Hemangiosarcoma is a devastating cancer that invades the blood vessels of our canine friends.
This cancer is able to spread to multiple regions throughout the body, leading to a severe condition in the affected pup.
This form of cancer is always fatal, but each dog will have a varying survival time.
We tend to find dogs surrendered to rescues and shelters who have some form of cancer, simply because the previous owner could not afford their care.
At Charity Paws, our mission is to push for adoptions, but also to help paw parents who may feel burdened or overwhelmed with the care their pet may require.
A dog who has developed cancer, such as a hemangiosarcoma can often be an overwhelming experience for the dog owner.
To help you better understand what could be ahead for your pup, let’s break down the details of hemangiosarcoma in dogs, and help you better understand when to euthanize a dog with hemangiosarcoma.
What Is Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs?
Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is unfortunately fairly common in dogs, but many owners have never heard of it until their dogs are diagnosed.
HSA is an aggressive cancer that targets the cells lining the blood vessels, allowing it to brew in any vessel rich organ in the body.
While it can occur anywhere, it is most often seen in the spleen, heart, or liver.
As HSA forms within the vessels, a fragile mass will begin to grow.
Due to being fueled by the delicate blood vessels in the region, this makes an HSA mass at risk of rupturing at any moment.
Once these masses do rupture, a dog can experience life-threatening internal bleeding.
The most terrifying thing about HSA in dogs is that most cases involve an internal tumor that cannot be seen.
Most owners are only made aware of a tumor when it starts to bleed, as the dog will experience signs of severe anemia and weakness.
By the time it gets to this point, the dog requires emergency medical care to nurse them through, and the cancer is often advanced.
Are There Different Types Of Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs?
There are three forms of hemangiosarcoma that can develop in our canine companions.
Though this form of cancer can occur anywhere in the body, let’s break down the different types below.
Visceral HSA in dogs refers to a case that involves the spleen, heart, liver, or any other organs inside of the body.
This is the most severe form of HSA in dogs, as it has a high rate of metastasis.
Subcutaneous HSA forms in the layer just under the skin.
These often appear as dark red growths under the skin, but they can be very challenging to remove fully.
These also have a high rate of spreading internally.
Dermal HSA appears as a growth on the top layer of the skin.
It can develop in one isolated region, or it can occur over a wide area of skin.
It is easier to remove in isolated cases, but it can have a higher rate of metastasis when it occurs in multiple areas.
What Are The Signs Of Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs?
Hemangiosarcoma can be tricky to spot in dogs, as tumors under the skin are not often detected.
Many dogs will not experience any obvious symptoms of the disease until they develop internal bleeding, and this typically occurs in advanced stages of the cancer.
If your dog has developed either dermal or cutaneous hemangiosarcoma, you may notice a strange growth, lump, or discoloration on the skin.
The dog may not experience any changes in behavior, but this change in skin appearance should warrant an immediate vet visit to be safe.
Unfortunately, if your dog has visceral hemangiosarcoma, you may not see any symptoms of the disease until a tumor has begun to bleed.
If these tumors are caught early on, they are typically found incidentally during diagnostics for other reasons, as this cancer doesn’t often lead to obvious clinical signs.
If any clinical signs are present, it’s often coughing, lethargy, weakness, or weight loss.
If your dog has a bleeding mass as a result of their HSA, you will notice signs of anemia or internal bleeding.
- Pale gums
- Distended abdomen
- Labored breathing
If you ever notice any of these symptoms in your dog, we suggest having them seen by a vet immediately.
Even if their symptoms are not a result of HSA, they still require immediate attention.
Can You Test For Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs?
Another reason why hemangiosarcoma is such a complicated disease is that it can only be diagnosed with an examination of the suspicious tumor.
Even if there is a mass present on the dog’s skin, a vet cannot simply look at the mass and know it is hemangiosarcoma.
They will need to biopsy the mass and send it out for testing, only then offering a definitive diagnosis.
If a dog has visceral hemangiosarcoma on organs such as the spleen or heart, there is often no way for the owners to know about its presence.
The best way to keep an eye out for any developing cancer is by examining your dog’s skin regularly, and keeping up with their annual exams.
Your vet may be able to palpate a mass in the abdomen, detect anemia on their bloodwork, and even see any abnormal changes on x-rays during their annual exam.
Just always keep in mind that this is not always possible based on the stage of the cancer.
Can You Cure Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs?
There is no way to cure hemangiosarcoma in dogs, but there are a few treatment options that can either pull some dogs out of a critical state, or even offer them some more time.
Treatment will vary based on the type of HSA a dog has, so let’s break down the options below.
Dermal or Subcutaneous HSA
If a dog has HSA on the skin or in the subcutaneous layer, some dogs can be treated successfully with surgical removal of the tumors, as well as either chemotherapy or radiation to combat any cancer cells that have been left behind.
If their cancer has already spread throughout the bloodstream, their prognosis is much more guarded.
Treatment for visceral HSA can vary from case to case.
For example, if your vet spots an abnormal tumor in the abdomen or chest incidentally, they can perform an exploratory surgery.
During this surgery they can remove the mass in question, as well as obtain a sample of the tumor for biopsy.
If this mass does come back as hemangiosarcoma, your vet can suggest treatment with chemotherapy.
Radiation is not often suggested for visceral HSA due to low survival times overall, but your vet will discuss the best options for your pup.
If your dog’s visceral HSA mass is diagnosed due to the fact that it has begun to bleed, treatment is much more difficult.
Your dog will not only need to undergo surgery to remove the bleeding mass, but many often require blood transfusion and aggressive hospitalization care.
Your vet will also obtain a sample of the tissue and send it to the lab for testing.
If the mass is indeed hemangiosarcoma and they survive their ordeal, your vet can discuss chemotherapy.
It’s important to mention that no matter which treatment route this is explored with visceral hemangiosarcoma, most dogs will still have an average life expectancy of 6-9 months.
Dogs still will succumb to the disease due to metastasis to other parts of the body, but treatment can offer these pups more time.
What Is The Life Expectancy With Treatment?
If your dog with hemangiosarcoma is undergoing treatment, their average survival time will vary based on the type of HSA they have.
If your dog has HSA on the skin that is surgically removed before it spreads, many dogs can live anywhere from 2-3 years.
However, if it has already had the chance to invade the surrounding vessels and enter the bloodstream, their survival time drops to 8 months to 1 year.
This average survival rate is based on your pup having treatment.
In dogs that receive treatment for visceral HSA (surgical removal of the mass and chemotherapy), their average survival time is anywhere from 8 months to 1 year.
While of course every situation will vary, aggressive treatment can prolong the time these pups have left.
What Is The Life Expectancy Without Treatment?
If your dog does not receive treatment for their hemangiosarcoma for any reason, their average survival time will drop significantly.
To offer you a better understanding of what’s ahead, let’s break it down based on HSA location.
If your dog has hemangiosarcoma on the skin that has not spread to the surrounding vessels, most dogs will have 1-2 years.
If the tumor has already spread from the skin and into the vessels, these dogs will typically have 4-6 months.
If your dog with hemangiosarcoma has an internal mass that is not yet bleeding, the average survival time is anywhere from 1 week to 3 months.
However, if your dog has a bleeding mass, this is a life-threatening emergency and will need to be addressed as soon as possible.
If they do not receive treatment at this point, they will often pass within 24 hours.
How Do I Know My Dog With Hemangiosarcoma Is Suffering?
If your dog has been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, you are likely trying to educate yourself on the signs of suffering with this condition.
We never want our dogs to suffer, so it’s essential to be aware of the first signs of health decline in these situations.
Some of the potential signs of a dog with late stage hemangiosarcoma, or those that will begin to suffer soon with their disease include:
- Decrease in appetite or no longer eating
- Significant weight loss
- Changes in breathing
- Pale gums
- Bruising of the skin
- Distended abdomen
If you notice any of the above symptoms in your dog with hemangiosarcoma, we suggest having them seen by a vet immediately.
This could be a sign of internal bleeding, and this emergency requires urgent care.
If your dog is too ill to move forward with treatment at this point, your vet can also discuss the details of saying goodbye.
When Should I Euthanize My Dog With Hemangiosarcoma?
The decision to euthanize your dog will be incredibly difficult, but it is often necessary when dealing with hemangiosarcoma.
Most dogs will eventually succumb to the disease even with treatment, so owners are often faced with an end of life discussion as their pups begin to decline in health.
It’s not a matter of ‘if‘, but ‘when‘ you will need to put your dog down.
We know just how unbearable this situation is, so let us guide you on when it may be time to let go of your dog with hemangiosarcoma.
If your dog has developed any of the symptoms we listed above, we always suggest getting them into your vet’s office as soon as possible to have them examined.
If they believe that this is the end of their life due to the disease, we highly suggest discussing euthanasia at this point.
It doesn’t mean you have to make the decision today, but it does point to the need to let them go in the coming days.
Many dogs will begin to suffer as time goes on, so letting them pass before their drastic decline is a wonderful act of love.
If your dog’s mass begins to bleed and you cannot pursue treatment for any reason, we highly suggest speaking with your vet about euthanasia.
These dogs will unfortunately suffer in the following hours without medical intervention, and we never want this to happen to our beloved pups.
We know it is impossible to think about, but euthanasia is typically the best solution in these scenarios.
No matter the situation, your vet is the best one to speak with about when it could be time to say goodbye to your dog.
They are the only ones that know the details of your dog’s situation, so they can offer the best guidance moving forward.
Is Hemangiosarcoma Painful For Dogs?
Our dogs can’t tell us how they feel each day, but we can examine their behavior for any clues of discomfort.
Most cases of hemangiosarcoma do not appear painful in the early stages of the disease, but the late stages often bring a list of concerning symptoms.
If a dog with hemangiosarcoma is in pain, they may experience anorexia, lethargy, weight loss, weakness, pale gums, distended abdomen, and changes in their normal breathing.
Are Some Dogs More Prone To Developing Hemangiosarcoma?
Hemangiosarcoma can develop in any canine friend, but there are a few breeds that appear to be more at risk.
These breeds include:
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Great Danes
There also may be a link to carcinogens like cigarette smoke or chemical exposure.
What Is The Average Life Expectancy Of Hemangiosarcoma?
The average life expectancy with treatment for dogs with HSA is 2-3 years for tumors on the skin, and up to 1 year for visceral tumors.
If treatment is not received, the average life expectancy can be anywhere from 1 week to 6 months.
Can My Dog Be Saved If Their Splenic Mass Ruptures?
Dogs with a ruptured splenic mass can be saved, but they will require immediate and aggressive medical care.
These dogs will need to be rushed to surgery after stabilization to remove the bleeding tumor, as well as receive a blood transfusion to restore any blood loss.
These dogs will also require a 2-3 day stay in the hospital after surgery, with some dogs requiring more if they are critically ill.
Just keep in mind that even if your dog does survive this ordeal, they will still only have limited time due to their cancer.
Is Chemotherapy Rough On Dogs?
In general, dogs tolerate chemotherapy much better than humans do.
Due to the low doses they receive, the treatment for their cancer is not any worse than the cancer they are battling.
If a dog does experience any symptoms from their chemotherapy treatment, it is often a short duration of nausea or anorexia.
Can You Use Radiation Therapy For HSA In Dogs?
Radiation therapy can be used to battle cases of hemangiosarcoma on the skin, but it is not often used for visceral hemangiosarcoma.
This is due to the fact that radiation therapy is much more invasive than chemotherapy, and results in more stress for the patient.
Radiation therapy is also an expense for owners, and due to the fact that their dog will not often have much time left, many choose to opt out of this treatment approach.
But again, it can be beneficial for dogs with HSA on the skin.