by creating more detailed picture of specific part /organ of the body. These tests may include ultrasound, radiograph, and X-ray imaging test. 

Biopsy procedure

In general, this test is needed to remove a sample tissue of the liver which then will be closely analyzed under microscope to decide whether there is any abnormal cell in the liver.

In addition, there are 3 major issues that usually often concerned when making a diagnosis of liver cancer. They are (a) the type of tumor (benign or malignant), (b) the stage of the disease (whether or not the cancer cells have spread), and (c) the type of cancer (primary or secondary (metastatic))!  These issues are significantly important to determine the kind of treatment. 

Prognosis and life expectancy of liver cancer in dogs

Like in human, the outlook and life expectancy of the disease in dogs are also closely associated with the stage. Although there are several factors that influence the prognosis, but in fact the stage is the most significantly factor! You might also like to read survival rate of liver cancer in human!

For dogs with advanced stage of liver cancer, the treatment options are usually only more focused to improve the quality of life and control the symptoms that occur. But when the disease is diagnosed at early stage, there is a better chance to cure the disease.

In other words, dogs with early stage of liver cancer are more likely to have a better prognosis than others with later stages of the disease. Therefore, it is very important to detect any abnormal cell in the liver as early as possible. Other factors that can affect the prognosis are the overall health and age of dog. Ask a veterinarian for more detailed information!
Reference: WebMD