Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs

September 17, 2020 4 min read 0 Comments

A tan dog looks up while it's being petted while laying on green grass

Dr. Erica Irish author of Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs

As a dog owner, it is important to know some of the reasons why your pup may need to go to the emergency room. Trouble breathing, severe pain or trauma, and the inability to urinate are all reasons to take your dog to see a vet immediately.

Bleeding is another reason because large amounts of blood loss can be life-threatening, especially internal bleeding which can be difficult for owners to identify. Certain types of tumors like hemangiosarcomas are known to cause internal bleeding when they rupture. This is called a hemoabdomen and is one of the reasons why you would need to bring your dog into the emergency room. What are some things you need to know to help your dog if he has a hemangiosarcoma?


What is hemangiosarcoma in dogs?

There are different kinds of tumors that dogs can develop. Some are benign while others are malignant, and they can come from different parts of the body. There are two types of tumors that can form from blood vessels: hemangiomas and hemangiosarcomas. Hemangiomas are benign types of growths which means that they do not spread ormetastasize to other parts of the body. Hemangiosarcomas are malignant and have a high likelihood of metastasizing.

Hemangiosarcomas mostly form around the spleen, liver, or heart. They can also form on or below the skin. Those that form around the heart and spleen are particularly dangerous because these tumors can rupture at any time, causing severe internal bleeding. Ruptures can be very slow or gradual while others can be acutely profuse. These kinds of ruptures warrant immediate medical (and often surgical) care.

It is unknown why this type of cancer occurs, but there is an increased genetic risk for certain dog breeds like German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Boxers, and Labrador Retrievers. Hemangiosarcomas mostly affects middle-aged and older dogs.

Even with routine examinations and blood work, it can be difficult to detect these kinds of tumors before they become a problem. If they are large enough, splenic tumors can be detected when a dog’s abdomen is palpated. If there is a tumor on the heart, you may notice that your pup is more tired than normal. You might also see him panting more or he may have trouble breathing. If a tumor suddenly ruptures and bleeds, your dog may have pale white gums and collapse. You should head to an emergency clinic as soon as you notice this.


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Treatment for hemangiosarcoma in dogs

Your vet will recommend blood work to measure how anemic your pup might be, and they will also recommend imaging like x-rays or ultrasound to look for a reason why he is losing blood. If a splenic tumor is detected, emergency surgery is necessary to stop the bleeding. Many general practitioners are able to perform this surgery, but for others, or for situations where there is bleeding around the heart, a specialty surgeon may be necessary.

Severe blood loss and anemia warrant a blood transfusion for your dog, especially before surgery so that it will stabilize him and support his other internal organs. He will also need fluid therapy and hospitalization for a few days to make sure that he recovers after surgery. Since there is a one in three chance that a bleeding splenic tumor is benign, a biopsy will be necessary to determine if the tumor is malignant or not.

For dogs with benign splenic tumors (hemangiomas), surgical intervention is curative. But for dogs with splenic hemangiosarcomas, additional treatments like chemotherapy are necessary to help remove cancerous cells from the rest of the body. But even with chemo treatments, survival time beyond initial surgery is anywhere from three to six months. Without chemotherapy, survival time is three to six weeks after surgery takes place. This is because hemangiosarcomas spread to other body parts quickly like the liver or the lungs, causing further internal bleeding in the future.

There is no way to prevent hemangiosarcomas from occurring. If your dog is diagnosed with a hemangiosarcoma, he may benefit from an herbal supplement known as yunnan baiyao which can help prevent problems with bleeding. Anti-inflammatory medications can increase the risk of bleeding and so these should be avoided prior to surgery.

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Hemangiosarcomas are one of the most insidious types of cancer because your dog can appear completely normal until the tumor ruptures. Your dog can become pale and collapse almost as quickly as the flipping of a light switch! It is important to bring your furry friend to an emergency room as soon as possible because it can mean the difference between life or death. Emergency surgery can also be expensive, so be sure to have a plan in place for payment. Savings, pet insurance, and applying for CareCredit are some of the ways that owners can prepare themselves for pet emergencies.  


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Meet The Author 

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine