Your E-Guide to Dog Spleen Tumors 2018

Dog spleen tumors (or splenic masses) often go unnoticed because of their hidden location and vague symptoms.  As with any tumor, they are either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). You might feel as if your dog has something wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is. In fact, it’s nut unusual for people to miss signs and symptoms altogether.  You’re probably wondering if there is a cure, and what treatment options are available. 

Disclaimer:  I am not a veterinarian, nor do I play one on TV.  My goal is to provide accurate, well-researched posts, but human error is always a possibility. Have your dog seen by a veterinarian.

Affiliates:  You might see affiliate links on this page. It just means that if you click on one (whether you purchase or not), I might get a little money from it. It doesn’t cost or affect you in any other way.

It can get a little confusing.  To help you, I’ve simplified things so that by the time you’re done reading this post, you will have a better understanding of your dog’s diagnosis and what that means over the long-term.

So let’s get started!


To Understand Dog Spleen Tumors, You Need to Understand the Spleen

In order to understand the different types of dog spleen tumors, it’s important to have a general understanding of the spleen and what it does. The spleen is located next to your dog’s stomach and is one of the body’s vascular organs.  It’s “vascular” because it regulates blood cells and recycles blood protein and iron. In addition, the spleen contains cells that recognize harmful microorganisms in the body.

The spleen has two types of tissue:


Red Pulp Tissue

The activity within the red pulp tissue helps to filter blood (out with the old; in with the new) and recycle the proteins and iron from blood cells. The red pulp connective tissue makes up about 79% of the spleen.  This part of the spleen contains many different blood cells including:

  • Platelet (thrombocytes): These cells promote blood clotting
  • Red Blood Cells – These cells are responsible for delivering oxygen to body tissues


White Pulp Tissue

White pulp tissue contains cells that create an immune response when infection, viruses, or bacteria threaten the body. They constantly protect the body against illness.  White blood cells are created from bone marrow and, because some only last a few days, the bone marrow is constantly making more.


Types of White Blood Cells Include:

-Monocytes (help to break down bacteria)

-Lymphocytes (create antibodies to protection against bacteria, etc.)

-Neutrophils (Kill bacteria and fungi)

-Basophils (these are the alarm-sounders when infectious agents appear)

-Eosinophils (kill parasites, destroy cancer cells, and can also help with allergic reactions within the body)

With so many cells working together, how is it possible for dog spleen tumors to occur?

That is the million dollar question that researchers are trying to figure out.  One of the reasons why there is no cure for dog spleen tumors is because science hasn’t been able to precisely identify the initial trigger that cause the body’s systems to malfunction and allow cancer to grow. The brief description of blood cells, connective tissues, and organs is just a whiff of the details you’d find in a medical textbook. 

Until someone unlocks the mysteries behind cancer, the best our medical professionals can do is attempt early diagnosis.  The only way for a veterinarian to identify whether a tumor on the spleen is malignant or not, is to remove it entirely. Yes, your dog can live without a spleen despite its many functions. The bodies of humans and animals are amazing in that they can (for the most part) engage other organs to pick up the slack.

The sad reality is that dog spleen tumors are often masked by vague symptoms.  If the mass is found cancerous, the fact that he no longer has a spleen is the least of concerns. Hemangiosarcoma (detailed further into the post) is an aggressive cancer that, if found in the removed spleen, has likely already spread to other organs.




Your Free Lesson on Dog Spleen Tumors

Dog Spleen – Canis Lupus Familiaris Anatomy – isolated on whit

An iStock image of a dog spleen highlighted in dark red.



Two Characterizations of Spleen Tumors:

Tumors of the spleen are considered either non-lymphoid or lymphoid.  


Lymphoid Tumor

A lymphoid tumor originates in the lymphatic tissue located in the dog’s spleen. They can occur in other areas as well including the lymph nodes (those lumps and bumps that get enlarged when you’re coming down with something) or in the bone marrow.


Lymphoid (cancer of the lymphocytes)

Cancers of the lymphocytes (white blood cells that reside in the white pulp of the spleen) are common in dog spleen tumors. Other cancers of the lymphocytes include: mast cell tumors and leukemia.

You might be interested in this post:

CLICK HERE TO READ:    Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy 2018

Unlike visible tumors that are a little easier to identify, tumors of the spleen are hidden from view most of the time.  The only way to catch a problem early is to bring your older dog to the veterinarian for regular checkups.


Non-lymphoid (cancer of the blood vessels)

This category of dog spleen tumors include both the non-cancerous hemangioma (benign) and the cancerous hemangiosarcoma (malignant).  How will you remember that?  Just remember that any word that ends in sarcoma signifies cancer. Sarcomas are cancers from the connective tissues of the body including bone, cartilage, fat, nerve.


  • Hemangiosarcoma (non-lymphoid)

This is probably the cancer your dog has been diagnosed with. Hemangiosarcomas are malignant cancers that develop in blood vessel lining. It can be found in any organ; however, with dogs they tend to appear in the spleen.  It’s only been in recent years (beginning approximately 2015) that researchers have been able to develop more solid theories.  According to Veterinary Sciences (2015; Dec: 2(4): 388-405.) new data suggest “a pluripotent bone marrow progenitor as the cell of origin for this disease.” 

That’s nice.  But what does it mean? 

I dug into that statement a little further and, from what I can tell, there is a possibility that the cancer cells actually develop out of “master cells” or dominant cells from bone marrow.   The point is that with further research and a deeper understanding of how dog spleen tumors develop, veterinarians will have better treatment and diagnostic tools at their disposal.

The Immediate Danger of Hemangiosarcoma

Unfortunately, cancer on the spleen isn’t typically noticed until it becomes enlarged, and even then only a medical professional knows what to feel for. The veterinarian might notice the enlargement during a physical examination, but for you or me, the dog owners, we’re probably going to miss it. 

Hemangiosarcomas are tumors that begin in the lining of blood vessels.  It’s essentially a big mass lodged onto a vascular organ.  Since it’s vascular in nature (meaning it relates to the blood vessels), a lot of blood passes through and accumulates.  The bigger it grows, the greater the chance of a rupture causing a dangerous internal bleed. Most times this is fatal.


Symptoms You Could Easily Miss

Dog spleen tumors like hemangiosarcoma are aggressive and can quickly spread to other parts of the body.  Veterinarians discover these tumors after the dog’s owners bring the dog in some other concern.  Other times, it might be suspected during a routine exam. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  It’s nobody’s “fault”. The reality is that this type of cancer likes to hide and is really tricky to spot.

Vague symptoms (if any) include signs of weakness, swollen belly, the skin might bruise, and the dog could have pale gums.  In this case, pale gums would likely point to anemia.  Sadly, tumors of the spleen can rupture suddenly, leaving the dog in critical condition. Rarely, the blood is reabsorbed into the abdomen and the dog’s body manages to take care of the internal bleed.  It seems, however, the most likely case with an internal bleed from this type of rupture is very dire. 

Older dogs should have yearly checkups (or more if you suspect something) as a means to detect dog spleen tumors before it’s too late.


  • Hemangioma

Hemangiomas are non-cancerous skin lesions that look a lot scarier than they are.  Frankly, if I saw one on my dog I’d be nervous.  These vascular lesions can be red or blackish and can also ulcerate.  I’ve looked at different images of hemangioma online and most look like raised, deep red, and remind me (a bit) of how raspberry looks.  Others (see the photo below) looks like red dots.  The image below is a hemangioma on human skin.

Dog Spleen Tumors

Close up photo of cherry angioma on human skin. This is what a hemangioma would look like on a dog.








Here’s the problem:  Tumors like hemangiomas are not visible to the naked eye. The veterinarian would have reason to believe there’s a tumor on the spleen, but the only way to diagnose it through a splenectomy.  At that point, they can test the tumor. What a relief to find out it’s benign!   Removal of the spleen means you don’t have to worry about cancer ever developing there.  However, please remember that aggressive tumors like hemangiosarcomas can occur on other organs including the heart, liver, and skin.




There’s no Second-Guessing Dog Spleen Tumors

If you see or feel anything on your dog that is out of the ordinary, don’t just shrug it off.  Even your veterinarian can’t “guess” what it is. He/she will have to biopsy the fluid in order to make a determination.  With experience, it’s likely the veterinarian has a pretty good idea what’s happening through a physical examination, but a biopsy will tell the real story.

As I mentioned above, it’s a much different scenario when the tumor is on the spleen or some other organ. You can’t diagnose what you can’t see and, unfortunately, it’s sometimes not until the dog dies that the veterinarian is able to identify the cancerous mass.  In the scheme of things, aggressive dog spleen tumors like hemangiosarcoma have a poor outcome.

If the veterinarian does suspect there is a tumor on the spleen, the spleen will need to be removed. If test results come back benign, you have hope. If the test results show cancer after the spleen is removed, there’s a good chance the cancer has already spread to other organs.

Chemotherapeutic Options

Chemotherapy can be offered after the spleen is removed as a way of trying to catch any remaining cancer cells in the body.  It’s said that dogs handle chemotherapy treatment better than humans and do not lose their fur as a result of it. However, the best case scenario is usually a life of extension of two or three months.

That said, I’ve read a few accounts of owners whose dog lived at up a year after splenectomy. Those as the lucky ones.


Post Surgical Vaccinations

Packerland Veterinary Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin, offers a customized vaccine for dogs with hemangiosarcomas.  They require a big enough sample of the tumor in order to be able to create the appropriate vaccination.  If you’re interested in this option, here are some questions you may want to ask them:

1. Do you have to live in the Green Bay area to access this service?

2. Can I ask my veterinarian to refer my dog?

3. How do you create the vaccine and how does it work?

4. Will it extend my dog’s life and, if so, for how long?

5. Are there side-effects that I should know about?

6. What is the cost?

You can find out more about this new technology by visiting Packerland Veterinary Center . 

PHEW! I’ve given you a lot of information to think about!

Please remember that I’m not a veterinarian and although I research carefully, there’s always the chance that I got something wrong. If you see any errors within this post, please let me know so that I can fix the problem.  Feel free to contact me directly at

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post. Stick around, because there are plenty useful articles here. For example, discover 5 Clinical Signs of Fatty Tumors in Dogs OR 11 Potent Treatment Options for Lick Granulomas.

I hope what you’ve read has been helpful. I want to get to know all of my readers so please feel free to give me a shout. I love hearing from everyone so don’t be shy.






Cancer and Dog Anal Gland Expression

I think it’s fair to say that most people have seen dogs pulling their behinds across the floor or the yard. It happens from time to time for different reasons.   Dogs do it to relieve intense itchiness and/or pain.  In this post, I’ll talk about dog anal gland expression and the rare cancer sometimes found.

Reasons for butt scooting could include anything from worm infestation, to bug bites, to (most common) plugged anal sac glands.  Cancer and dog anal gland expression isn’t something you hear a lot, but it’s worth understanding, especially if you have one of the following dog breeds:

  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Springer Spaniel
  • German Sheperd
  • Dachshund
  • Alaskan Malamute


Disclaimer:  I am not a veterinarian. I do the best I can to provide quality content based on sound research. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t get it wrong sometimes. Please take your dog to a licensed veterinarian for the “real” diagnosis. Affiliate:  Please note that affiliate links may appear on this page.

How Cancer is Detected Through Dog Anal Gland Expression

Cancer of the anal sac (adrenocarcinoma) is rare in most dogs. However, among the breeds listed above, studies show a higher incidence. Anal sac cancer tends to spread to the dog’s iliac lymph nodes and become quite aggressive.

In order for veterinarians to eliminate the possibility of other cancers (mast cell, melanoma skin cancer, lymphoma), he/she has to perform a fine-needle aspirate to examine the mass.

If the cancer has already spread to the lymph nodes, the prognosis is poor. However, through early detection through dog anal gland expression, it’s possible to improve that prognosis through a combination of surgery, radiation, and possibly chemotherapy.  One of the first signs of anal gland cancer is swelling in the perineum.  The perineum is the area located between the dog’s genitals and anus.

Cancer and Dog Anal Gland Expression
Cancer and Dog Anal Gland Expression Don’t worry pup! I know how to do dog anal gland expression!

Other Symptoms of Cancer in The Dog’s Anal Gland

  • Perineal swelling
  • Constipation
  • Painful defecation
  • Frequently attempting to defecate/straining
  • Flat, long stools

Should You Perform Dog Anal Gland Expression Yourself?

It’s not as easy as the videos make it look, and unless you’re very confident in your ability, it’s probably best to have a veterinarian or groomer do it.  Yes, I tried to help my dog after I noticed excessive butt scooting. I put on a pair of latex gloves, lubed up my finger, held my breath, and went for it.

Things got weird.

The anal glands are located at 4:00 o’clock and 8:00 o’clock just under the skin beneath the anus. Sounds easy to find, but it isn’t if you don’t really know what you’re feeling for.  I spent a few seconds trying to find a small lump but my dog was too distressed for me to continue. I couldn’t do it.

Later, in the veterinarian’s office, the groomer was able to express the anal glands in seconds!  It hurts, and my dog let out a yelp, but it was done quickly and efficiently.  Until recently, I didn’t know much about dog anal gland expression.  Did you know the dog’s anal glands contain the pheromones released when a dog is “marking” territory?  It’s also a distinct odor that other dogs interpret when they sniff each other.

Anal Gland Cancer is Unlikely

The truth is, this type of cancer is rare.  A peer-reviewed study published in the February, 2009, edition of Veterinary Medicine suggests that only 2% of the canine population ever develop skin cancer on the perineum, and only 17% develop perineal tumors.

If you’re anything like me, you might worry that your dog will be within the 2%.  Just your luck, right? I wouldn’t worry about it, but I still think it’s important to have a good understanding of what’s normal for your dog, and what’s not. You probably know your dog’s movements, behaviors, and habits like the back of your hand.  That’s good! It means that if something starts to go wrong, you’ll be the first to notice.

If Cancer is Found Through Dog Anal Gland Expression

Treatment options for adenocarcinoma in dogs involves a three-pronged approach:

  • surgery
  • radiation
  • sometimes chemotherapy

Early Signs of Adenocarcinoma in Dogs

The best reason for having a professional perform the dog anal gland expression is because he/she is trained to recognize abnormalities that could signal cancer. If cancer is present, the person conducting the gland expression might feel:

  • a suspicious mass
  • peritoneal swelling
  • enlarged iliac lymph nodes

Next Step…

Once adenocarcinoma is suspected, a series of tests will be conducted.  A complete blood count, urinalysis, and serum chemistry profile will be performed.  These tests will determine the extent (if any) of neoplastic hypercalcemia.  Definition below.

Neoplastic hypercalcemia is a disorder caused by the action of the tumor’s secretions. These secretions carry hormones and peptides (amino acids) and cytokines (small proteins important in cell signaling) that affect normal and cancerous tissue. The process can affect the healthy functioning of the nervous system and the immune system, among others.

Grading and Treatment Options for Adenocarcinoma

If the blood work and urinalysis suggest anal gland cancer, the veterinarian will order staging tests such as:

  • abdominal ultrasound
  • three-view thoracic radiography

These tests enable the veterinarian to determine the size of the tumor, the number of lymph nodes affected, and whether the cancer has spread to distant organs.


Surgical removal of the tumor and the infected lymph nodes can provide a better outcome for your dog; however, it’s possible that undetected cancer is not removed during the process. That said, it’s thought that there is a “significant survival advantage” with the removal of the primary tumor and affected lymph nodes.

Preoperative Care – Radiation

The intent of radiation therapy before surgery is to make sure that all cancer cells are killed, including any unseen ones that are just extending outwards from the primary tumor.  The hope is also that the tumor will shrink.

Postoperative Care – Maybe More Radiation

If the surgeon feels he/she was unable to remove all of the cancer, additional radiation may be an option. At this point, radiation is only started after the stitches have healed or have been removed. Further radiation is administered for the next 3 or 4 weeks. Unfortunately, this added radiation can cause severe side effects affecting the perineum, rectum, and colon.


From what I understand, the true effects of chemotherapy on adenocarcinoma is hard to determine because it’s often used in combination with radiation and surgery.  Chemotherapy is only used in dogs as a last ditch effort when the dog is at an advanced stage.

The Next Months and/or Years

Unfortunately, the tumor can come back. Surgery and radiation may offer you and your dog the gift of added time, but it’s not necessarily a cure.  Obviously, the bigger the tumor and the further it has spread significantly lowers the prognosis. 

Chances are good that you won’t find cancer from a dog anal gland expression.

After all of this bad news, I thought it would be important to let you know that this type of cancer is pretty rare in most dog breeds. The list of breeds above would be an exception, but even in those breeds, the chances are relatively small.  Maintaining veterinarian check-ups and periodic dog anal gland expression are two ways to stay ahead of the game and catch cancer in its earliest stage.

Let the professionals do the Dog Anal Gland Expression

I’m not a veterinarian and I am not authorized to give medical advice regarding your dog’s health. However, I think I’m safe in advising you not to try dog anal gland expression yourself. If you’re a groomer...that’s different. It’s not as easy as it looks, it’s messy, and if there is anything going on in there, you need a professional to detect it.

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Chondrosarcoma in Dogs Life Expectancy

The National Canine Cancer Foundation reports that the average survival time for dogs with nasal chondrosarcoma is:

  • 1 year 7 months (approximately) when treated with rhinotomy (incision into the nose) combined with radiation.
  • 7 months or so in dogs not treated with a combination of rhinotomy and radiation.

Chondrosarcoma of the Ribs Prognosis:

  • The survival rate depends on whether the cancer has spread to the lungs, kidney, liver, heart, and skeleton. If you continue to read, you’ll see a grading table that further defines how long your dog could be expected to live.
  • Amputation (surgical removal of affected ribs along with a large margin of lung tissue in case the cancer has begun to metastasize) of the limb brings the average survival rate to about 1 1/2 years. Radiation is sometimes used. Chemotherapy is thought to not work adequately.

Chondrosarcoma of Limb Prognosis:

  • Long-term survival appears to be related to having no metastasis of the cancer  (hasn’t spread) and having the affected limb amputated.  In this scenario, the addition of radiation isn’t necessary and the dog could go on to live a full life.  You will want to talk to your veterinarian about ongoing tests. This way, the doctor won’t miss early signs of any further tumors and can proactively treat if required.

Unfortunately, if the cancer has spread beyond the limb, survival rate declines. It was difficult to find any concrete numbers for you. The following paragraph on how cancer is graded might be of interest, however.

Grading Chondrosarcoma

It’s important to note that the life expectancy of a dog with chondrosarcoma (no matter where the tumor originates) depends on whether the cancer has spread, and where the cancer is graded (on a scale of 1 -3 with 3 being worse). Other factors that might affect the prognosis might include age, weight, other health conditions, etc.

Grade I:     Non-malignant and has not spread to other parts of the body. 90% will reach the five-year survival rate with a very low rate of recurrence.

Grade II:   Mast cell tumors are slightly deeper below the skin into the subcutaneous tissues and may be in a prime spot to start spreading. 81% of dogs will reach the five-year survival rate.   The chance of recurrence is fair.

Grade III:   At this point, mast cell tumors are deep into the tissues and are spreading. At grade III, only 29% of dogs will reach the five-year survival rate, a huge drop from grade II.  It’s thought that there is a high chance of recurrence.

Chondrosarcomas Develop In One of Two Ways:

  • Central (Medullary)

This particular type of cancer forms within the bone (usually along flat bones) and is mostly found in large breed dogs. It’s usually diagnosed in middle-aged or senior dogs.

  • Periosteum Chondrosarcoma

This type of bone cancer develops on the outer membrane covering the bone.  No matter the origin, chondrosarcoma is a malignant tumor that needs to be treated by a licensed veterinarian.

3 Common Types of Bone Cancer:

This article is focused (in broad terms) on chondrosarcoma in dogs. Chondrosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that appears in middle-aged to senior dogs. This is a malignant tumor that is said to be slow progressing.  Without treatment, the tumor will eventually spread to other organs.  This type of cancer originates in one of two ways: centrally within the bone, or within the protective membrane that covers the bone.

  • Osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma is a common bone tumor that accounts for up to 85% of all tumor malignancies in dogs.  It typically affects large, older dog breeds including:

  • Great Dane
  • Irish setter
  • Doberman pinscher
  • Rottweiler
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever

Osteosarcoma seems to affect middle age to senior dogs with a higher propensity aimed at intact males and females. Symptoms may include lameness in either the forelimb or the hind limb along with pain and swelling.

  • Fibrosarcoma

This type of bone cancer originates in the connective tissue of the skin.  These are slow-growing but malignant (cancerous) tumors. Although the tumors can be surgically removed, reports show that the cancer tends to recur. The good news is that these tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.  As mentioned above, this topic is particularly complex with a whole series of alternate names for fibrosarcoma like neurofibromas, peripheral nerve sheath tumors, spindle cell tumors, etc.

It’s not known exactly why this tumor occurs. Biopsy or fine-needle aspiration may be required in order to make an accurate diagnosis.

Where Does Chondrosarcoma in Dogs Appear?

Chondrosarcoma in dogs can originate in the:

  • nasal cavity
  • ribs
  • pelvis
  • mammary glands
  • heart (including valves)
  • aorta
  • larynx
  • trachea
  • bones in the face
  • paws (digits)

How Can I Tell if my Dog Has Bone Cancer?

I’ve listed the typical symptoms below, but please remember that these symptoms could signify something else entirely. Only a licensed veterinarian will be able to determine that.

  • limping or lameness
  • sudden extreme sneezing
  • nose bleeds
  • pain in limb
  • bone fracture or difficulty breathing.

Alternative Treatments for Chondrosarcoma in Dogs

I don’t personally subscribe to holistic or “natural” therapies that haven’t been proven in medical science. The only time I would try homeopathic remedies on my dog would be to treat minor skin irritations or mild allergies. That’s just my opinion, not a recommendation. All I’m trying to say is that I would rather treat my dog with tested methods and drugs.  You may argue that homeopathy doesn’t hurt your dog. The way I see it, the longer you treat your dog with questionable therapies, the longer you’re allowing that cancer to grow and spread without intervention.

The only thing I feel comfortable suggesting is to get an absolute diagnosis from a licensed veterinarian first. Discuss all of your treatment options with him/her and openly ask about any alternative therapies you might be considering.  There are a lot of compelling stories out there designed to turn you away from modern medicine. Please ask a lot of questions and make sure you’re doing the right thing for your dog.  I’m sure it’s the hardest thing to do when all you want is to fix your dog – fast.  I totally get it.

Will my Dog Live Longer if a Limb is Amputated and the Cancer Hasn’t Spread?

Again, I’ll refer you to the grading system above. The veterinarian will be able to tell you where your dog fits on the spectrum. The chances of living five years are much better when the disease is still at grade I.

At the end of the day, I just want to see a world full of healthy, happy dogs.  I don’t care if they have three legs or four. If what I write about has any impact on that outcome, then I am thrilled.  These posts include my opinion mixed with the research I have been able to find.  If you see anything that you believe to be in error, please let me know so that I can fix it right away.

Errors? email me at

Now that you’ve had a chance to read this post, it’s time to have a look at other useful articles including The Truth About Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy.

3 Core Principles of Megaesophagus in Dogs

Only a licensed veterinarian is in a position to offer diagnosis and treatment plans. Please use this article as a guide only! Never delay a trip to the veterinarian when your dog’s health is at risk.  I am not a veterinarian.

I can only imagine what megaesophagus in dogs is like.  Dog owners who deal with this disease deserve a medal. Personally, I just take feeding time for granted. My dogs chomp down their food and that’s the end of it. Imagine the responsibility of owning a dog who cannot naturally digest his or her food?  

Megaesophagus (or ME), affects the muscles of the esophagus whereby the esophagus isn’t able to do its job of moving food through the stomach properly.  Neurotransmitters in the brain are not able to make a connection that tells the esophagus to contract. As a result, the esophagus doesn’t do its job and the food that was just eaten can’t make it into the stomach.

Dog owners describe the following symptoms:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Regurgitation of food (not the same as vomiting)
  • The sound of their bark changes
  • Facial expression changes
  • Increased hunger
  • Weight loss

The how’s and why’s of the disease are a little complicated, but when it comes to treating your dog, it’s really all about 3 core principles:

  1. Understanding what the diagnosis means;
  2. Working as a family team in support of the dog;
  3. At-Home Care for Dogs with Megaesophagus


The video below expertly details what megaesophagus in dogs is all about and why you might need to feed your dog with a spoon! Take a minute or two to check it out.

CORE PRINCIPLE #1 Understanding Megaesophagus in Dogs

Megaesophagus in dogs either presents itself as a congenital defect in puppies, or occurs later in life (in the dog’s adult years). It is either idiopathic (no known cause), or non-idiopathic (there is a cause).


Occasionally, megaesophagus in dogs is a condition secondary (or caused by) myasthenia gravis, hypothyroidism, or Addison’s Disease.  Other less common causes include exposure to toxins, tetanus, botulism, cancer, and lupus.

  • Myasthenia Gravis

This autoimmune disorder stops the nerves & muscles from working together. Without a cue from the brain to the nerves, no signal is triggered to the muscles to contract. This muscle weakness affects the esophagus in that it isn’t able to contract properly, if at all.

  • Hypothyroidism

A dog with hypothyroidism won’t be able to produce enough thyroid hormone, which results in a metabolic disruption. Megaesophagus isn’t a common secondary condition to hypothyroidism. That said, a 2018 study of thyroid hormone treatment in dogs should promising improvement in megaesophagus symptoms.2Addison’s Diseas

  • Addison’s Disease

This is a hormonal disorder whereby not enough adrenal gland secretion occurs. This reduces the amount of cortisol (regulates stress) and aldosterone (regulates water & electrolytes).  This disease promotes overall muscle weakness which, in turn, affects the esophagus.

Of course, these are over-simplified explanations. For more detailed reports, please visit


An idiopathic case means that there is no known cause. This is seen in puppies born with this congenital defect.

Certain breeds are more susceptible to carrying this gene, including:

  • ·   Fox Terriers
  • ·   Great Danes
  • ·   German Shepherds
  • ·   Miniature Schnauzers
  • ·   Chinese Shar Pei
  • ·   Irish Setters

Before puppies are born, they have what’s called an “aortic arch”.  The aortic arch supports blood vessels that are necessary for fetus development.  They typically disappear once the pup is born.

However, sometimes these aortic arches don’t disappear, and when that happens, the dog is faced with a situation where his esophagus is eventually squeezed or pinched between the heart and the blood vessels, causing megaesophagus. In some cases, puppies can outgrow the condition.

CORE PRINCIPLE #2  Working Together to Help Megaesophagus in Dogs

Dogs are members of the family and probably one of your biggest responsibilities. Everyone needs to pitch in and become a “pack” in order to have a healthy, balanced, dog. However, when you add a diagnosis like megaesophagus to the mix, those responsibilities just grew by leaps and bounds.

Family, friends, and even strangers have to be aware of the dog’s condition. You have to be constantly aware of anything the dog could potentially swallow and I’m sure, if you are like me, you worry a lot.

Nobody can do this alone, so make sure family and friends are totally on-board as you work through this.  I imagine you might even get some resistance in the community.

When I was a little girl (a long time ago), treatment for megaesophagus in dogs wasn’t heard of.  Unfortunately, the dog likely would have been euthanized. People today have much higher regard for the health and longevity of their dogs.

CORE PRINCIPLE #3   At-Home Care for Dogs with Megaesophagus

  • High Chair/Bailey Chair for Megaesophagus in Dogs

These chairs are designed so that your dog can sit completely upright while eating. It might take time, in the beginning, to figure out how much food to offer and how long to keep the dog upright, but it will become clear.

Bailey Chairs are easy to find online and, if you are a DIY kind of person, you can also find instructions on how to build one yourself. Here is a link I thought you’d find helpful:

NOTE: You don’t have to purchase a Bailey Chair, but you will have to find a reasonable way of keeping your dog upright throughout the meal and for a while afterwards.  Some people with small dogs choose to hold the dog.

  • Pillows/Towels/Neck Hugs

Your dog might not fit comfortably in the high chair (or Bailey chair) and it’s important that he feels safe and secure. The less wriggling around he does the better. Some people use a small pillow or a towel to fill in the empty spaces when the dog is seated.  

Dogs with this condition must keep their head and esophagus in proper alignment all of the time…not just during meals.  To better explain what a neck hug is, I’ve added the video below.  Make sure you have a look. It’s an awesome video!

  • Support Forums

When you converse with others in the same situation, you learn from each other.  I recently joined a facebook support forum for people living with dogs who have ME. The information shared is an invaluable resource! Why spend hours combing the internet when you can easily pick up usable tips within the online community?

You can search any social media platform using keywords like “megaesophagus” or even just “dogs” for a list of all the groups and member sites available.

  • Emergency/Medical Tags

People use medical alert bracelets (or alternatives) when they have an illness that could leave them vulnerable or in danger.  If you are unconscious, you can’t speak for yourself. That’s where the medical alert comes in handy. It’s no different for your dog.Megaesophagus in dogs becomes dangerous with someone who doesn’t understand the significance.

 Of course, there’s no guarantee that someone would read the tag, but something is better than nothing.  Have a tag made, embroidered, or engraved to alert people of your dog’s condition.  Not everyone knows what the disease is, so it’s better to use a short, urgent alert that asks people not to feed the dog, but to call…(insert phone number).  

The best tags are the ones most durable and visible to the public. They should stand out against any other tags on the dog so that they’re readily noticeable.

  • Hydration

Keeping a dog with megaesophagus hydrated is not easy. Here are a few suggestions on making sure your dog is getting enough water:

  • make gelatin cubes
  • allow the dog to lick ice cubes while sitting upright
  • install a small water bottle in a place that the dog can drink with his head in proper alignment
  • purchase a thickening agent from the drugstore to add to the water

One of the most important aspects of megaesophagus in dogs is appropriate feeding. It can be tricky, but many people have success with:

  • slurries
  • semi-liquid foods
  • broths
  • small meatballs
  • watered-down dog food of any kind.

The Honest Kitchen  sells a nice variety of nutritional broths and supplements that are perfect for dogs with megaesophagus. I don’t get any money for promoting this company. I was told about it and when I looked into it, it seemed like a great place for all types of dog food.

At the end of the day, it’s going to take some trial-and-error to pin down the exact amount of food, frequency, and consistency, but a strong and healthy dog is worth every second.

I’ve given you the latest information and resources to point you in the right direction, and I hope you find it useful.  Please take a second to share this post. Before you leave, make sure to check out My Story!


Your Guide to Mammary Cancer in Dogs

Mammary cancer in dogs isn’t something you think about when your dog is a puppy. Now that our dogs are getting older, I think we tend to sit up and pay attention when we discover new lumps or bumps.

If you’re worried about a new lump on your dog, please make an appointment and get her to the vet as soon as possible. 

If it is a tumor, it will need to be aspirated or biopsied to get an accurate diagnosis.  Dogs diagnosed with mammary cancer have a 50/50 chance of the tumor being benign or malignant.

By the time you’re finished reading this post, you should have a better understanding of mammary cancer in dogs, how a prognosis is made, and the treatment options available.

According to the Veterinary Cancer Group, mammary tumors are reported to occur in approximately 2 out of 1000 female dogs.
But first…please read my privacy policy and disclaimer. I am not a veterinarian and I never suggest taking any dog health advice unless it comes directly from the mouth of a licensed veterinarian. Also, there are affiliate links on this page. All that means is that if you click on an ad, I will get a small commission. It won’t cost you a cent though.

The Big Question:  What is the Prognosis for Mammary Cancer in Dogs?

Canine mammary cancer has a 50/50 chance of being benign or malignant.  Dogs spayed before six months of age stand the best chance against mammary cancer. 

Once a lump has been removed and analyzed, your veterinarian will be able to determine the grade and stage of the tumor. This system is useful in determining whether the tumor is malignant (spreading) and how advanced it is.  In this case, you want the lowest grade possible for the best outcome.

Grade I:     At this level, the tumor is benign (not cancerous) and has not spread to other parts of the body. This type has the greatest chance of survival, assuming that the entire tumor is successfully removed.

Grade II:   The tumor’s position is deeper and more likely to spread.   Don’t panic, because it may not have spread yet.  At grade II, the chance of the tumor being cancerous is greater.

Grade III:  This is not the grade you want your dog to get.  The tumor is likely aggressive and will require a lot more treatment including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.  Note: The veterinarian/surgeon will determine the best treatment options.

After a grade has been established, the next step is to assign a stage.  Stages 0 through 3 have different outcomes as you’ll see below:

Staging Process to Determine How Long a Dog Can/Will Live with Mammary Cancer

Stage 0:   At this stage, no lymph nodes are involved which means the cancer has not begun to spread.

Stage I:   Stage 1 means that the tumor has not spread yet.

Stage II:  Stage II is getting a little more serious and probably involves the lymph nodes.  The veterinarian will need to determine how many lymph nodes are affected and where.  The image below shows you where to find the lymph nodes in your dog’s body.

Stage III:  Multiple tumors with or without lymph node involvement.  This is where things get serious. 

The Science Behind the Spay

Mammary cancer in dogs is more common in older dogs, and dogs who have either not been spayed, or spayed after the first heat. 

I’ve read that females should be spayed well before their first heat, and other reports suggesting that spaying should occur much closer to that 6 month mark. 

At the end of the day, you also have to factor that people are taking excellent care of their dogs these days and they are simply living longer.   So, in some cases, mammary cancer in dogs may develop simply because they have lived longer.

When a female dog is spayed, her reproductive system is completely removed, which eliminates the body’s need to produce estrogen and progesterone for the purposes of pregnancy.  High levels of these hormones are thought to increase the risk of mammary cancer in dogs.  It’s very possible that I don’t have that last statement entirely accurate, although the research I’ve done points to that.

Please remember that I am not a veterinarian.  I highly suggest taking your dog to see a licensed veterinarian if you suspect there is anything wrong.

You’ve got to watch this touching video about a dying dog with a bucket list.

FACT:  According to Fetch a Cure, approximately 6 million dogs in the US are diagnosed with cancer every year.  As stated above, our pets are living longer and that longer life exposes them to various types of cancers.  In addition, when dogs get cancer, the malignancy looks a lot like the human equivalent of the disease in that it spreads to the same organs.

Figuring it Out: A Canine Case-by-Case Study

You can’t tell by touching or palpating the lumps whether they are cancerous or not. The only way is to examine the tissue, which the veterinarian will do through a biopsy. In a biopsy, a small amount of tissue is removed and examined. 

In the best case scenario, all of the lumps are benign.  However, you could be faced with other scenarios including:

  1. Some of the lumps are benign, but some are also malignant, meaning the cancer may have spread to the lungs and lymph nodes.
  2. The lumps are all malignant and have likely spread to other parts of the body.
  3. All the lumps are benign.

The Most Important Thing is Not to Delay an Appointment with The Veterinarian

By using fine-needle aspiration, the veterinarian is able to take a small tissue sample for further evaluation. 

If there is more than one lump, all lumps must be tested because it is very possible for some to be benign (non-moving) and some to be malignant (moveable and likely to spread within the body). They are not all necessarily the same. In fact, there are different sub-types of malignant mammary cancer in dogs that will determine how aggressive the cancer actually is.

What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Mammary Cancer in Dogs?

In addition to seeing or feeling lumps in and around the breast tissue, you may also notice:

  • an unusual secretion draining from the nipple(s).
  • ulceration (in the case of large tumors)
  • inflammation
  • secondary infection which will leave your dog feeling under-the-weather

Again, the key is to be aware of what’s happening in your dog’s body and having any unusual lumps and bumps examined by a veterinarian. Even experienced veterinarians can (and have) missed the signs of cancerous tumors because they don’t always present the same way.

Everything I’ve read on the topic suggests that nobody (not even your veterinarian) can tell what a lump is just by looking at it. The only way to get an accurate diagnosis is through aspiration and/or removal of the lump.

Risk Factors for Mammary Cancer in Dogs

Female dogs not spayed are more likely to develop mammary cancer than any other dog.  The risk of a dog developing a mammary tumor is 0.5% if spayed before their first heat (approximately 6 months of age), 8% after their first heat, and 26% after their second heat.

If you suspect your dog might have mammary cancer, it’s important to understand that they are:

  • usually slow-growing
  • inflamed
  • moveable (implying a benign tumor)
  • affixed to skin or body wall

The motto used by veterinarian specialists is IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING.  That means if your dog has a mass that is the size of a pea (1 cm), and it’s been there a month, get it checked! 

Veterinarians should be aspirating more suspicious lumps rather than suggesting a wait-and-see approach.  In fact, this just happened to me. I brought my golden retriever in for a suspicious lump on her torso and was told it “looks like a fatty tumor”.  Then I was told to come back if the growth “doubled in size within a month”.

Let’s hope the veterinarian is right.

The following YouTube video shows you how to check your dog’s lymph nodes. However, please note that enlarged lymph nodes do not necessarily point to cancer and can mean any number of things.  If you suspect your dog does have enlarged lymph nodes, you should bring your dog to the vet.  The video explains it all!

Treatment is Not a Cure, But No Treatment is Deadly

Most mammary tumors are removed surgically, taking a wide margin to determine whether or not the cancer has spread. Chemotherapy is not recommended in dogs with mammary gland tumors.

The best course of action post-surgery is to maintain regular check-ups so that the veterinarian can intervene if any tumors come back. Mammary cancer in dogs is not necessarily a death sentence if the tumor is found early.

Quality of Life for Mammary Cancer in Dogs

If you get the worst-case scenario news, ask your doctor how surgery will affect your dog. You may have to decide if the post-surgery quality-of-life is worth the procedure. Some questions to ask the veterinarian might include:

  • Is my dog strong enough to undergo anesthesia?
  • What will my dog’s quality of life be after surgery?
  • What is a realistic life expectancy with the surgery?
  • What is a realistic life expectancy without the surgery?
  • Is my dog in pain?
  • How can I keep my dog as healthy as possible through this process?

Living With the Prognosis

I wish I could have given you a definitive answer to your question on how long a dog can live with mammary cancer. As you can see, the answer is a moving target that is dependent on a lot of different things.

You should know that new treatments are being studied all the time and researchers are getting closer to finding longer-term solutions for dogs with cancer. I realize that doesn’t help you much right now.

My best advice is to try and stay positive and work with your veterinarian to find the best possible treatment plan for your dog. Your beautiful dog is going to need a lot of care and love through this, and nobody is better equipped for that job than you are.

I want to wish you the best of luck as you go through this process. Please share your story with others so that everyone can benefit. Let us know what works and what doesn’t. What was your experience with the veterinarian and what challenges did you face?