While a diagnosis of canine cancer is never good, there are few types worse than hemangiosarcoma (HSA). Like all cancer diagnoses, it’s frightening, shocking, and devastating. Often with this form of cancer there are no warning signs or symptoms; it can hit hard and fast and there may be little time to make decisions, much less research treatment options.
HSA is a highly aggressive cancer of blood vessel cells that develops almost exclusively in canines. While the dermal form can sometimes be successfully treated, the visceral form can suddenly become evident with critical, and often fatal, symptoms.
Jump to: Causes | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Stages of HSA | Treatment
Hemangiomas are benign clusters of blood vessels on or beneath the skin, such as the red birthmarks that occur on infants; sarcomas are rare cancers that develop in the bones and soft tissues, including the blood vessels. Hemangiosarcoma refers to a highly malignant disease that develops in the endothelial cells that line the surface membrane of blood vessels and then invades the blood vessels themselves. Because hemangiosarcoma affects blood vessels, it can develop in almost any organ, with the spleen being the most common anatomic location (40 to 50% of cases).
HSA tumors affecting the atrium and the auricle of the heart were initially thought to be a result of metastasis but are now recognized as primary tumor locations comprising anywhere from 10 to 25% of cases; HSAs are the most common cardiac tumor found in dogs. In dogs with splenic HSA, 25% will also have a heart-based HSA.
The dermal form of the disease comprises about 13 to 15% of the cases. Less common sites include liver, tongue, kidney, bladder, lung, muscle, and bone.
It is estimated that HSA accounts for 5 to 7% of all canine cancers. Any age or breed can develop the disease. It usually occurs in larger breed middle-aged and older dogs (ages 8 to 12 years), though it has been reported in dogs under one year of age. While traditionally there has been no sex predilection, recent reports are starting to show a slight increase in prevalence in males.
Types of Hemangiosarcoma
HSA is classified into three types based on anatomical location: dermal, hypodermal/subcutaneous, and visceral.
Dermal Hemangiosarcoma: The dermal (cutaneous) form of HSA develops on the skin in areas that have minimal or no fur, appearing as black or reddish growths (can be singular or multiple masses) anywhere on the body, with the abdomen, rear legs, and prepuce the most common sites.
In most cases, the cancer does not spread to the dermis tissue and can be treated (and potentially cured) with surgical removal. Because of the malignant nature of the disease, however, it can spread internally, which occurs in about one third of cases; early diagnosis and prompt treatment is vital.
This form of HSA has a predilection for dogs with light or non-pigmented skin, sparse coats, and areas of white fur, and has been linked to excessive exposure to the sun. Thus, dogs with short white fur, such as Dalmatians, are predisposed to developing this type. It is believed that limiting sun exposure in dogs with thin fur and pale skin can help to prevent this form of the disease (there is no known preventive for other types of HSA).
Hypodermal Hemangiosarcoma: The hypodermal (just under the top layer of skin) form of HSA is more aggressive and invasive than the dermal form. This type is characterized by dark red to black growths just under the normal overlying skin; a soft or firm mass may be palpable (due to bleeding), and ulceration is common. Local control is challenging, as the disease may be extensive; more than 60% of these cases spread internally.
Visceral Hemangiosarcoma: Visceral(internal) hemangiosarcoma affects the internal organs, primarily the spleen and heart. It is an invasive and rapidly spreading malignancy, often life-threatening as the tumors can break open and bleed – often without warning.
What Breeds Are at Risk for Hemangiosarcoma?
Large breed dogs appear to be at an increased risk, but especially Box-ers, Bully-type breeds, Dobermans, English Setters, Flat-Coated Retrievers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, Skye Terriers, and Whippets. The dermal form is overrepresented in Basset Hounds, Dalmatians, and Whippets and in dogs middle-aged (4 years) or older.
SIDEBAR: Making the Most Out of the Time You Have
What is the Cause of Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?
The cause of HSA in dogs is unknown, but the breed association suggests a genetic predisposition. The dermal form is thought to be associated with excess exposure to sunlight as it is generally found in lightly-pigmented and/or thin-coated dogs. It has also been hypothesized that local irradiation may be contributing factor. Exposure to certain chemicals may also contribute to the development of the disease; though HSA in humans is extremely rare, exposure to vinyl chloride has been implicated.
Symptoms of Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs
HSA tends to progress slowly at the beginning, usually without symptoms and without pain. As a result, a dog’s body can tolerate the disease until it reaches a critical stage. Symptoms may appear for only a limited duration and will depend on the type of HSA and the specific location in the body (see above for dermal form).
Internal HSAs – both the hypodermal and visceral forms – may produce any combination of symptoms from general signs of illness such as lethargy, depression, dementia, inappetence, weight loss, constipation/unusual bowel movements, lameness, and decreased stamina, to more acute symptoms of fainting or weakness, lack of coordination, partial paralysis, intermittent collapse, seizures, abdominal swelling, nosebleeds, coughing, and increased panting.
These malignancies are vascular by nature and develop their own blood supply; however, the blood vessels are formed with mutated cells, and they eventually leak blood into surrounding areas. This slow, chronic bleeding in small amounts can cause subtle transient symptoms with the dog recovering as new blood cells are produced. Eventually the tumors will rupture, resulting in a substantial hemorrhage with critical and obvious symptoms commonly involving difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rates, pale mucous membranes, and collapse due to hemorrhagic/hypotensive shock requiring emergency veterinary care.
If HSA is suspected, your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam, noting in particular any of the symptoms listed above. At times, abdominal tumors can be large enough that they are felt when palpated. A number of tests will likely be performed, such as a complete blood cell count (CBC), serum biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and coagulation profile. In dogs with HSA, abnormalities noted in the blood panel may include anemia, red blood cell fragmentation, low platelet count, and high number of neutrophils (the primary white blood cells that respond to bacterial infection).
The coagulation profile will determine if there are clotting abnormalities suggestive of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which is present in about half of the dogs with visceral HSA. DIC is characterized by the development of small blood clots that block the blood vessels; this depletes the platelets and clotting compounds needed to control bleeding, which in turn can cause excessive bleeding. Heart arrhythmias are commonly associated with cardiac and splenic HSAs; accordingly, an electrocardiogram may be recommended.
Diagnostic imaging using radiographs or ultrasound are useful methods for locating, identifying, and characterizing masses in the abdominal and cardiac regions as well as providing possible evidence of free fluid or blood. When a mass on the spleen is detected, it may not be possible to determine if the mass is malignant prior to removal.
A fine needle aspirate may be used to take a tissue or fluid biopsy; analysis of samples taken directly from the tumor (or from a surgically removed tumor) provides the most conclusive method for making a diagnosis. This procedure, however, is not without risk: not only does it have the potential to spread malignant cells during the process, it can also trigger bleeding of the fragile tumors.
Imaging can also assess the extent of the malignancy (staging) and determine whether metastasis has occurred. This can be challenging because there may be multiple tumors and/or the primary tumor site may be difficult to determine.
A recent study by Carloni, et al, published in the ACVIM Journal of Veterinary Medicine (“Prevalence, distribution, and clinical characteristics of hemangiosarcoma-associated skeletal muscle metastases in 61 dogs: A whole body computed tomographic study,” Volume 33, Issue 2, March/April 2019, Pages 812-819) found that clinical examination and traditional diagnostic imaging modalities missed the presence of skeletal muscle metastases. The authors recommend whole body computed tomography (CT) scans for accurate assessment and detection of metastasis to lungs, muscle, and other sites.
The visceral form of HSA is very aggressive and grows rapidly with local infiltration occurring early in the course of this disease. The likelihood that it has spread from the primary tumor by the time of diagnosis is very high, with about 80% of cases with metastasis upon initial presentation. The liver and lungs are common sites of metastasis, but the disease can spread to any location in the body due to its connection to the blood vessels.
Because the symptoms associated with HSA can be subtle and non-specific, many cases are not diagnosed until a ruptured tumor results in catastrophic hemorrhage. While dermal HSA tends to have a lower metastatic rate and has the potential to be cured, it is important that a comprehensive assessment also be done in these cases because this form can still metastasize.
Stages of Hemangiosarcoma
Clinical staging is based on the results of the various diagnostic tests performed and can provide a foundation from which to explore and make treatment decisions. Two different three-stage classification systems are traditionally used for HSA.
- Stage I: Localized tumor; no other tumors seen in imaging or at time of surgery.
- Stage II: Ruptured tumor confined to the primary site, with or without metastasis present near the site of the primary tumor.
- Stage III: Ruptured primary tumor with invasion into adjacent structures plus local or distant metastasis.
Dermal / Subcutaneous HSA
- Stage I: Primary tumor confined to the dermis.
- Stage II: Primary tumor involving the hypodermis with or without dermal involvement.
- Stage III: Primary tumor with underlying muscular involvement.
Because canine HSA tends to develop undetected until it has reached an advanced stage, the disease is often resistant to most forms of treatment. The modalities of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy can potentially have some effect.
Surgery is typically the primary option for treatment for all cases of HSA.
For the dermal type, it may be the only treatment that is necessary. Sunlight-induced and superficial dermal HSAs are sometimes considered cured following surgery; however, new tumors can develop elsewhere on the body independent of a previous occurrence. It is advised that dogs diagnosed with this form of skin cancer should avoid as much sun exposure as possible. Dermal and subcutaneous HSA surgery sites can be quite extensive due to the necessity of removing all affected tissues.
For visceral forms of the disease, surgery is usually recommended for all locations except those involving the heart. Cardiac surgery is inherently difficult, but vascular tumors are even more challenging. Depending on the size and involvement, atrial tumors may be considered for excision. Because HSA is associated with life-threatening hemorrhage and a dismal prognosis, the difficult decision of whether to pursue emergency surgery must often be made quickly at the time of diagnosis.
For dogs with splenic masses, removal of the spleen (splenectomy) is recommended, even though it may not be known in advance if the tumor is benign or malignant. It is estimated that approximately 50% of splenic tumors are benign, but even if they are non-cancerous, the tumors can be dangerous because the spleen itself is very vascular and can rupture and cause substantial and serious bleeding. Removal of the spleen thus becomes both a diagnostic (by providing tissue for biopsy) and a therapeutic procedure. During the procedure, the entire abdominal cavity will be examined for evidence of metastasis and additional tumors with samples of any suspicious tissue taken for biopsy.
If there is time before the surgery, it can help to have a decision made and plan in place for what you want done, depending upon the findings made during the procedure.
While surgery may be the best option available and provide the highest chance of increasing survival time, there are risks and concerns. Due to the inherent nature of the disease, there is a significant risk for severe hemorrhage during the surgical procedure.
Dogs presenting with emergency HSA may already be compromised; stabilization prior to surgery usually involves fluid therapy and/or blood transfusions and intensive care monitoring. Cardiac arrhythmias can occur post-surgery and, while most occurrences resolve within 24 to 48 hours, some may require treatment.
Removal of the spleen in deep-chested dogs may create more space in the abdominal cavity; as a result the dog may be more prone to gastric torsion and gastropexy (stomach tacking) may be warranted at the time of surgery.
Given the propensity for HSA to metastasize, chemotherapy is often recommended as an adjunct treatment to surgery, especially in cases of incomplete surgical removal, or as a primary treatment for heart-based HSAs (as surgery in the cardiac area can be very difficult).
There are several chemotherapy protocols used, consisting of either a single agent or a combination of drugs; doxorubicin (Adriamycin), vincristine, piroxicam, cyclophosphamide, and methotrexate are the most common ones. Doxorubicin appears to reduce the gravity of the disease, yet it doesn’t necessarily extend the survival time beyond that of other protocols.
Metronomic chemotherapy (a constant low dose of chemotherapy given at home in oral form) is being studied as an approach that not only reduces the chances of side effects but helps control the spread of disease and thereby increase survival time. Since HSA is not curable, the intention of chemotherapy treatment is to slow the cancer progression while providing a good quality of life.
Radiotherapy (RT) has limited use in treatment of HSA because of where the disease forms in the body (sites tend not to be conducive to receiving radiotherapy) and the extremely high rate of metastasis. It may be considered as a treatment option for dermal forms where surgical removal from external surfaces did not achieve clear margins, as an adjunct to chemotherapy, and for cases with localized Stage II or Stage III disease.
As a palliative therapy, RT can be beneficial in reducing pain and possibly extending survival time. Exploration of radiotherapy as a treatment option is continuing, however, and some recent – albeit small – studies have demonstrated that RT can provide clinical benefits to dogs with HSA.
SIDEBAR: You can’t help it: Reconsidering past decisions after a devastating diagnosis
I’m-Yunity and Yunnan Baiyao are two alternative therapeutics that have been documented as having some success in treating HSA. While the research may be limited and in the early stages (studies are continuing), veterinary oncologists are incorporating these modalities into their treatment protocols.
I’m-Yunit. This is a poly-saccharopeptide (PSP) compound from the Coriolus versicolor mushroom, commonly known as the Yunzhi or turkey tail mushroom. It has been used for over two millennia in traditional Chinese medicine; Western researchers have recently begun exploring this mushroom treatment for hemangiosarcoma. It has been demonstrated to have antitumor activity in tissue culture studies and can boost the body’s own cancer-fighting abilities by improving the function of the immune system.
In 2012, a small (15 dogs) clinical trial at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrated the efficacy of I’m-Yunity mushroom supplements in dogs with cancer. This double-blind randomized multidose pilot study featured a high-dose of PSP, which significantly delayed the progression of metastasis and increased the reported survival times for canine hemangiosarcoma.
The data suggest that PSP, as a single agent, might offer significant improvements in morbidity and mortality. For more information, see “Single Agent Polysaccharopeptide Delays Metastases and Improves Survival in Naturally Occurring Hemangiosarcoma,” in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2012.
Yunnan Baiyao. Yunnan Baiyao is also a Chinese herbal medicine and is known for its hemostatic (stops bleeding) and wound-healing properties. It is a protected Chinese traditional medicine and the exact formula is a trade secret, but labelling does identify its primary components.
Yunnan Baiyao is frequently used in veterinary medicine to control bleeding in dogs by improving clotting and platelet function and veterinary oncologists are prescribing it to control or stop bleeding from cancerous vessels.
In laboratory experiments, Yunnan Baiyao has been shown to kill HSA cells. Yunnan Baiyao appears to be of benefit to dogs with HSA, but documentation on efficacy and side effects is not yet available; clinical trials are still being conducted.
SIDEBAR: On the Horizon: Hemangiosarcoma Studies
HSA is a formidable disease, especially when compared to most other canine cancers. As with any form of cancer, statistics are presented as general guidelines and do not represent how an individual dog will respond to treatment.
The long-term prognosis for dogs with HSA is dismal, even when the disease is discovered at its early stages. For dogs who are receiving treatment, however, their quality of life usually remains good to excellent. Even as the disease progresses, it does not appear to cause much pain; instead, dogs may experience a return or increase of symptoms such as bleeding, anemia, or weakness.
Overall, 6 to 13% of dogs with HSA who are treated with surgery alone will be alive one year post diagnosis; of those treated with surgery and chemotherapy, the one-year survival rate increases to 12 to 20%.
- Survival time for dogs with dermal HSA that cannot be cured through treatment varies greatly and is dependent on such factors as location and stage. In cases where the dermal lesions invade the sub-cutaneous tissues, the survival times fall in the range of five to 10 months.
- The average survival time for dogs with hypodermal HSA is six months.
- Without treatment, most dogs diagnosed with HSA of the internal organs will die within one to two weeks of diagnosis, although some can survive for several months and others only a day.
- The prognosis for patients with splenic HSA treated with only surgery ranges from one to three months, while those treated with surgery and chemotherapy have an improved prognosis range of four to eight months. However, if extensive metastasis is present at the time of surgery, survival time is only about two months when followed with chemotherapy.
- Clinical stage tends to be strongly associated with the prognosis for dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma.
- The prognosis declines for dogs with splenic tumors that rupture; survival time tends to be shorter and unpredictable.
- Dogs with evident metastasis at diagnosis and who do not undergo surgery may respond to chemotherapy, which can provide a prolonged quality of life when compared with dogs who are not treated at all.
- The prognosis for dogs with tumors that involve the heart, liver, and/or other internal organs is worse than for those with splenic tumors.
- Dogs with Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC) appear to have shorter survival times than dogs without the condition.
- Unfortunately, almost all dogs with HSA will succumb to the disease from tumor rupture or metastasis to the organs.
Reason for Hope
HSA affects thousands of dogs every year, but investigation into it has been limited, primarily because it is almost exclusively a canine disease. Most other types of canine cancers occur in humans as well and consequently have a greater impetus for research.
It has been more than 40 years since chemotherapy was added to the standard of care for the treatment of HSA. While there has been little improvement in the prognosis for dogs since then, recent studies show promise for the development of new screening methods and early detection, which will allow for treatment to begin sooner and, we hope, a better outcome. See “On the Horizon: Hemangiosarcoma Studies” on the next page for more information about the latest research on this devastating disease.
Dr. Jaime Modiano, who is currently at the University of Minnesota. He is one of the foremost research vets for blood cancers (Hemangiosarcoma and Lymphoma) in the country. He gave a seminar at our Norwegian Elkhound National in 2018. Through years of research, he and his colleagues have discovered a test to determine if a dog has Hemangiosarcoma, and at the cellular level. They used dogs in their research that were around 6 yrs old. They created a treatment that can only work if the disease is just “emerging” and still at the cellular level. I would recommend that WDJ contact Dr. Jaime Modiano at the U. of Minn. and expand your article at a later date. There is hope!
I must be the lucky one since my dog usually extremely high energy (Dutch Shepherd) didn’t leave the bedroom one morning so I knew something was wrong with him. I walked him outside on a leash on the way out to the vet and saw blood in his urine. It wasn’t that noticeable because the grass hid it. We have a fenced yard and even though I walked him daily I wasn’t normally paying attention when he urinated. Anyway, I brought him to Tufts and they did an ultrasound and found the mass on his spleen. So I had surgery (he was 8) and the doctor said he would send the to or out to see if it was cancerous. It came back benign but he told me it’s possible since they only sample part of it there was no guarantee there wasn’t cancer. He did say he wouldn’t live more than 6 more months if it was cancer. He lived another 6 years and died of stomach cancer after he wasn’t eating well and I had another ultrasound. At 14 I wasn’t going to put him through any surgery. That was old for a 70 lb dog.
My dog was diagnosed with HSA today and has surgery scheduled in 5 days. I am heartbroken. My vet believes it is splenic and from the x-rays, it seemed rather large. I hope I have made the right decision in trying to give him a chance to live a bit longer but I don’t want him to have any pain. Your story has given me a glimmer of hope as my boy is an 11.5 yo great dane. Thank you for sharing your story.
Id love to know what happened? My 10 year old pitt bull is going for a splenectomy after ultrasound showed a large mass on her spleen. Everything else has looked clear and clean but she also has lost over 10 pounds in a few months. She also has bad arthritis and was just recently put on meds which has helped her eat and be active again. But the vet says its likely cancer and I am dying inside.
My boxer/staffie mix had his spleen removed just last Friday due to a mass. Thankfully there were no visible signs of spread but I am now in agony awaiting the dreaded call from the vet. I’m very hopeful, but also must prepare for the worst. I can’t believe this is my life right now. Hugs.
Two of my flat-coated retrievers died from hemangiosarcoma. It is a terrible way to go. When our first dog was diagnosed we tried every available intervention, including surgery and chemotherapy. Although we thought we were doing the right thing, he only survived another six weeks and for the most part his quality of life was poor. Our second flat-coat seemed fine one minute and the next minute he was down and bleeding out. We knew the right thing to do was to end his suffering immediately. There doesn’t seem to have been any major advances since that time and based on our experience, I would never subject another one of my dogs to treatment.
We’ve had several Vizslas over the last 30 years that died from HSA. All visceral, all spleen except for one heart tumor. Shocking and rapid, this is a vicious cancer. I pray researchers will find a cause, prevention, cure…soon!
we lost our 9 yr old girl to visceralHemangiosarcoma 4 months ago. Her first symptom was a decrease in her normally robust appetite. After about 10.days of a poor appetite I took her for bloodwork. The RBC was low and the wbc was high. The ultrasound showed the tumor on her spleen. We did put her on the I’m ‘Yunity but it was too late. She lasted less than a month
We lost our sweet little Parson Russell Terrier to this disease on January 21, 2019 just as few weeks before his 13th birthday. The tumour on his spleen was discovered doing an abdominal ultrasound. It ruptured at home and he was rushed to emergency but there was nothing to be done.
I lost my dog Brandi at age 6 to hemangiosarcoma. She had been diagnosed with Pannus, an allergy to the sun shortly after I adopted her. I had to give her Cyclosporin, a chemotherapy drug to keep her from going blind and preventing joint pain. Her immune system was compromised as a result. There were no symptoms. She got stuck backing out from under a chair for a moment then she started looking at me like something is wrong and your not going to understand. She made it downstairs and outside. In the morning I found her. The entire side of her body was oozing right thru her fur. This happened at 2 am so I wasn’t as aware as I might have been but I doubt I could have done anything if I had been. It happened so fast with no warning.
That happened to my dog also. I came home and my husband said, “Listen to this!” Our dog was yelping and whining and carrying on to be let out. He was a black lab and was not vocal at all. His last bark was about ten years ago. We were watching him for laryngeal paralysis and treating his eye(aniscoria) with Prednisone. He was also full of various lumps. Earlier in the year, the vet excised a small tumor above his eye and said it was benign. If the prednisone didn’t work, we were going to have an MRI. That day, he woofed down his treats like regular. Five hours later, he was standing outside for the longest time and not moving. (midnight ). He had taken to wanting out around midnight and not coming back for awhile, so I had bought a lighted collar so I could find him. He dragged himself back inside. Looked at me with barely open eyes and shaking. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing so I thought I would brush my teeth first and then look again to see if he laid down. Nope. I picked him up and laid him down. My husband and I carried him to the vet on his bed. The vet said he had a fever(105.5) and distended abdomen and was nauseated. He started an IV and gave him antibiotics and a pain med(thank God). He passed at the vet from bleeding. This was from 0130-8 maybe. He was our baby. We are so lost without him. He was always here and always my shadow.
Wish I had this information last year when I lost my senior pit bull to a tumor on his spleen from diagnosis to having to let him go a mere two weeks,no time to get the funds for surgery.
He was pts St Patrick’s day 2018 . I worried how would I know I did not want him to suffer and did not want to take time from him,but he let me know when it was time. The thing actually ruptured at the vets while getting everything ready,if I had waited he would have suffered greatly.
I miss my old man he was the best,most gentle soul even after spending his first 9 years in a horrible place with no one to love him,I only had 3 years with him
This happened to our beloved Maggie, an Airedale-Irish Setter cross in 1985. She was 13 1/2 and appeared healthy, with just minor arthritis. One day, she was just fine with no obvious symptoms; the next morning she was moribund and was euthanized at the emergency clinic. Her circulatory system had completely collapsed and the vet had to put her down by injecting into her heart.
In 2015 I lost my Australian Shepherd, Spooky, to hemangiosarcoma. In his case, diagnosis was made post mortem, upon necropsy. The top two cancers in Australian Shepherds are hemangiosarcoma, and lymphoma – and are responsible for nearly 30% of Aussie deaths in any year, and sadly increasing in frequency. From the time he showed any symptoms, to being put down, was a long overnight of 10 hours in my lap, til we took him to the vet for euthanasia the next morning. Spooky was nearly 12, though he was still competing at the top of his game in both Obedience and Rally, having earned 2015 ASCA Finals Invitations for SuperDog Obedience and Rally, that heartbreakingly arrived in the mail just a week after he died. Aussies as young as 18 months have died from this cancer. While I waited for morning, with Spooky’s head in my lap and tears rolling down my face, I gathered together the paperwork for my vet to submit cancer research tissue samples at time of necropsy, so maybe future research could reveal genetic markers and help reduce or eliminate this cancer from our Breed. While neither his sire nor his dam died from hemangiosarcoma, every single one of the EIGHT puppies in the litter succumbed to the disease. It doesn’t help that my second Aussie’s grandsire was my Spooky’s stud – or that my pup’s granddam likely also died of hemangiosarcoma (but in her case, the tissue samples for research degraded in the mail so no diagnosis was possible).
The year 2015 was brutal for my friends at our dog training school. Besides my Spooky, we lost 3 Flat Coated Retrievers, 1 Bernese Mountain Dog, 1 French Bulldog, 5 Golden Retrievers, 2 English Springer Spaniels, and 1 Pharaoh Hound (who lucked out by surviving the cutaneous form of hemangiosarcoma for nearly 7 years!). Nearly all of these dogs had earned top-level competitive Obedience titles and were nationally ranked champions, and their hemangiosarcoma deaths affected the entire training school.
In February of 2009, my longtime companion, suddenly collapsed as he greeted me at the door. My roommate and I wrapped him in a comforter and carried him to the car and rushed him to the emergency vet. Once there it was determined that he was in shock and an xray revealed his abdomen was full of fluid, likely blood from a ruptured spleen, I was told they could do emergency surgery, but if it was too involved he would be sewed back up and moved to another hospital. Luckily my roommate had the presence of mind to ask why not go directly to that facility, which is what we did and my dog was made comfortable, given a transfusion and had surgery. It was a tough night and following day. After surgery the surgeon told me that he had taken some suspicious biopsies off his liver and that the next 24 hours were going to be touch and go. The following day, while at work, I got a call that he had gone into an arthymia and that he had not yet gotten up without help and might not make it, so I rushed to the hospital thinking I was saying goodbye to my boy, who had been through so much with me over the course of our 12 years together. When I got there, he had stabilized, they were guarded, but happy to see him get up and greet me, with his nub wagging. The following day I got a call that I should pick him up, because they felt he would do better recovering at home. I set up an air mattress in my living room, as we had always slept together, and that first night was rough, he was in pain and I had to actually take him back to the hospital for a shot because I couldn’t get the pain meds they had given me into him. They suggested peanut butter which did the trick! Two days later, the results came back and it was hemangiosarcoma and the prognosis they gave us was 1 to 3 months. I spent a week at home with him and cried daily at the thought of losing him. Week two, I woke up one morning and he was sleeping on the couch, guess my snoring was too much for him (lol), another thing happened that week, I lost my job of 13 years due to economic downturn; instead of worrying I took it as a gift that I wouldn’t feel guilty for the hours I was missing away from him. Two months passed, he returned to his former self and I stopped waiting for him to die. I hugged him tighter and never went too far from home, but he was with me and I was grateful. I got a new job and we were good. He had a growth on his front paw that had been there for some time, that when the vet originally aspirated it, felt it was nothing to be concerned about. However, it had now grown to the point where it hit the ground and would bleed, so it needed to be removed, this was 8 months later, so we scheduled surgery for the day after his 13th birthday. Even the vet was amazed that with his diagnosis, he not only was alive, but he was doing so well and she even stated that perhaps they’d made a mistake in his diagnosis. So as planned, he had his, two weeks later on a beautiful, unseasonably warm Sunday after Thanksgiving, after sitting on the back deck, as he loved to sit there in the sun, I had a feeling that came upon me, I went to visit my then newest grandchild to cheer myself up a bit, I wasn’t gone more than 2 hours and when I came home, he was not at the front door to greet me, I called his name, he didn’t come, I found him lying on the floor in my bathroom, he had thrown up in a corner and he just laid there looking at me with his brown eyes and I knew that it was time. I called my friend, a nurse to come and help me and we took him for his last ride, and I held him in my arms for our last goodbye. Dillinger was a special dog, a Rottweiler mix, an amazing companion and a survivor. He left this earth on November 29, on December 12th his spirit lead me to another Rottweiler, an almost 3 year old girl, who had been owner surrendered on the day he left me. His date of birth was 11-15-1997, her birthdate was 1-15-2007, it’s how I know his spirit led me to her. He was the king of my castle and so he brought me to a princess! I lost her on Thanksgiving weekend in 2017, she had just been diagnosed with osteosarcoma. CANCER SUCKS!
In November 2009, our Papillon was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma at the age of 9yrs. A few weeks prior to his diagnosis, we began to notice that he seemed to be experiencing trouble jumping up on his living room window bench. Our holistic Vet was away on holidays so we took our Pap to see another Vet in our clinic. This Vet suggested that it was likely a spinal injury so recommended a referral to a Canine Chiropractor. A week later, after an assessment & treatment by the Canine Chiropractor, he suggested we go back to our Vet Clinic since he felt a hard mass in our Pap’s abdomen area. The following day we were back at our Vet Clinic & after an ultrasound, our regular Vet diagnosed the Hemangiosarcoma tumour on our dog’s Spleen. It was a Friday & surgery to remove the tumour was scheduled the following Tuesday. The day of the surgery, my husband & I each took the day off work & spent the day at the Vet Clinic, hoping & praying our beloved dog would survive. The tumour was successfully removed but sadly, our dog died in recovery that evening. Needless to say, my husband & I were absolutely devastated. “Pekoe” went from being an active, busy dog, full of life & vitality to crossing over the Rainbow Bridge in less than 2 weeks. Hemangiosarcoma is a fast growing cancer, with little chance of survival by the time it is diagnosed. My heart goes out to all of you who have experienced such a diagnosis for your much loved dogs.
My lab/aussie has this horrid disease and has been doing really well. I have had her on Yunnan Bayaio, CBD oil, Hepato Support, Red Cell Canine and Turkey Tail Mushroom. She is declining, still eating, weak and not pooping. Any suggestions on a safe effective way to help her eliminate? She’s been on a whole food diet for the past few months since her diagnosis, but now will not eat any veggies, including pumpkin, which she used to love.
Thanks in advance.
My First SCWT (soft coated wheaten terrier) died of this back in 1989 or so. I found a lump, it was diagnosed, she was gone within a month. I could not even spell it back then! This is the most informative article I have ever read and I appreciate it. It helps to know what to look out for. But I still think there are some environmental components that are not being seen or thought about? Yes, I am talking about chemicals various and nefarious. There is no way to tell when or where contact will occur. Only some possible proactive and reactive things to do. Like, wash their feet, not just when they are muddy. But whenever they have been away from home? I don’t have a clue if that would help. Maybe it would not hurt. Dogs are much closer to the ground level than we are and they do lick feet, fur, etc. We have to lose our companions after their full happy life, which is still short in human terms. I’d rather not keep losing them to shortened life, painful diseases, and anything where I can make a positive impact on prevention.
My pointer/setter Sahara has had dermal hemangiosarcoma for at least the 7 years I have had her. She is around 13 now. She has had multiple medical issues over the years. Having lost one pointer I adopted at age 8 to HSA, I have had all dermal HSA lesions removed by surgery or cauterizing, whichever was warranted fairly regularly. I can’t begin to count all the friends with pointers I have had that had HSA.
Two years ago, I requested an abdominal ultrasound because I assumed she had a propensity to visceral HSA. The internist found a small lesion on her spleen. We were going to remove the spleen, but she was also diagnosed with canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy at the same time, also with a minor heart block, so the splenectomy was put on hold until her heart stabilized. After a month, another US was performed and the lesion was a bit better. The decision was made to monitor it every 3 months. We’ve done that religiously.
Because of her heart issues and the big warning on grain free diets, I really felt I was between a rock and a hard place. I never did like all the legumes in the grain free diets, but also didn’t want to throw processed carbs and simple sugar carbs at the cancer to feed that fire.
However, I started changing foods and I can’t say I have been happy with any of them in the last two years. However, whether related or not, her HSA has taken off this year (seemingly in relationship with when I gave in and started feeding grained diets again).
Sahara has had surgery twice in three months to remove masses, both dermal and subcutaneous. We sent out 5 of the approximate 15 that were surgically removed. One was a soft tissue sarcoma (nerve sheath tumor), one was dermal hemangiosarcomas, two were subcutaneous hemangiosarcomas, and the other was another soft tissue sarcoma next to her spine.
Three ultrasounds in 3 months showed that the lesion on her spleen (5 mm x 5 mm in January), had started to enlarge after being stable. With all these other malignant tumors, I don’t see that a splenectomy would be of much benefit and she might die sooner given the average life expectancy post splenectomy.
Today, she had another ultrasound and I asked for an echocardiogram. It had been a year since the last one. They chose to do a Doppler echo. It will be a be a few days before I get the results. I will not be shocked if there shows to be cancer in her heart now.
The latest diet I am trying is a type Keto Kibble by Visionary. She isn’t wild about it, but has always been picky. Her stools are pretty ugly, probably from the gallbladder sludge she has.
She is still pretty active when she is not recovering from surgery. She spent a good part of the night last night doing perimeter checks on the fence line like any good pointer will do. I don’t want her not to get to be a dog, but tonight she has decided to stay in and sleep.
I am a person who will do almost anything for my pets except let them suffer. So, I am trying to get information to know if we are near that time. We won’t win over HSA, but I hope to make the choice of when.
She is on a bucket load of meds. I added I’M Yunity and Yunnan Baiyon a few months ago. I don’t know if either of them helps, but it is the one thing I can do.
My hope is that some day soon there will be something that can remove the possibility of a dog getting this horrible disease. FYI: If I hear one more vet tell me not to worry about cutaneous HSA, I will throw up. Maybe not that tumor, but down the line…
I’m so sorry to hear about your pup…..how is she doing?
I, too, am going through this hemangiosarcoma nightmare with my 8 year-old golden retriever. I lost his sister a year ago to the same cancer. I have a question: you said that you added the I’M Yunity to your dog’s diet. I also purchased some but how do I get my boy to eat it (it’s powder form) when I can’t get him to eat much of anything at all? He is on appetite stimulants to help him to eat but even on those, he is so picky….if I sprinkle the I’M Yunity on his food or try to mix it in, he won’t eat. I would like to try it to see if it does any good (grasping at straws at this point) but cannot figure out a way to get it in his system. Do you know if it is mixable with water or broth and maybe I can just squirt it in his mouth? I don’t want to torture him…..which I am afraid that is what I’m doing every time I squirt the appetite stimulant down his throat.
Has anyone experienced this cancer in a dog that is not even two? Our Mastiff/Mix had a red growth on his back leg, the Vet cut it open thinking it was maybe just a blood blister of some kind. About a week after she cut it it started to grow again and was purplish in color and would rupture and bleed if it got any pressure on it. We took him into the vet and they decided to take it off and sent the growth to the lab. We got back the results today and it came back as Hemangioma, we meet with the oncologist next week and we are hoping it it Dermal Hemangiosarcoma.
Can anyone give some insight on if our baby boy is going to be okay, like I said he’s not even two yet.
Hi Amber. I am so sorry to hear about your baby having this. Your situation sounds similar to ours. My canecorso/lab mix developed a very small bump on her skin on her abdominal area about a year ago. At the time, I didn’t think much of it because she showed no signs of it bothering her at all and so I believed it to be just a bug bite or something of the sort. Over time it slowly got bigger and then all of a sudden one day it ruptured into what looked like a cyst/tumor. At that point I took her to the Vet and was told it might be a Mast Cell Tumor but they were unsure. I started doing my research and after several different veterinarians opinions, I finally found a board certified veterinarian oncologist to take a look at her. That’s when we were told it was definitely a soft tissue sarcoma but we wouldn’t know a definite prognosis and whether or not it was begin or malignant until after the surgery and full excision of the tumor and a biopsy was sent off to the histopathology department. A week later is when I received the call from the veterinarian to tell me that the mass removed from her abdomen is a malignant subcutaneous hemangiosarcoma and that it can/will eventually metastasize to her spleen and/or potentially other organs. They want to start her on chemotherapy treatment immediately. I literally would do anything in the world for my animals but after all the tests, procedures and surgery already done, I financially just cannot afford to pay for anything else at this time. I am absolutely torn on what to do for her. She just turned 4 years old a month ago. I have been desperately researching any options that are potentially available for her and her condition. I have modified her diet and have started her on milk thistle and turmeric capsules. I will be starting her on CBD oil very soon as well. I know there’s much more i need to do for her. Her quality of life seems to not be affected by this at all at this time and she’s eating and drinking very well and playing like a happy dog. The only thing I’ve noticed is she does seem to be slightly more overall sleepy/tired than usual, but that’s all.
I don’t know if any of what I’ve told you has helped your situation in any way but I hope nothing but the very best for your baby! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to talk further!
My dog rocky was diagnosed with HSA in June 2019, after we brought him to the vet for laboured breathing and obviously being in pain. We decided against chemo as we thought it would make quality of life poor and removed the spleen instead. the vet gave rocky 1-3 months max to live. we started researching and found Im Yunity mushroom pills that had pretty good reviews and gave those a try. The pills are a little expensive but rocky is still alive and well and its been almost a year! He just turned 14 and we are so happy to have him around longer 🙂
Hi, My dog was diagnosed with HSA today. I’ve been doing lots of research right now Could you please tell me about that pill? Where did you buy it from? Thank you so much
My dog was recently diagnosed with visceral (internal) hemangiosarcoma on july 20, 2020. On the 19 of july we woke up like any normal day. I said good morning to her and took her out to use the restroom and she had her kibble ready for breakfast and her water. Then as she was outside my sister noticed she wasn’t responsive almost confused and lethargic. I called her but seemed she was confused. I knew something was wrong shes my dog. My grandma thought maybe she was dehydrated but she was throwing up and after her second throw up she had a seizure. I was so terrified. I called my mom and quickly took her to the emergency hospital. They took her in and told me the diagnosis. I will never forget this day for it was like a nightmare. I knew a day would come but not like this for her. The vet told me The tumor is on her heart and that’s it was cancer. I was so devastated and in denial. I still am but i know it will be selfish of me to keep her longer so i decided not to do chemotherapy. I’m making it as comfortable as i can for her. Shes a 11 1/2 pitbull mix. Shes my world ! Shes stabalized now and still her self. She gets extremely tired of course but the pills help her have some energy. Shes herself and still like she was a puppy. Have faith ❤️ and know whatever happens your dog will be okay. You know your dog better than anyone. I say this as in your dog will be okay by they won’t suffer and you will make the right decision. Try the pills, shes okay for now and whenever she tells me shes ready i know what to do. I know it’s terrifying but don’t be sad in-front of them they feel it. They know, be strong as you can in-front of them, they will always love you.
Thank you for this perspective. My dog was diagnosed this month as well. She’s 12 and 3 months. She had been coughing at night for about 8 months. Initially the vet diagnosed it as a lung infection possibly secondary to allergies. We went on a course of Antibiotics, then antihistamines, but it didn’t improve.
When we went back in (once the vet offices opened back up from COVID!) we had a repeat chest and adbominal xray and saw a huge mass in her stomach that wasn’t there in January. I found out from her breeder that her mom and 2 siblings died suddenly and had similar symptoms.
I cannot believe my dog has survived this long! She still plays, runs and jumps up on the bed. She has a full appetite and drinks lots of water. But her little belly has grown and she can’t clean herself anymore so we use wipes after every pee.
We feed her small, frequent meals and take her out to pee every 3 hours. My biggest fear is I will make a decision to euthanize (because so many ppl say it’s the humane thing to do) but what if she is living a good quality of life and may go for a few more months?
Hardest decision ever . . .
My GSD has recently been diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma. I have looked at several articles regarding this
type of cancer but find nowhere any info/mention as to how/if it can be transmitted to other dogs in the family????
I have 3 other GSD’s that I am concerned about.
Recent dx for my PWD a couple weeks ago found when using U/S to look for IBD signs for occasional diarrhea, vomiting, and weakness. Vet thinks those symptoms could be related if she were having a bleed at the time. Echo is 11 years old, and I won’t put her through surgery. Vet said a few months with or without it. She seems to be plugging along fine so far, and she may pass on her own, but if she’s struggling at all, I will help her pass.
I wanted to say to those who question about euthanizing too soon, or missing out on any further quality of life. This is terminal. Although it’s painless, they will still struggle with fear and anxiety because of difficulties breathing or suffer shock from the bleeding. It’s better a day too early than a day too late.
Sandy- this is not contagious to other animals in the house.
Our golden retreiver died from this horrible cancer he lived 7 weeks from being diagnosed the tumour was on his heart it broke our hearts he couldn’t breathe in the last 2 weeks went off his food he went to sleep peacefully at the vets
My 8 yr old lab retriever mix had an incident last week of not eating, drinking, and severe lethargy. We took her to vet 24 hours later and through ultra sound learned she had HSA in her liver (many tumors). Our vets said prognosis was 2-4 months. No surgery or chemo was recommended. She has had several surgeries for mast cell skin tumors. It has been 9 days and she is eating, drinking, pooping, peeing, and dancing for her dinner. I am just waiting for another bleed and collapse? Do not think she is in pain. What’s next?