Dogs, like humans, are sadly susceptible to cancer and Canine Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is one of the most common types, accounting for around 5 to 7 percent of all tumors found in dogs. HSA is a malignant tumor of the blood vessels and can therefore develop anywhere in the body, commonly in the heart, spleen, liver and skin. Because these tumors can multiply and even rupture, the outcome is often very poor.
When should a dog with Hemangiosarcoma be euthanized? If surgery and treatment are no longer considered to be worthwhile, euthanasia will, unfortunately, be advised to be in the dog’s best interest. Internal bleeding coupled with the aggressive progression of tumor masses throughout the body will cause an incredible amount of suffering. Dogs can also fall into shocks and collapse as their bodies weaken – making euthanasia the humane course of action at this stage of HSA.
Almost every type of hemangiosarcoma has a poor prognosis because the internal organs are involved, which gives the cancer a greater chance to spread. However, if your dog has HSA that only affects the skin (Dermal Hemangiosarcoma) then early detection and treatment can stop the cancer in its tracks. To find out more about the symptoms, survival rate, and appropriate care for a dog with HSA, read on.
When to Euthanize a Dog with Hemangiosarcoma?
Cruelly, HSA doesn’t always present early signs and symptoms in dogs (more on symptoms later), so deciding the right time to euthanize your dog will depend on the severity of the cancer at the time of diagnosis. Hemangiosarcoma can often go unnoticed until an advanced stage, at which point dogs have already suffered internal bleeding due to a ruptured tumor.
Depending on where the tumor has originated in their body, your dog may display certain changes in behavior, and so if this can be spotted early enough by owners, the cancer may be at a benign stage and respond better to surgery and treatment.
If you are unlucky though, the HSA could already be in its late stages by the time it has been diagnosed by your vet, in which case they can begin discussing the prospect of euthanasia based on your dog’s prognosis and their quality of life.
How Long Can a Dog Live with Hemangiosarcoma without Treatment?
Because of the aggressive nature of hemangiosarcoma, most dogs will already face a poor life expectancy even with surgery, chemotherapy and other treatments, so the projected lifespan of dogs with HSA that don’t receive any treatment whatsoever could be a maximum of 10 months or as little as 1 to 2 weeks following a late-stage diagnosis.
It’s important to note that survival rates without treatment can vary depending on the type of hemangiosarcoma your dog is faced with:
- Dermal HSA (affecting the skin) – 6 to 10 months without treatment
- Hypodermal HSA (beneath the skin tissue) – Up to 6 months without treatment
- Visceral HSA (affecting internal organs) – 1 to 2 weeks without treatment
Can a Dog Survive Hemangiosarcoma?
As noted, the long-term prognosis of a dog with HSA will depend on the type of hemangiosarcoma and how quickly it can be detected and treated. Dermal HSA offers the best chance of long-term survival since it initially affects the outermost skin layer and not the internal organs. So with treatment, Dermal HSA stands a good chance of being curative.
Sadly, the more aggressive forms of HSA (Hypodermal and Visceral tumors) spread internally and even with treatment and surgical intervention, the outcome is very poor, with dogs facing an average survival rate of around 3 to 6 months with only 10 percent of cases living up to 1 year.
Because hemangiosarcoma is a cancer of the blood vessels, there is a possibility of sudden death occurring at the later stages if an infectious tumor has ruptured to a degree that causes all the clotting elements to be used up inside the blood vessels. This is a blood disorder known as Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DCI), which accelerates the dog’s death due to a platelet deficiency.
What are the Symptoms of Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?
Symptoms of HSA in dogs can depend on which organ is affected, but the connecting factor in the signs and behavior a dog displays is due to a mass (tumor) tearing and causing an internal bleed. Here is the full range of symptoms to be wary of occurring in your dog from the early through to the critical stages of the disease:
- Appetite loss
- Pale gums
- Increased breathing effort
- Loss of interest in exercise
- Distended abdomen
Late stage (immediate vet assistance):
- Lump in abdomen
- Black tar-like stool
- Reclusive behavior
- Breathing difficulties
- Irregular heartbeat
- Internal/external bleeding
- Crying or whining in pain
For the best chance at catching hemangiosarcoma early, make an appointment to see your vet even if your dog is displaying any number of the early-stage symptoms.
Is Canine Hemangiosarcoma Painful?
In the later more advanced stages, yes, unfortunately, hemangiosarcoma can cause dogs a great amount of pain and discomfort. Because of the cruel and slow progression of the cancer, many dogs will not experience pain or symptoms until it is at a critical stage since their bodies can tolerate it until a major event occurs such as hemorrhaging from a ruptured tumor.
Early discomfort can happen due to a swelling abdomen and breathing difficulties, though dogs may not always communicate clearly that they are in pain since they often hide their pain out of instinct. It’s therefore vital to keep an eye out for any behavior that is out of the norm for them and get them checked out by your vet.
What to Feed a Dog with Hemangiosarcoma?
The symptoms of vomiting and loss of appetite that come with HSA can make it difficult for owners to know what kind of food would be best for their dog. Fortunately, your vet will be able to advise you on the best type of diet for them based on the nutritional advice of canine oncologists and other pet nutritionists.
Dr. Carol Osborne – a doctor of veterinary medicine at the Chagrin Fall pet clinic in Ohio – recommends a diet high in proteins and omega-3 fatty acids to help dogs maintain body weight and starve the cancer cells, such as:
A Ketogenic or ‘Keto’ diet has also been shown to offer hope for dogs with hemangiosarcoma – this diet essentially cuts out grains and carbohydrates and replaces them with an intake of fatty meats and green vegetables.
The foods a dog with cancer should avoid can vary widely depending on their unique bodily condition and the stage of their HSA, so you should consult your vet for a trusted overview of the best foods and foods they should avoid.
How to Care for a Dog with Hemangiosarcoma?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for hemangiosarcoma, so once all forms of medical treatment and necessary surgeries have been exhausted, the best thing owners can do is to provide them with a nutritional diet as recommended by your local vet and to take measures to make your dog as comfortable as possible to alleviate their pain and discomfort.
Here are a number of ways you can give your dog the best quality of life if they are living with hemangiosarcoma:
Know How to Recognize Their Pain/Stress
It’s good to become familiar with their changes in behavior. Keep a note of these changes in a care journal to help you identify the triggers of any stress or pain so you always come prepared with the right medication and comfort measures.
Lessen Their Anxiety
Your dog is bound to feel anxious in between all the chemotherapy, surgeries, and multiple trips to the vets in general, so consider making it a habit to use anti-anxiety and stress-relieving measures around these times. Soothing sprays and pills can help, as well as massage therapies and products like the ‘Thundershirt’, which is known to reduce anxiety in dogs with a fear of traveling, fireworks and separation from owners.
Improve Their Quality of Life
Do what you can to make their everyday life a little easier around the house and on the go. This could be getting things like pet ramps to make getting in and out of bed or the car easier on their weakened bodies. You could also put down anti-slip rugs or slippery surfaces around the home to look after their joints.
Put on a Happy Face
It might be hard to put on a brave face when your dog is going through HSA, but remember that they are not aware of their prognosis. All they know is they are sometimes in pain and the rest of the time, they just want to live their best life with you – playing, walking, and enjoying cuddles on the couch, so no matter how you’re feeling, be there for them and keep that bond alive.
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