When To Euthanize A Dog With Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma in dogs is a life threatening condition that accounts for 5% of all canine cancer cases.

Though it is considered fairly common, it is not well understood among pet owners for many reasons. So what is hemangiosarcoma in dogs, and how do you know when your dog is suffering in their condition?

In this article we will go into the details of hemangiosarcoma in our canine friends, and help you better understand when it may be time to say goodbye to your pup.

What Is Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs?

When To Euthanize A Dog With Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma in dogs is a cancer that is derived from the lining of the blood vessels. With blood vessels flowing through every inch of a dog’s body, this means hemangiosarcoma can develop virtually anywhere.

Though it can occur within any blood vessel, it is most commonly found in the spleen, liver, skin, or the heart.

Don’t want to read this entire article? Watch our short video on when you should euthanize your dog if they have hemangiosarcoma.

With this cancer involving the blood vessels, this means most tumors are extremely fragile. Many hemangiosarcoma tumors are filled with blood, leading to life threatening bleeding when the masses do rupture.

Hemangiosarcoma also has a high likelihood to spread to other parts of a dog’s body, causing systemic complications for many furry friends. 

Most hemangiosarcoma tumors are aggressive, but there are some skin tumors that do not get the chance to invade the skin when caught early. Early detection is essential for treating hemangiosarcoma in dogs, but it proves to be challenging to catch this cancer early on.

What Causes Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs?

euthanizing a dog with Hemangiosarcoma

Like many other forms of cancer in dogs, experts aren’t exactly sure what causes hemangiosarcoma in our canine friends.

This disease does seem to be most common in dogs over 6 years of age, but other factors are still being researched. However, there are some breeds that seem to develop hemangiosarcoma more than others.

If this is the case, inherited factors may be a potential cause.

Breeds that are most prone to developing hemangiosarcoma include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Boxers
  • Basset Hounds
  • Dobermans
  • Great Danes
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Poodles
  • German Shepherds
  • Whippets

While this does not qualify as reliable research, I can state that most hemangiosarcoma cases I have worked with involved Golden Retrievers and Boxers. Each of these cases involved splenic masses that came back as hemangiosarcoma.

How Do You Know If Your Dog Has Hemangiosarcoma?

The only way to accurately diagnose hemangiosarcoma in dogs is by having a tumor evaluated by a pathologist. Even the most skilled veterinarian cannot determine a mass by simply looking at it, and hemangiosarcoma is no different.

This is a type of cancer that is challenging to diagnose using a fine needle aspirate, meaning most unknown masses should be biopsied and sent to a pathologist to be examined.

Another factor that makes this more challenging is the fact that many cases of hemangiosarcoma involve the spleen, liver, or heart. This is impossible for an owner to detect at home, causing it to go unnoticed until it is too late.

Most dog owners are made aware of their dog’s condition when their tumor begins to bleed. By this time it is a life-threatening medical emergency, and will require aggressive care to treat.

In many cases, hemangiosarcoma will not display any obvious signs of the condition until it has significantly progressed. There are no stereotypical symptoms that you can tell an owner to be on the lookout for, rather than just examining their skin frequently for any new lumps and bumps.

Some dogs will not display a single clinical sign until they are having a medical crisis, making this condition challenging to diagnose.

While you cannot examine your dog’s organs at home for any lumps and bumps, you can inspect their skin regularly. This may not rule out any visceral hemangiosarcoma, but it can help you detect any potential hemangiosarcoma’s of the skin.

Can You Treat Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs?

Treatment of hemangiosarcoma in dogs will vary based on where the cancer is located, and how progressed their condition is.

For example, a skin hemangiosarcoma that has not invaded too deeply into the skin can be surgically removed, and may find treatment with chemotherapy or radiation.

While cases like this can have a fair prognosis or offer a dog more time, visceral hemangiosarcoma that has begun to bleed has a poor response to treatment.

If your veterinarian stumbles upon a questionable mass while performing x-rays or ultrasound, they can offer exploratory surgery to remove the mass and send it to biopsy.

If this mass is removed and comes back as hemangiosarcoma, some dogs can be offered more time with the use of chemotherapy and radiation. However, hemangiosarcoma has a high metastasis rate, meaning most dogs will succumb to their condition at some point.

If your veterinarian diagnoses visceral hemangiosarcoma due to active bleeding, this often requires an immediate and aggressive response. Some dogs can undergo surgery to stop the bleeding and remove the mass, and may be able to restore blood volume with the use of blood transfusions.

If your dog makes it through surgery, some owners can opt to put their pups through chemotherapy and radiation. This can again buy them more time, but most pups will eventually succumb to the cancer no matter what.

When the mass has been removed, most dogs will have a life expectancy of anywhere from 6-9 months.

What Happens If You Do Not Treat Hemangiosarcoma?

If you choose not to treat your dog’s hemangiosarcoma, their average survival rate will vary based on the type of hemangiosarcoma they have. To help you better understand the time you have left with your pup, let’s break it down by location.

  • Hemangiosarcoma of the skin varies based on if the mass is hypodermal or not. If the mass is not deep into the skin when it is diagnosed, the average life expectancy is 1-2 years. If the mass has already invaded the deep skin tissues, the average life expectancy is 4-6 months
  • Visceral hemangiosarcoma that is not treated has an average life expectancy of 1 week to 3 months. This varies based on how progressed the tumor is when it is diagnosed, as well as if the mass has begun to bleed or not.

How Long Can A Dog Live With Hemangiosarcoma?

As we mentioned above, life expectancy can vary based on the type of hemangiosarcoma that is diagnosed. On average, most dogs can live with this cancer for up to 6 months.

Life expectancy can be as high as 1 year if treatment is offered, while a bleeding hemangiosarcoma can be an immediate threat.

No matter the type of hemangiosarcoma your dog has, it is always fatal. Dogs will eventually succumb to this disease no matter which treatment option is sought.

Every case is different, so it’s best to discuss life expectancy with your veterinarian.

When To Put Down Your Dog With Hemangiosarcoma?

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A hemangiosarcoma diagnosis in your dog can be a tough reality to swallow. With such a high mortality rate, it’s not often a discussion of if you should euthanize, but rather when you should euthanize.

Saying goodbye to your pup is always a personal decision that varies from dog to dog, but there are a few factors to keep in mind when dealing with hemangiosarcoma.

If your dog is diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma that is not currently bleeding, there are a few ways that your pup may begin to struggle when they are in the late stages of their disease.

A dog may stop eating, experience weakness, and may become winded easily with physical activity. This can be a sign that your dog’s disease is progressing, and it may be time to discuss quality of life with your vet.

If your dog is experiencing these symptoms along with pale gums, extreme weakness, and even collapse, it is time for an immediate trip to your vet.

This is a sign that your dog’s hemangiosarcoma is currently bleeding, and will require an immediate decision to prevent any suffering.

Your veterinarian can offer the best advice based on your dog’s specific situation. By combining their input with your knowledge of your pet’s normal behavior, you can make the best decision for your furry friend.

Final Thoughts

Hemangiosarcoma is a devastating condition that can deeply impact our canine friends. Not matter what, you will need to make the decision on when to euthanize your dog before they suffer. This can be one of the hardest decisions you will make, but the prognosis of hemangiosarcoma is never good.

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