The diagnosis that your beloved pet has canine liver cancer is as initially devastating as hearing it about any other family member. Yet, there is cause for hope because just as advances are being made in human medical treatment, they are also being made in the medical treatment of dogs. While the news may initially be grim, the outcome no longer carries with it an automatic death sentence.
Canine Liver Cancer - The Who, What and the Why
First, there is no particular breed or particular age of dog prone to this type of cancer. Liver cancer can occur at any time over the course of the dog's life. What makes it particularly insidious is that the symptoms it causes do not generally become grossly evident unless the cancer has already progressed. However, before considering the symptoms, it's time to briefly address what the liver does.
Function of the Liver
The liver in humans, dogs and most creatures is there to act as a filter to help the body remove toxins and potentially dangerous substances. By doing so, it aids the body in retaining energy, vitality and overall general health. The liver has a dual blood supply from the hepatic artery and the portal vein so it can perform its function at top efficiency. Yet, this also makes it vulnerable to encountering cancer cells from other areas of the body through the blood supply.
There are two types of liver cancers usually found in dogs:
- Primary canine liver cancer means that the cancer started in the liver itself. This type of liver cancer usually does not spread, but it is not the most common type of liver cancer.
- Metastatic canine liver cancer is the most common form where the cancer has spread from another organ in the body. Metastatic liver cancer generally causes multiple masses in the liver. There is a good chance that the masses themselves will be benign.
Causes of liver cancer
Most medical literature cannot identify a specific cause. There are some theories that absorption of pesticides and environmental chemicals may be linked to the disease. There are also theories that exposure to human medication and carcinogenic substances may compromise the dog's immune system. In any case, common sense dictates household and outside yard chemicals be kept away from a pet as you would a child.
- Loss of appetite that can lead to weight loss
- Light colored feces
- Distended stomach and pain
- Coughing that may bring up blood
- Jaundice that can lead to:
- Orange colored urine
- Pale gums
- Yellow irises of the eyes
These symptoms are progressive and do not abate, but instead grow worse over time.
This type of cancer is usually treated by surgery. Just as in humans, your dog will need x-rays and/or an ultrasound, blood work and urinalysis. Again, the good news is that up to one-half of the liver can be removed and it will re-generate. Certainly, an excellent place to get some clear cut answers regarding the surgery is at Vet Surgery Central where veterinarian Dr. Daniel Degner discusses a surgical procedure he helped develop that is considerably safer than previous methods.
Other treatment methods include chemotherapy, radiation and medication. You should discuss all the options with your veterinarian, and listen closely to his advice. Sometimes owners are tempted to make choices that are good for them but may not be the best option for their dog. Instead, you must speak for your animal friend and choose a treatment plan that is beneficial to your dog's long-term prognosis and overall well-being.
As the true etymology of the disease is unknown, there is no known way to prevent liver cancer in dogs. Plenty of web sites exist that tout the use of dog supplements and vitamins. They start out by sounding knowledgeable and giving the disease's particulars and just as quickly turn out to offer miracle cures. Work with your veterinarian instead, and pay attention to your dog's diet and exercise routines, and provide regular care from the start of your life together as pet and pet owner. All these factors play a role in overall dog health care and the happiness of your pet.