The hardest thing about being a dog parent is recognizing when they don’t feel well and not knowing what to do.
Taking a dog to a veterinarian can be expensive, but it’s important to do when your dog begins to show signs and symptoms of serious disease.
Hemangiosarcoma in dogs is one of those things that you probably don’t know your dog has until it’s too late. Unfortunately, the symptoms can mimic a lot of other illnesses.
You might not even notice some of the earlier, more subtle signs at all.
Dogs have a way of hiding pain and because of that, you may not realize there’s a problem brewing. As you read this post, remember that a licensed veterinarian should always be consulted for any signs of illness in your pets.
This post is designed to make you better informed about hemangiosarcoma in dogs
“It is estimated that this cancer accounts for more than 5 – 7% of all tumors in dogs.”American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation
Canine Hemangiosarcoma – The Road from Despair to Hope
Michelle G. Ritt, DVM, DACVIM; Tessa Breen, BSc (Hons), Dip GD, CMM
What Do I Need to Know About Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?
Hemangiosarcoma is an incurable tumor of cells (vascular endothelial cells) that line the blood vessels. It can present in different areas of the body, but are most commonly found in the heart or spleen.
Not a lot is understood about the risk factors of hemangiosarcoma; however, it’s thought that it might be inherited, the result of long-term ultraviolet exposure in lightly pigmented/short-haired breeds, genetic flaws, or the abnormal development of new blood vessels.
Typically, this type of cancer is seen in middle-aged to senior dogs between the ages of 9 and 12.
Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs is Found in the Following Breeds:
- Golden retrievers
- German shepherds
- Labrador retrievers
- English setters
- Doberman Pinschers
The list of dogs above are considered the breeds most predisposed to the disease. It doesn’t, however, mean that other dogs cannot develop hemangiosarcoma.
The One Ray of Hope in an Otherwise Deadly Disease
Dermal hemangiosarcoma can be considered curative if found, and removed, very early before it has had time to spread.
If you see or feel any type of suspicious lump on your dog it’s important to have it aspirated by a licensed veterinarian.
Lumps and bumps on a dog must be evaluated by a licensed veterinarian in order to get a clear diagnosis.
Early detection of dermal hemangiosarcoma on a dog are key to long-term survival. If not diagnosed and removed early, approximately 33% of these tumors will spread to internal organs.
Can a Dog Survive Hemangiosarcoma?
Sadly, this aggressive cancer of the blood vessels is only diagnosed after a tumor has ruptured.
The rupture causes deadly internal bleeding in which a decision has to be made within minutes.
Dog owners can quickly find themselves in the worst position possible. The decision to treat a dog with hemangiosarcoma or euthanize is not easy to make.
Best Case Survival Rates for Dogs with Hemangiosarcoma
Effectively treating this type of aggressive cancer is challenging at the best of times. If discovered early, surgical removal along with chemotherapy and radiation can help to extend your dog’s life.
However, the nature of this particularly malignant cancer means that survival time could be as low as 3 to 5 months.
If you’re unfortunate enough to be faced with this decision, consider your dog’s quality of life post surgery.
Asking a few key questions (seen below) can help you make one of the hardest decisions of your life.
“Considering the lifetime risk of cancer for dogs is between 1 in 2 and 1 in 3 , we can calculate that 1.5 to 2.5 million of the 72 million pet dogs in the United States today will get hemangiosarcoma and succumb to it.”Jaime F. Modiano, VMD, PhD, Michelle G. Ritt, DVM, DACVIM, Matthew Breen, PhD, CBiol, MIBiol and Tessa Breen, BSc (Hones), Dip GD, CMM
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO (JFM), Animal Hospital Center, Highlands Ranch, CO (MGR), and North Carolina State University (MB, TB)
What Are The Signs of Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?
The signs of hemangiosarcoma in dogs are considered to be non-specific. Vague signs like the ones listed below could be caused by a variety of common illnesses in dogs. Unfortunately, it’s usually not until a tumor erupts and causes a severe internal bleed that the diagnosis is made.
- Loss of appetite (also known as inappetence)
- Weight loss
- Unable to endure normal play/exercise
- Pale Gums
- Increased breath rate/panting
Question to Ask About When to Euthanize a Dog with Hemangiosarcoma
This is the toughest conversation you’ll have with your veterinarian and probably the most emotional. When discussing the options with your veterinarian, consider the following questions:
#1. Will Surgery and Chemotherapy Extend My Dog’s Life
The answer to this question will depend on how advanced the disease is and whether it is affecting internal organs. In some cases (splenic tumors, for example) the organ can be removed. However, that doesn’t mean the cancer hasn’t spread to other organs.
Chemotherapy may offer more time with your dog, but the reality is that it may not be more than 3 to 5 months.
#2. What Would You Do in This Situation?
This is a really tough question for anybody to answer, but it might shed more light on how the veterinarian really feels about the situation. He/she might be reluctant to answer the question, but with a little pressing may open up about the reality of the situation.
Receiving an emotional response versus the clinical response may help you make a decision.
#3. Is There a Wrong Decision?
What you’re asking is, “What if I put my dog down and he/she could have been saved?” Again, you’re looking for the kind of insight that will help you to make the best decision for you, your family, and your beloved dog.
Hopefully, the veterinarian will discuss survival rates, survival times, side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation, and quality of life.
#4. How Much Does Surgery and Chemotherapy Cost?
Talking about price might seem a little insensitive at this time, but it’s well worth asking the question.
Our dogs are worth all the money in the world, but if the survival rate is only going to be a few more weeks with a poor quality of life, you have to be as pragmatic as possible.
#5. Are There Other Treatment Options Available?
If your veterinarian is open to considering alternative options, there may be some interventions that can help to extend your dog’s life.
Keep in mind that the interventions listed below may only extend survival time by a few more weeks or may not work at all.
- Antibody therapy
- I’m-Yunity – a compound derived from mushrooms
- eBAT – A new drug used in dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma. IMPORTANT NOTE: Click on the link below Sources & Resources to the University of Minnesota’s study on this new drug.
Understanding What You’re Up Against
Hemangiosarcoma in dogs is a terrible disease. It’s aggressive, often spreads to the organs, and can be difficult to treat. However, there are some cases were dermal hemangiosarcomas have been cured by surgery. This requires early intervention.
This cancer can show up in the skin, spleen, liver, and heart. There are plenty of anecdotes about herbal remedies or natural approaches to treatment that may or may not have extended a dog’s life.
Keep in mind that many of these interventions have not been clinically studied or approved. In fact, some types of herbal or supplemental “treatments” could interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
The best place to go with questions about your dog’s health is to a licensed veterinarian.
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SOURCES & RESOURCES
University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine