Effective Methods in Dealing with Canine Liver Cancer, Deborah Shores, DVM

Pictured to the left: ‘Danger in the Oats Poland 2012’ by Deborah Shores– He played in the oat fields 3 weeks after his liver cancer diagnosis and surgery in August 2012. He lived for 4 months after diagnosis and felt great until the day he died. We miss him still. 

What is Canine Liver Cancer?

Liver cancer, formally referred to as Hepatocellular Carcinoma, is a malignant tumor that affects the tissue that lines the liver (epithelial tissue). It is the most common liver tumor in dogs and accounts for 50% of cases. Although liver cancer is rarely associated with a specific breed, it seems to be found in male dogs over the age of 10 most frequently.

What are the Symptoms of Canine Liver Cancer?

Unfortunately, the symptoms of liver cancer are rarely apparent until it has progressed significantly. 

Possible symptoms include:
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
  • Excessive thirst
  • Difficulty breathing 

What is the Cause of Canine Liver Cancer?

As with all cancers, the direct cause is unknown. However, ingestion of toxins is a definite factor. The liver is the body’s main “detox” organ and it is common for toxins to accumulate in the liver, possibly predisposing the dog to cancer. Environmental toxins are also a factor, especially exposure to pesticides and herbicides.

For more information on the causes of cancer, please refer to our previous article, Cancer in Dogs.

What are Treatment Options for Canine Liver Cancer?

Generally, surgical removal of your dog’s tumor is typically recommended. Although many other forms of cancer are treated with chemotherapy, it is not often suggested for liver cancer because it is not found to be very successful.                              
Quality of life and survival time may be improved in some patients with the usage of an alternative form of chemotherapy called metronomic chemotherapy. Metronomic chemotherapy combines low doses of a chemo drug and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) such as piroxicam. These protocols have fewer side effects compared to other chemotherapies.(1) It is always important to consult with a veterinary oncologist, as new treatment options are always becoming available. 

After surgery, abdominal exams and ultrasounds are repeated every 2-4 months. Unfortunately, with malignant tumors, prognosis is generally poor.  However, this depends on if the tumor has metastasized to other parts of the body, and how much of the tumor was removed surgically. 

Over 50 percent of liver cancer metastasizes (spreads) to other parts of the body. It commonly affects the lungs, lymph nodes, kidneys, and intestines. 

What are the alternative treatment options for canine liver cancer?

Since most liver cancers in dogs cannot be successfully treated with chemotherapy, it is important to support proper liver function and overall health for as long as possible. Quality of life and liver function can be improved with use of curcumin (turmeric) and medicinal mushrooms. Certain types of medicinal mushrooms, such as Reishi, also have tumor-inhibiting effects.(2)   It is important that you contact a holistic veterinarian in your area that can help you find options that fits your dog’s particular needs.

Liver support supplements, such as Elimay Supplements’ Detox product are also recommended. Detox contains a special blend of antioxidants and herbs that support cleansing and elimination of toxins. A major ingredient, milk thistle, contains a compound that has been shown to protect the liver against the damage inflicted by toxins and decreases inflammation within the liver.(3)  As with all types of cancer, a proper diet minimizing your dog’s intake of carbohydrates can also be beneficial.(4)  


(1)  Elmslie, RE., Glawe, P., Dow, W. 2008 Nov-Dec, Metronomic Therapy with Cyclophosphamide and Piroxicam Effectively Delays Tumor Recurrence in Dogs with Incompletely Resected Soft Tissue Sarcomas. J Vet Intern Med. 22(6):1373-9.

(2)  Weng, CJ, et al., 2009 June, Inhibitory Effects of Gandoderma lucidum on Tumorigenesis and Metastasis of Human Hepatoma Cells in Cells and Animal Models. J Agric Food Chem. 57(11): 5049-57.

(3)  Hackett, ES., Twedt, DC, Gustafson, DL. 2013 Jan-Feb. Milk Thistle and its Derivative Compounds: A Review of Opportunities for Treatment of Liver Disease.  J Vet Intern Med. 27(1):10-6.

(4)  Silver, R. 2013. Integrative Oncology: Blending the Best of Conventional with Evidence-Based and Supportive Complementary Therapies. Holistic Veterinary Medicine Club Symposium. Veterinary Information Network. 

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