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Signs & Symptoms of Liver Cancer in Dogs

Signs & Symptoms of Liver Cancer in Dogs

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Matthews, our veterinary oncologist uses advanced diagnostics and treatments to provide the best possible care to pets with cancer. Our vets understand how scary a diagnosis of liver cancer for your dog is, and we're here to help.

Are all dog's liver tumors cancerous?

Tumors found in a dog's liver are often found to be benign, and liver tumors that are cancerous tend to result from metastatic cancers located elsewhere in the dog's body which have spread to the liver. If your pup has been diagnosed with liver cancer it can mean either that your dog has actual liver cancer (which is relatively rare), or that your dog has another type of metastatic cancer that has spread to the liver.

What is hepatocellular carcinoma in dogs?

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) tends to be the most common type of primary liver cancer found in dogs (cancer that originates from the liver), but there are a few other cancers that can also be found in the liver, including bile duct carcinoma, neuroendocrine tumor, and mesenchymal sarcoma.

What forms of Hepatocellular Carcinoma are typically found in dogs?


If your dog is diagnosed with a diffuse liver cancer it means that tumors are seen throughout the entire liver of your pet.


If your dog's liver cancer is described as nodular, there are several masses spread throughout your pup's liver.


A massive tumor is a single large turmor in the dog's liver. This description does not necessarily relate to the size of the tumor, but simply means that there is a single significant tumor within your dog's liver, rather than multiple tumors.

Massive tumors are the most common form of hepatocellular carcinoma in dogs and tend to have a somewhat lower rate of metastasis than either nodular or diffuse tumors. Massive HCC tumors may also be easier to remove. Nonetheless, it's important for pet parents to be aware that left untreated, all forms of primary liver cancer will metastasize to other parts of the dog's body.

What is metastatic cancer of the liver?

If your pup is diagnosed with metastatic cancer of the liver it means that the cancer found in your dog's liver has spread from somewhere else in your dog's body. In dogs, some of the most common cancers which can lead to metastatic liver cancer are: hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, intestinal carcinoma, thyroid cancer, osteosarcoma, mast cell tumors, transitional cell sarcoma, mammary carcinoma, and pancreatic cancer.

Are some dogs more susceptible to liver cancer?

Liver cancer is most often diagnosed in older dogs, but is also seen in younger dogs. While hepatocellular carcinoma has not been linked to any specific breed, breeds that are predisposed to other types of cancer that can metastasize to the liver include Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Poodles.

What are the symptoms of liver cancer in dogs?

Liver cancer in dogs is often asymptomatic in the early stages of the disease. Sadly this means that by the time symptoms become evident the disease is fairly progressed. Taking your dog for routine wellness exams twice a year, may help your vet to spot the early signs of liver abnormalities through unusual bloodwork results, liver enlargement or abdominal pain on palpation. However, the lack of early symptoms does make this condition very difficult to detect before it becomes more progressed. Common symptoms of progressed liver cancer can include:

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellow eyes, skin and gums)
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Increased urination
  • Weakness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

How is liver cancer diagnosed in dogs?

If your vet believes that your dog could have liver cancer, they may run lab tests to look for signs of liver dysfunction such as, a urine sample test, diagnostic imaging tests including radiographs or ultrasounds, or a biopsy or a needle aspiration of the liver to look for cancerous cells.

If your dog is diagnosed with liver cancer your vet will work with you to come up with the best treatment plan for your dog’s condition.

How long do dogs with liver cancer live?

Although receiving a diagnosis of primary liver cancer such as hepatocellular carcinoma for your dog sounds like a terrible diagnosis, remarkably the liver is capable of regenerating. This means that even if a large portion of the liver is surgically removed it is able to rebuild itself.

Another important point for pet parents to note is that massive hepatocellular carcinoma tumors grow slowly. Which may give your vet time to remove the affected parts of the liver and increase your dog's chances of a full recovery!

When it comes to liver cancer in dogs, surgery to remove the tumor is generally the most effective treatment. Dogs diagnosed with massive liver tumors which are then sugically removed, have a good prognosis, and may live for years following treatment.

Sadly however, many malignant tumors such as nodular or diffuse hepatocellular carcinoma tumors and tumors from a metastasized cancer cannot be removed and the prognosis is poor (usually around 3-6 months). Chemotherapy can sometimes help to delay the progression of cancer, but is unlikely to offer a cure. If your dog is diagnosed with one of these types of cancer, your vet will work with you to decide how best to keep your dog comfortable.

Are there oncologists for dogs?

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists we offer veterinary oncology services for pets in Matthews NC. Our team of specialists use cutting-edge diagnostics and treatments to provide dogs with cancer the best possible care, and support for the individuals and families that love them. Our Board-Certified Veterinary Oncologists will work closely with your primary vet and other specialists to ensure your dog receives the best possible cancer care. 

If your dog has signs of liver cancer, or has been recently diagnosed with liver cancer, speak to your primary care veterinarian about a referral to see our board-certified veterinary oncologists. Our North Carolina animal hospital offers cancer diagnostic services and treatments to help give your pet their best chance at recovery. Contact us for more information. 

Caring for Pets in Matthews

Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Matthews accepts new clients to our specialty services by referral only. Our 24/7 emergency service accepts all clients.

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