Features April 2018 Issue

Hemangioma in Dogs

Skin lesions may turn out to be a harmless hemangioma, or a deadly hemangiosarcoma. A trip to the vet and a biopsy are needed to determine the best course of further action.

It usually happens when you’re grooming or bathing your dog: You notice a strange little lump you haven’t seen before. The first thing to pop in your mind is the C-word. It can’t be cancer, can it? Chances are it’s just a hemangioma, but don’t ignore it.

hemangioma on dog skin

Hemangiomas: Don’t ignore them; a biopsy is in order.

A cutaneous hemangioma is a benign neoplasm (growth) on the skin that looks a lot like a blood blister (angiokeratoma). That makes sense, because hemangiomas are vascular lesions, formed by endothelial cells, which are the cells that form blood vessels. The color can vary from red to black, and the lesion can ulcerate. A hemangioma can grow, making it prone to bruising, laceration, and infection.

The cause of hemangiomas is idiopathic (unknown). These growths usually don’t appear until at least middle age. Thin-skinned, light-colored breeds often experience hemangiomas. You’ll most likely find a hemangioma on the dog’s trunk or legs, especially hairless areas like the lower abdomen.

Having your veterinarian remove the hemangioma via surgical excision or cryosurgery is often the best option.

“Because these are very vascular, they may ulcerate and drain. In those cases, you need to keep the area clean and consult with your veterinarian on a topical antibiotic or wound cream,” advises Debra M. Eldredge, DVM, a veterinarian in Vernon, New York.

Skin Cancer Signs on Dogs

Any new lump or growth on your dog is a call for an immediate veterinary exam. While chances are greater that it’s benign, there’s still a strong risk that it is not. Because some cancers appear on the skin only after invading internal organs, time is of the essence. While the classic sign of skin cancer is a lesion that just won’t heal, other symptoms to watch for include bleeding, change in color, crusty look or layer, inflammation, itchiness, swelling, or a wart-like appearance.

Diagnosing Hemangiomas

dog looking uncertain

It is debated in veterinary literature whether hemangiomas are more accurately categorized as a neoplasm or simply a vascular malformation. One thing is certain: Hemangiomas are not malignant. The problem, however, is that they closely resemble an aggressive cancer called hemangiosarcoma. By the time a hemangiosarcoma is seen in the skin, the cancer has usually spread to the dog’s organs.

A veterinarian will not be able to tell you if the growth is a hemangioma or a hemangiosarcoma just by examining it; a biopsy, or at least a cytology, is required. “To be completely sure which type of tumor you are dealing with, a biopsy is best. In most cases your veterinarian will do an ‘excisional biopsy,’ totally removing the growth,” says Dr. Eldredge.

In a cytology, cells from the neoplasm are removed with a needle, sent to the laboratory, and examined under a microscope by a pathologist. While a cytology is less invasive than a biopsy, the results aren’t as conclusive and can be misleading, so a biopsy is preferable for diagnosis.

Depending on the size, location, and depth of the lesion, the biopsy may be done with a local anesthetic and a sedative, or it may require the dog to be fully anesthetized. “A local is fine,” says Eileen Fatcheric, DVM, owner of Fairmount Animal Hospital in Syracuse, New York. “They just can’t be on a super sensitive or movable part of the body, like near the eyes. Some areas, like a toe, can be difficult with just a local.”

The lesion will be sent to pathology for an analysis. The biopsy results will confirm or rule out the presence of cancer.

Waiting for a lump to go away on its own can prove to be a costly mistake. The sooner a diagnosis can be made, the better, especially if you have to move forward with treatment.

Learn about other abnormal skin conditions on dogs here.

Cynthia Foley is a freelance writer and dog agility competitor in New York.

Comments (6)

I have a 13 yr old Jack Russell mix that was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma after I saw a flat black spot under his left arm for 2 months that just didn't go away. It wasn't a scab or lump. He is mostly white with some black pigmentation on his pink belly. I had my vet remove it and she was surprised the biopsy came back with this diagnosis. I then took him to a cancer specialist and he was started on IV chemo for 6 treatments with echo cardiograms of his heart, abdominal ultrasounds of his and chest x-rays in addition to lab work with every visit. No tumors were found in the heart, liver, spleen or abdomen and 3 months post all treatments still no signs of any growths. I feel so fortunate to have caught this early. I'm not going to say this hasn't been expensive but he is worth it. I rescued him from my neighbor who kept him outside and let him run the neighborhood for 9 yrs until he developed a cherry eye which required surgery to repair and I took care of it. He became mine after that. He goes back in June for another 3 month check up and then 6 months after that if nothing is discovered.

Posted by: RodneyM | April 30, 2018 11:24 AM    Report this comment

My greyhound had many hemangiomas. We had the first few biopsied and confirmed that was what they were. He got them on his rear end/upper thighs. Usually they'd grow a bit and then pop and disappear for a bit. Interestingly enough, Blue did end up with hemangiosarcoma. I always wonder if there was some connection. Because he was prone to hemangiomas which seem to be a vascular system gone a little amok, was that an early warning sign that he was at a higher risk for hemangiosarcoma. Of course, since there is no effective treatment for hemangiosarcoma, it's a moot point at the moment.

Posted by: YIKMDLF | April 30, 2018 8:16 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for this article. My dog Bailey has something on the top of his head, don't know what it is - not red or any color. Thought he had bumped his head getting under the bed but has not healed and gone away. Calling vet tomorrow we were concerned now more than ever.

Posted by: Beau | April 29, 2018 1:26 PM    Report this comment

My 11 year old peekapoo had this aggressive cancer and died last year 3 months after removing a black growth, having it biopsied and vet said it was Hemangiosarcoma. His ultrasound revealed an inoperable tumor inside near kidney. 10 days after surgery another growth appeared had that removed too. Then another appeared and I could not cut my boy anymore. I started making homemade food and keeping him happy for 3 months until it spread to his lungs and heart. If this cancer is in the spleen and it's removed they have a better chance of survival but if it's outside it spreads quickly. His Symptoms were vomiting for no reason. There is a great Facebook page called "hemangiosarcome diet and supplement protocols". Dogs need good food, vitamins, less chemicals, less vaccines etc, do research. RIP Buddy.

Posted by: Jenpropis | April 29, 2018 1:08 PM    Report this comment

Joanilane, so sorry for your son's loss. I feel so lucky to have a vet with an in-house lab, they check every lump. It really puts my mind at ease when they can tell me it is negative, and when they have found a mast cell tumor, at least I know right away and can schedule surgery ASAP.

Posted by: puppypig | April 29, 2018 11:03 AM    Report this comment

Please do get any bump checked by a GOOD veterinarian! My son brought his Labrador in for what we thought might just be a “fatty” tumor and the vet said that it was more than likely nothing. No biopsy was done and the Vet. recommended not to get surgery and to watch the lump. If it got bigger to come back for a biopsy.
Well, it got bigger and the biopsy showed cancer. It ended up we were too late and it was too advanced. This only a couple weeks later. We may have been able to save her had we insisted the biopsy be done immediately. ALWAYS get the biopsy done right away!

Posted by: Joanilane | April 29, 2018 10:42 AM    Report this comment

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