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What is Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma)?

Primary liver cancer accounts for less than 1.5% of all tumors in dogs. The most common type of cancer to originate in the liver is hepatocellular carcinoma. This cancer is believed to form on stem cells in the liver and it can grow to be quite large. It is responsible for about 50% of the liver tumors found in dogs. In some cases, the tumor can be identified as a palpable mass in a dog’s stomach. Often dogs present the typical symptoms of liver disease, but some tumors can be non-symptomatic for quite some time. Eventually, the tumor will cause serious abdominal hemorrhage. This type of cancer is slow growing; however, left untreated, it will cause cell death and cirrhosis of the liver and eventually lead to end-stage liver disease. It can metastasize to other areas of the body, most commonly to other organs in the abdomen, but this is less likely than with more aggressive forms of cancer. Surgery is possible with many tumors, and dogs have a good chance of recovery as long as the entire mass is removed. More diffuse tumors, including several lobes or even the entire liver, are much harder to treat. Cancers on the left lobe usually have a better chance of being successfully removed. This type of cancer is more common in older dogs, around 10-12 years of age.

Cancers often spread to the liver with metastasis, but primary liver cancer is rare in dogs. The most common tumor to originate in the liver is hepatocellular carcinoma. This is a slowly developing cancer. Many cases are treatable with surgery, but it will depend on the type and location of the tumor.

Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $15,000

Average Cost

$8,500

Symptoms of Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

Hepatocellular carcinoma is much easier to treat in the early stages. Take your dog to see a veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms.

  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy 
  • Abdominal distention
  • Mass can be felt in the stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Jaundice
  • Ascites (fluid in the abdomen)
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Ulcers
  • Hepatic encephalopathy (disorientation, circling, aggression, seizures coma)

Types

Hepatocellular carcinomas are defined by the type of tumor they form.

  • Massive

    – the cancer forms as a single, discrete mass; as the name implies, it can grow to be very large; sometimes there is one large mass and several smaller ones in a different part of the liver; these tumors are easier to remove since they form a distinct growth

  • Nodular

    – the cancer forms several nodes or smaller masses;  nodes may be located on one or more lobes of the liver; these tumors still form a discrete mass, but they are more likely to metastasize and spread than massive tumors

  • Diffuse

    – the cancer may involve the most of the liver; cancerous cells are not well differentiated from healthy cells, so they can be difficult to remove

  • Hepatocellular adenoma

    – this is a non-cancerous tumor that is the benign form of hepatocellular carcinoma; large tumors can still be a problem if they rupture and bleed, or if they put pressure on other abdominal organs

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Causes of Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

It’s not known what causes liver cancer to form. It is less common in dogs under 9 years old, so age is a factor. Some studies have noted a higher rate of incidence in Miniature Schnauzers, and others have found more tendency to liver cancer among male dogs, but this hasn’t been widely confirmed. 

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Diagnosis of Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

The veterinarian will examine your dog physically. If a mass is felt on the liver, this will be a good indication of a hepatocellular tumor. If your dog has symptoms of liver dysfunction, cancer may be suspected as the cause, based on age and the elimination of other factors. Blood and urine tests will indicate the degree of liver failure that is present and help to determine whether your dog is healthy enough for surgery. Some bloodwork may require fasting. Abnormal liver enzymes may suggest the presence of a tumor or even show the type of cancer, but bloodwork isn’t often conclusive. 

A definitive diagnosis will be based on magnetic imaging. Massive tumors are visible on an abdominal X-ray. Ultrasound can identify smaller more diffuse tumors and help to show metastasis. Ultrasound guided biopsies and aspirates may be needed to determine if the tissue is cancerous or benign. The veterinarian may need to evaluate the coagulation level in your dog’s blood before these tests, since tumors may hemorrhage during biopsy. Additional x-rays, ultrasound, or other magnetic imaging tests could be ordered to check for metastasis in other parts of the body.

The veterinarian will want to know your dog’s age and medical history, including any prior problems with the liver. A detailed description of the symptoms will also be helpful.

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Treatment of Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

Treatment will depend on a veterinarian’s diagnoses. Surgery is the best option, but in some cases it may not be possible. Nodular or diffuse tumors can be difficult to operate on, and tumors with a high degree of hemorrhage may pose too big a risk. If your dog has symptoms of acute liver failure, he will not be healthy enough for surgery unless this condition can be stabilized.

The veterinarian will discuss the amount of risk involved with surgery. Your dog may need to stay in a veterinary hospital for a number of days after surgery for monitoring. The liver can regrow itself, so dogs can recover even if a large amount of the liver has to be removed, but the veterinarian will need to ensure the liver is functioning adequately before sending your dog home. Biopsies will be taken during surgery to check for metastasis in other parts of the liver. It’s likely the veterinarian will put your dog on a low protein, low sodium diet to avoid unnecessary stress on the liver.

Chemotherapy may be ordered for tumors that are inoperable or if metastasis was noted at the time of surgery. Chemotherapy drugs are administered by injection for approximately 3 or 4 weeks, or as long as the veterinarian thinks necessary. Each chemotherapy appointment will last at least 1 ½ hours for adequate testing and administration. Dogs don’t usually experience hair loss, but they can have quite severe gastrointestinal side effects.

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Recovery of Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

Massive or benign tumors that are fully removed with surgery have a good prognosis. Many dogs don’t have recurrence and may live for a number of years after the operation. The veterinarian may recommend a long-term diet change. 

Dogs with inoperable tumors have a low chance of recovery. Chemotherapy can sometimes slow the progression of the cancer, but only for a matter of months. Symptoms may progress gradually since this is not an aggressive cancer, but they will eventually become severe. The chance of your dog’s recovery will be evaluated by a veterinarian upon diagnosis.

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Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $15,000

Average Cost

$8,500

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Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Porridge

dog-breed-icon

Jack Russell

dog-age-icon

8 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Lack Of Appetite Tho' Wants To Eat

I have an 8 year old neutered male Jack Russell who has just been diagnosed with quite a big tumor on his spleen and several small tumors on his liver. I am devastated as my vet has given him 2-3 months to live. Is there nothing that can be given to shrink the tumors? Are there any natural products I give to help him? He has been prescribed prednisone at present. Would a change of diet help? I know in humans cancer can't thrive in a alkaline environment - is this true in animals? Please help me - my family are so upset about this.

Aug. 17, 2018

Porridge's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I'm sorry about that news, that is very sad. Unfortunately, if the tumors that Porridge has are that large, the only treatment would be surgery to remove his spleen. Depending on the type of tumors, the smaller masses on his liver may continue to grow as well. I don't know any details about his case, but if you need to know any options, a second opinion never hurts to see if there is any other possibility.

Aug. 17, 2018

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missiz

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Border Terrier

dog-age-icon

11 Years

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Moderate severity

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3 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Sleepy Lethargic

hi 2 week ago my 11 and a half year old border terrier missiz started to act strange , staring into space couldnt settle ,i took her the vets she had a ultrasound ans they found nodules on her liver , they gave her 2 shots of predisnolone 5 days apart . now shes on steroids 5mg 1 a day shes lethargic and i think her stomach is swelling , tonight she was panting so ive put the fan on her shes now settled but shes drinking lots and eating very well , i always check her gums ive bought her a pram so as not to let her exhaust herself and she can still come on walks , i was worried about why she was panting as none of my other dogs was , and her breathing is a lot faster than my other dogs , i am so sad i watched her come into the world and ill be there when she leaves hartbroken

July 18, 2018

missiz's Owner


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3320 Recommendations

Panting may be a response to pain or a response to fluid accumulating in the chest or abdomen, you should return to your Veterinarian for an examination if Missiz is panting more than usual to determine the specific cause and to manage it if possible. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 19, 2018

thank u so much i have had her out today and she has been ok , i will be taking her to the vets for another check up thank u so much for ur response

July 19, 2018

missiz's Owner

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Sammy

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Maltese

dog-age-icon

12 Years

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Moderate severity

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2 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Weakness

Could my dog Sammy still have a chance of survival of a supposed spleen and liver cancer diagnosis ? It was 2 weeks ago and he is getting quite week and I went there to fix the issue instead of being told "you don't want to really put him through this do you?"...well about roughly 8-10 days prior to his distended stomach I fell on his side tripping over a couple of my other dogs while getting them all in the house, I heard him wince a little and I didnt think nothing of it until my wife said Sammys' stomach is bloated so I took him into my regular vet and he did xrays but as many xrays there are not advanced enough to diagnose unless ultrasound, ctscan etc...so I had an appointment at Animal Surgeons of Michigan , but I couldnt wait a week so I went to OVRS and they said in an ultrasound that he had cancer and it is spread to his liver ,I wanted to operate this was my whole point of going to save him not to hear something bad and being talked out of it before I could even grasp the situation..so I opted to go back to animal Surgeons of Michigan 4 days later for a ctscan and I wonder why they didnt insist on a biopsy and drain the fluid instead of reading the ultrasound and perhaps having an opinion in mind regardless. Is there a chance even if it is a mass, tumors that it could had been benign ? This is a life my most precious boy Sammy I would like to think that NO HUMAN would put there child to sleep if ill and Sammy is our child as we do not have kids. MY regular vet accusses me of being in denial and said it 3 times in conversation while he admitted that he couldn't read an ultrasound or a cat scan...I told him that I am 57 yrs old and do not need anyone telling me that I am in denial..I took Sammy to these places to save his life for any period of time not to be talked out of it, now it may be to late and I am so brokenhearted what can I do now?

July 15, 2018

Sammy's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I do not know whether Sammy has a chance of survival without knowing more about his situation. i do know that sometimes people have unrealistic expectations of survival, and it is our job as veterinarians to act in the best interest of the pet. That being said, if there is a chance that surgery will give Sammy more time, and you are willing to do that, the possibility shoudl be explored. It would be a good idea to talk to the specialist who read the CT scan, see what the possibility for survival is, and take that opinion into consideration, as you also do not want Sammy to suffer.

July 15, 2018

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crimson

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Boxer

dog-age-icon

9 Years

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Serious severity

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2 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

None

Our 9yr old boxer was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in Sept last year. She has been under a vets care, on medications and abdominal fluid drained monthly. Last week she stopped eating. We have tried everything. She is drinking water and urinating. She is jaundiced. Had her to the vet yesterday and all lab work was not good. She is still alert, wags her tail and follows us around, but has not eaten in 7 days. She does not appear to be hurting. We are keeping her comfortable, but how long can she go without food

July 12, 2018

crimson's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

A dog may live a long time without food, however it doesn’t mean they should; if she is in good spirits keep a close eye on her but remember that dogs tend be be stoic by nature so may not be showing signs of discomfort or pain until the end. Keep checking in with your Veterinarian regularly and follow their guidance. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 13, 2018

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Buddy

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Jack Russell Terrier

dog-age-icon

3 Years

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Serious severity

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2 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Twitching
None
White Gums

in November 2017 my Jack Russell (3YRS OLD?) was lethargic and not acting normal. I took him to my vet and blood work stated crazy high liver enzymes. We were sent to ER and he was there for 3 days had IV fluids, ultrasound, x-ray and they said it was hepatocellular carcinoma. no other blood work was done and $2000 later we went home to see what happens. Well its now July 2018 and were are still here and recent labs are totally normal. I give him SAM E, Tumeric , milk thistle and two other liver support items. I also give him alkaline water and he's been fine except for sometimes it seems sugar is low so we give him honey and he is fine. Do you really think it is a correct diagnosis?

July 1, 2018

Buddy's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I would be surprised if Buddy was still alive with an aggressive carcinoma, but without any more information I can't say for sure. It seems that the medication that you are giving him may be helping, and you may want to continue those. Just for you reference, SamE and Milk thistle are very similar medications, and you may not need to give both. SamE is a more specific medication.

July 1, 2018

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Nikki

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Labrador x Border Collie

dog-age-icon

12 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Over Weight
Liver Enzymes Count Irregular
No Cushings Disease
Urinary Infections
Voracious Appetite
Consuming Lots Of Water
Rapid Breathing While Asleep
Urination Laying Down

Nikki dob 12/7/2010. About 2 years( Nov. 2017) ago noticed unusual breathing while Nikki was asleep. It was rapid breaths just like when awake, at about 60 breaths per minute, drinking lots of water and veracious appetite. She was a little overweight for a labrador-border collie mix (70 lbs). Vet did x-ray and lump in lung & found liver enzyme count off, urinary infection too. I had her drop 10 lbs so down to 60 lbs. Vet (Dec.2017) did an ultra sound & biopsy. No cancer in liver but liver enzymes off!! Wished then that the vet gave me more information on diet so I could of nipped this in the bud at the beginning. In mid-2018 had vet do another x-ray during annual check up & no lump in lung anymore. December 2018 X-husband and I split up and she went with him for a month. He gave her back to me due to urinating while laying down Jan 2019). Now I read stress will make this disease worse! Back to vet for urination issues. Found anal gland infection and did Cushing's test due to having all the same unusual habits as Cushings, no Cushing's. Also blood shows liver count higher. Had a ultra-sound done and she has 2 tumors on liver (Hepatocelluar-carcinoma)and a bladder infection again. Culture sent out on bladder infection to determine what antibiotic she can take for it as not to make liver worse. Next is CT scan to see if she is able for surgery. CT scan can be up to $1600 and surgery up to $5000. OR I may just find a holistic vet for more feedback first and help on a great diet and supplements (Sept 2019).

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Bently

dog-breed-icon

Terri-Poo

dog-age-icon

13 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Bloating Panting

had a terrie poo his name is Bently i would say about month and half ago bently didn't want to sleep on the bed with me any more he wanted to go down stairs and sleep Bently has slept with me since he was a baby bently also started sleeping alot more which i thought was normal for he is 13 his tummy looked bloated to me and i thought it was because he didn't have a bowel movment for a while he started panting and he would lay down i took him for a walk thinking maybe it would help his bowel movement he pooped brown slime very little and then later that evening he did a normal bowel movement and then the next day slimey he seemed week to me i took him to the vet the next morning they took X-ray and blood work and came back told me Bently has a huge tumor on his liver and there was nothing they could do for him and his iron was very very low i cryed so hard and thought no not my Bently i asked her to tell me what would be the best thing i could do for Bently i asked her is he in a lot of pain and she told me he is very uncomfortable so we agreed on giving him a needle to comfort him i brought him home sat in our favorite chair and i held him for 1 hour he wanted to up he went to the kitchen into his house which is his safe zone i went to get him water and the eye drop for he would drink water that way i turned around sat down in front of his house with his water and i said here you go pooh pooh which is his nickname which he also loved he was looking at me and i said come on pooh pooh here you go he didn't move so i lifted up his head and in that fast of time my little guy passed away i feel like i have un answered questions like why didn't i notice he had the tumor on his live he was always normal and out of the blue one day BOOM he went down hill fast i miss my liitle man Bently has been through alot of rough times with me we have been together for ever i feel awful to not knowing i would like to also know was Bently in pain and didn't let me know im very very confused on this thank you Patricia and my Liitle Guy Bently

dog-name-icon

Luca

dog-breed-icon

Siberian Husky

dog-age-icon

13 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Abdomen Pain

Almost 13 yr old husky. Arthritis. Have been increasing/ changing meds in the last 6 months. New Metacam, Gabapentin, Phycox regimen working well since 10/2018. Has had liver enzymes increasing in & off for several years with check ups. They say could be the arthritis meds. We relocate to new area 11/2018. Found new vet with limited office hours, but good. Go to help him up on the couch one night 4/2019. Sleeps all night. Issue moving in the morning & go to lift him off couch next morning/ yelped in pain for 5-10 seconds. He was suffering. Husky outside, trying to hide in bushes. I knew this was a response to pain/ trying to be stoic/ trying to instinctively hide weakness. Take him to a vet I find open on a Saturday. Xrays. Labs. Tender abdomen. Liver enzymes doubled in a month. Recommended ultrasound with aspiration & scheduled for Monday. That Monday afternoon, go to pick up & radiologist felt too dangerous to do aspiration/ possible bleed. All other organs ok. Large 7-10cm liver mass from( the size the vet motioned with hands). Referred to surgeon for possible surgery/ CT scan. Surgical center can’t take him for 8 days. SERIOUSLY? If he’s a surgical candidate, can’t you call & ask to get him in sooner? Vet also stated tumor mixed in appearance so more likely cancerous, but possible it’s benign. I’m frustrated because I just want the info, whatever it is. Whenever I’m accepting he’s lived a good life, she’s trying to be hopeful & then when I’m hopeful of getting into surgeon she’s saying don’t worry about it, wait your turn. I asked about using Denarmin & said wouldn’t help. Given Tramadol. Gabapentin increased.continuing Metacam & Phycox. Any input?

dog-name-icon

Maggie

dog-breed-icon

American Bulldog

dog-age-icon

13 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Liver Mass
Liver Mass Diarrhea

My maggie started having loose stools mid january, along with ongoing increased thirst, urinary frequency,at first we thought it was stress reaction to death of her brother who passed away from cardiac tamponade from large mass, but after several weeks, blood tests, stool tests,and final xray and u/s we found her gallbladder has alot of sludge, and moderate size mass in central liver, pushing out other lobes. Her liver enzymes are all very high, her u/a indicates protien in urine. Vet says we could get biopsy and confirm cancerous and could try to have lobe removed but given her age and at end of life expectancy, and other than chronic diarrhea despite diet of mostly chicken and rice, she is a happy dog, still going on walks and enjoying cuddles, We should consider more palative care. I tend to agree, i dont want to put her thru surgery to remove gallbladder and parts of liver just for maybe another year, if lucky two given her breeds life expectency, it seems selfish to put her thru multiple invertentions just for my need to keep her with me as long as i can. I want her final years to be happy and as pain free as possible. But im scared not treating may hurt her more? Can predisone and liver support and clotting supplements help? I have a NP seen how horrible dying from liver failure can be, will that b her future? Wavering on what to do? She is so happy and doesnt seem to be bothered much by diarrhea right now. I was goin to start cold laser tx for arthiris but with this i guess this is contraindicated so looking at other options.what do you think?

dog-name-icon

Charlie

dog-breed-icon

Beagle

dog-age-icon

11 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss
Fur Loss
Abnormal Liver Enzymes

Our 11 year old beagle Charlie was diagnosed with the benign version of Hepatocellular. The doctor said they could perform surgery to remove the large mass on her liver but since it was in the middle near a blood line (not on a lobe)it would be risky and we'd have to be prepared that she could hemorrhage during surgery though they seemed positive she would come through okay. We were not prepared to take that chance. They gave her 8 months and that was 19 months ago. She has lost a lot of weight and fur and can no longer jump up on the couch (we don't want her to do anything like that anyway anymore) but her appetite is great, she's feisty and still loves her daily walks and cuddling with us and her beagle sister. For treatment we went mostly natural. She is on the keto diet so eats better than we do! We give her Yunnan Baiyo to clot any bleeds she may have and she's also on a liver supplement Nutramax Denamarin as well as Pure CBD Oil. We are blessed and very thankful for every day she is with us.

Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $15,000

Average Cost

$8,500