Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hemangiosarcoma (Is NOT Your Friend)

While every bit the wallflower compared to her life-of-the-party friend Shiva, Katy chose not to take a backseat to her in her choice of cancer. The Red Dog's presentation of osteosarcoma all those months ago left us reeling, but nothing prepared us for the "gift" dear, sweet Kate gave to us in December. As I mentioned in a previous post, hemangiosarcoma is the real bad boy member of the canine sarcoma family. My description of the blood-borne beast bears repeating:

"these tumors usually start on the spleen, though they can also originate on the liver, heart and lungs, and they grow quite quickly and like to involve as much of your dog's vascular network as possible. German Shepherd Dogs and Golden Retrievers have the dubious distinction of being the most common victims of this variety, although it can strike any dog at any age."

This stuff is nasty and extremely aggressive. Once diagnosed, choices are limited to immediate surgery (if the tumor's operable) or an all-too short wait for the inevitable end. If it's on the skin (dermal or subcutaneous), that's better. If it's on the spleen, not so good. If it's on the heart, that's bad. In any case, the odds aren't great. The worst aspect of it, however, is the insidious and stealthy nature of its approach.

The first obvious sign dog owners often see of the internal varieties (splenic, heart-based or other) is when their dog collapses from weakness due to blood loss caused by the rupture and subsequent hemorrhage of the mass. Due to their vascular nature, the tumors grow quickly and then burst with devastating results. Many of these dogs die, while a lucky few (like Katy) get better (temporarily) over time. This can provide us a diagnostic window in which the scope and operable/inoperable nature of the cancer can be determined.

The good news (hey, we take it where we find it) is that the surgical removal of a cancerous spleen prior to visible spread to other areas of the body can buy a few to several months of survival...possibly more with chemotherapy.

In the case of heart-based tumors, evidence of cancer elsewhere at the time of discovery is very common. Removal of the mass is also more difficult thanks to its proximity to the heart and its lining. This is a tough diagnosis, but it still may be worth the effort. Surgery and potential chemotherapy should be considered. Take the same approach with tumors found on other organs as well. Listen to your vet, then get a second opinion or have a consult with a surgeon.

As one veterinarian said to us during this trying time: "Why wouldn't you prevent your dog from bleeding to death if you knew you could?"

In hindsight, there were subtle signs that something with Katy was amiss. It began with a gradual reduction in stamina on her walks. We chalked that up to her advancing age (now 12) and arthritic hips, but it was there nonetheless. She also had a harder time standing up, which we also attributed to the aforementioned factors of age and arthritis. Another was an occasional hacking cough, like she was trying to clear something lodged deeply in her throat. In fact, on the night of the tumor's rupture, we were awakened by that cough and actual vomiting.

Finally, she presented obsessive licking behavior. Although not discussed as such by veterinary medical experts, we have seen this occur in multiple dogs with undiagnosed (at that time) cases of cancer. Both Katy and Shiva did just that in the weeks leading up to their diagnoses, and Shiva repeated the behavior with her recent melanoma. We'll give this subject a more in-depth analysis soon.

One other tell-tale sign seen after a rupture is pale or white gum color due to concentration of blood at the hemorrhage site. We were unaware of this symptom, so we did not see it until Dr. Brandi examined her that morning.

After assessing symptoms, veterinarians use a combination of blood work, x-rays and ultrasound screenings to get a better picture of your dog's interior. If the cancer is limited to an operable area, a quick surgical decision should be made. Definitive diagnosis via biopsy is not an option due to the risk of tumor rupture. It must be removed.

After removal, the tumor should be sent for pathology testing. If you're really, REALLY lucky, you'll find out your dog had a benign hemangioma and is cancer-free. Luckily, removing it saved your dog's life, because they rupture just like their malignant cousins. If, on the other hand, it's malignant, be grateful you likely have purchased some more quality time with your dog. Recovery takes 2-4 weeks, after which you should have as much fun as possible while watching for a return of the signs mentioned above.

In summary, don't dismiss the potential symptoms of hemangiosarcoma, especially if your dog presents more than one. It's better to rule-out something like this by spending a little money on diagnostics than to have your dog suddenly die for no apparent reason. We were some of the lucky ones, and we hope what we've shared helps those unlucky enough to face this deadly disease.

Enjoy each extra day for the gift that it is, and never forget that your dogs (most of them, anyway) would do the same for you!


  1. I'm also blogging about my dog's struggle with hemangiosarcoma.

  2. Here is our story through eyes of a dog!

  3. My 13-year-old beagle collapsed Friday, July 12. We rushed him to the vet and learned a tumor on his spleen had ruptured. The vet did not encourage surgery based on his findings. He said we could take him home, that he would just likely go to sleep and not wake up. And he thought, as did we from his condition, that it would be a matter of hours. His gums and tongue were bleach white. He laid on his side breathing fairly shallowly all night. We said our goodbyes Friday, stayed up as late as we could and then put him to bed between us. Saturday morning he was up, going out his dog door and going to the restroom on his own. Sunday he was a little better. He stayed outside with us and would move from favorite spot to spot, albeit slowly. This morning, our friend who is watching him while we work said he was begging for food and wagging his tail. Not doing backflips, but not at death's door either. So, obviously, I'm very confused and have no idea how this is going to progress. Has anyone seen this happen after an actual rupture? I don't see us doing anything differently than what we are. I don't want to put him through surgery to gain a few more months or to have him die on the table. The vet didn't think it was an option anyway. But is this thing going to rupture again? And then he dies? Any information would be welcome.

    1. Monica,
      How is your dog doing? To somewhat answer your question, tumors can rupture and either bleed out, or clot and resolve on their own. Tumors also are not necessarily malignant -- they can also be benign. I'll bet that when your vet made the diagnosis he took your dog's age into consideration. If you think that he could have a good quality of life for a while longer, if perhaps he had the right treatment, then you might want to get a second ( or third) opinion.
      Good luck...

  4. My 13 year old Dachshund died July 19th from this. We had no idea he was sick. He was never very active and loved being carried around. Thursday morning he was fine. Thursday night, all of a sudden, he was miserable and lithargic. We took him to the emergency vet around 10:00pm and found out he had a tumor in his spleen. I brought him home and he died in his sleep. I'm so heartbroken. However, I'm glad I found this blog because I felt like I may have missed something or done something different to help him.

  5. Thank you for posting this. We just lost our beloved Jarko (GSD). Very shocking, devastated and heartbroken. Extremely heartbroken :(
    He showed no signs or symptoms up until the Friday that I took him to the park to play fetch. He was his usual self, wagging his tail and ready to play. I threw the ball and he went after it as he usually does and then just stopped. He didn't move. i called him and didn't get a response, he just looked at me as if something was terribly wrong. I went over to him and said "let;s go buddy" and still he wouldnt move. I checked his legs in case of injury and didnt notice anything out of the ordinary. I knew for sure aI would get a response if I said "Let's go home!". Nothing...he laid down on the snow and would not stand or sit. I carried him to the car and straight to the vets. Vet noticed the spleen look abnormal. Long story short. His heart could not take the stress from surgery and he passed away. His spleen was covered in cancer 'clusters'. Liver, pancreas and heart also had a few attached. I miss my buddy so so much and not sure how to deal with this pain. Hoping that telling my story would help my healing process.

  6. My 10-yr-old best friend Keno, rescued one day before he would have been put down at a (then) kill shelter, has just been diagnosed with this nasty cancer.ultrasound showed the tumor on his spleen, and it was surgically removed within hours. The lab report is dire, however, as in most similar cases. The vet made it clear it is likely to return...perhaps in less than a month or two, to end my best friend's life. Don't know how long it was there but first symptoms I saw about three weeks ago were trembling, lethargy, and loss of appetite. I will try to enjoy every minute with him, hoping against the extremely poor odds he will survive this, but I will not let my beloved Keno suffer.

  7. I just found out a couole days ago hiw unfair life truly is....Janko is 1yr 9mo...a week ago he started limping on his front left paw n has been getn worse since...he has a rumor on his left shoulder 9x5 inches...waiting on biopsy report which was done yesterday. Vet is leaning towards that disqusting hemangiosarcoma. heart is broken, seeing him depressed...he walks a couple of feet n stops or lats down...he has always been a rapid uneven breather n ive told my vet numerous times, they just say "his heart n lungs sound good". Well then what else could it be? I am still hoping for a miracle, they do happen...and I have to not ready to loose my best friend bcuz a vet didnt pick up on his symptoms im torn n idk if the tumor should b removed or not, so many risk involved....if I do he could blled out if I dont he can really walk vet says if it is removed that the cells that havent attached yet will look for a new host and being so close to his lungs n heart is where they would attack....2 months isnt a long time nor would it be quality time since he only lays around other then to go out to the bathroom...I just dont want him to pain hurts n I dont want to loose him, hes still a puppy but he doesnt deserve this life that God gave him..

  8. my baby Sweetie is a rat terrier chi, she was sleeping next to me a month ago and woke me up curling up to her right drooling and not able to walk. first I thought it was a seizure or stroke. we rushed her to emergency and by then she was trying to walk but crooked and unable. would just stop and stand still. the vet (Horrible exp) she has hd for 3 yrs diagnosed her upon symptoms and called it VERtigo. sent us home with meds. day 3 I was still not confident that it was vertigo and brought her back. ultrasound of abdomen. The vet said that there is a bleed or a tear on her spleen and did emergency surgery to locate problem. She told me she is expierenced and had done tons of these upon opening her it seems spleen not involved at all it was her liver and a orange size tumor was attached, The worst part..this vet is not expierenced enuf to remove so we opted to rush her to a speciality hospital. tumor removed and sent to biopsy. she did great after surgery and her belly now was the size it should have been ..this vet also had my dog on cardiac meds for 2 yrs..Lasix vetmedin and enapril and hydrocodan. I made apt with a cardiac speicialist and she did ultrasound too..said my dogs heart was normal size and did find a small tumor in her r atrium. most probly hemosarcoma. so all these heart meds were discontinued on a horrible is that..devastating all these meds I gave her. anyways we got the sad news that the tumor is hemosarcoma a week after surgery..we were told to give her Yunnan Bayiou..we did not want to pursue chemo. but we have a new vet and are giving my dog some herbal supplements. Maxs Formula and Wei Qi Booster..they are all to help with plateles and circulation. I have never been one to use herbs my self. but I have done great research and feel its worth a shot. to date she has had a bout of red urine(blood) 3 was scarey antibiotics given..platelets were low and gave all urine is clear. I believe Yunnan baiayou is a wonderful drug .it stops bleeds and helps clot them .its not a long term fix. but I truly believe it has given us more time with my the research. educate yourself..its a tuff journey so far. but she has good days and some bad where she is tired. and breathing hard..doesn't show any signs of pain yet and its been over a month since surgery..we do not plan on any tests ect to figure out things anymore..we are just loving her some foods she loves..btw her intake has been 100% everyday//so I do dread the outcome..but we take it a day at a time..and I don't get upset and cry around her..i tell her how much I love her and we have been spending long days side by side watching tv and enjoying our time..i am thankful to have this time with her.

  9. I don't think my post went. So will repost. I am just learning about this cancer now 1 week, and thank you for creating this blog. I may do the same. My dog licked for 3 weeks at night - then was diagnosed with this illness. Although I took her to the vet weeks ago, the licking was not a concern at the vet. I guess I have learned more thanks to this info.

  10. I just lost my wonderful companion last week from this disgusting cancer. Jake was diagnosed in March after a ruptured spleen almost killed him. At the time of surgery we were told that the cancer had spread to his liver. He was give 1 day to 1 month to live without chemo and possibly 2-3 months with chem. We opted to try chemo but it obviously did not work. The beginning of my story sound just like the one above. Jake was only 9 but I noticed a general slowing on walks which I attributed to getting older or it being hot. I noticed a harder time getting up or holding the leg up to pee-which I contributed to possible arthritis. Jake also did a lot of licking his front paws--which I though was either arthritis or boredom. Jake went to the vet in August with a small spell but since his blood profile looked great at the time, the spell was contributed to possibly eating a mushroom in the back yard. I miss my buddy so much. We only got a month after diagnosis and that month was filled with good and not so good days. The final episode was a total collapse. My heart goes out to everyone reading this as I know what you are going through. Just enjoy everyday with you buddy now.

  11. Hemangiosarcoma is something dreadful just to hear the word, but this is something that can be included in every pet parent’s life. We should understand this condition and what supportive management can be done. I have a friend who’s dog is currently being treated for this illness and I can really say that it is heartbreaking. I just want to share this article that I found which can educate other pet parents out there:

  12. My 13 year old boy, Bozley, just passed away from this on December 26th, 2016. It is the worst. I noticed a month ago he stopped sleeping with me and he never doesn't sleep with me. He acted sick a few days but after that he was fine. He just never sleep with me again all night. He preferred to sleep in his dog bed every night. I knew something was wrong but everyday he was acting normal. two weeks later, his left shoulder started looking bigger and you could feel a mass around his bone. This past Friday, Dec. 23rd 2016 night he was perfectly happy and then he started limping and not using his left front foot. Since then the tumor/blood created swelling around his arm pit and later through his stomach. They mentioned amputation but said it would only help for 3-4 month and then if I did other treatment then maybe 5-8 months. I couldn't amputate his leg.... two night later, Dec. 26th after being at the emergency hospital all day on dec. 25th he couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep or lay down and the tumor was growing every 4 hours. Yes! that evil and fast. We had to put him to sleep Dec. 26th- two days after the limping started. So heartbroken. This cancer is just horrible.

  13. My chihuahua has squamous cell carcinoma! Now I know why he has been licking so much! He doesn't have much time but he and I will spend every precious moment building more loving memories! I hate cancer! ����

  14. This post contains huge valuable information on our pets. This article can help by preventing risk. Truly it’s a nice job. Thank you for sharing with us. This will certainly help all pet owners Excellent blog

  15. Going through this horrible cancer with our 10 year old golden. Took him to emergency clinic and received the diagnosis. They wanted to put him down right there but being that my wife wasn't there to say goodbye, I opted to take him home. The way he looked, I was concerned that he wouldn't make the ride home. The minute we got home, he got out of the car and was back to normal self.
    Went to our vet who confirmed the bleed but took chest xrays. There were no lesions in the chest so he saw that as a good sign and sent us to another clinic for an ultrasound which showed a 7cm liver lesion and several small ones on spleen. Said that surgery was not possible and once again recommended immediate euthanasia in that he wouldn't make it through the night.
    We he was wheeled out to us, his eyes lit up immediately. We took him home and it's been 4 days and he is acting like himself.
    We know that if the diagnosis is correct, the end could come at any moment but for right now we are enjoying him and letting him enjoy us and his home which he loves