As much as you love your dog, you know there is a time when you will have to say goodbye. This is probably the only time your dog truly disappoints you. Just like people, dogs are exposed to a plethora of affections. Most of them are treatable. Others could be kept under control, so dogs may still live for many years. But then, there are a few affections that are usually fatal. Hemangiosarcome is one of them. At this point, you probably ask yourself when to euthanize a dog with hemangiosarcoma and when to cut the suffering.
Also referred to as HSA in the medical industry, hemangiosarcoma in dogs is actually a brutal form of cancer. It affects the blood vessels and is malignant. It usually appears in the spleen, but it may also show up in the liver or heart. After all, since it affects the blood and there is plenty of blood going in these organs, the cancer can spread very easily. Furthermore, an unexpected situation may arise when least expected – without a single warning.
Now, what should you know about it and how do you make the best decision for your dog?
Understanding the causes of hemangiosarcoma
There are a few reasons that could lead to hemangiosarcoma dogs. Most commonly, the exposure of cancerous substances is the main issue. Carcinogens are the type of substances that could cause cancer in various tissues. Some of these substances include chemicals, tobacco smoke, asbestos or chlorides, yet the list is way longer than that. Pretty much any chemical has a potential risk in your dog – as well as in yourself.
Other than that, it is worth noting that some breeds have an issue with genetics as well. They have a predisposition for this type of dog spleen cancer. Golden retrievers are more likely to get it than other breeds. However, Labradors could also be exposed to it, not to mention German Shepherds. While these breeds include a few different varieties, all of them are exposed to the exact same risks in the long run. With all these, any other breed could end up with cancer.
How long dogs could live with hemangiosarcoma
As sad as it may sound, you should not get your hopes up if you have a hemangiosarcoma dog. It does not mean that you should be negative. Instead, it is important to know that a dog with hemangiosarcoma has a low life expectancy. The prognosis is not the best. The disease can kick in anytime, and your dog may show no symptoms for a while, so it is important to know what kind of signs to pay attention to. Without a treatment, the cancer will spread throughout the body, causing lots of suffering.
A treatment will extend your dog’s life, but not by long. Even if your dog undergoes surgery and chemotherapy overtime, the disease will still progress. Cancer cells will spread throughout the body anyway. The bleeding could start and stop at random times. It will go on until the dog literally collapses. A dog going through an emergency surgery and various treatments will survive for less than a year. In other words, this type of cancer is not curable in dogs.
Types of hemangiosarcoma
Pet owners should know that there are three types of hemangiosarcoma and each of them comes with a low survival rate.
The dermal type of hemangiosarcoma targets the skin. This is one of the easiest forms of this cancer. Cancerous growths will end up on the skin. Surgery can remove them completely. However, the risk is not entirely gone. They may come back anytime, not to mention the risk of internal metastasis – the cancer spreading to other cells or organs.
The subcutaneous form of hemangiosarcoma is a bit different. It usually shows up under the skin layer. It targets the top layer under the skin. The cancer will be visible as dark red blood growths – not by you, but during a detailed treatment. In more than half the cases, this type of cancer will end up spreading internally to other organs.
Finally, the visceral form of hemangiosarcoma is the most aggressive one. It usually affects the spleen, but it also targets the heart. These tumors keep growing and bleed continuously. There are more options to clear the infection or at least try to – removing the spleen. You can at least prevent a life threatening issue. When it affects the heart, this tumor can bring in extra pressure. As a direct consequence, the heart will no longer pump like it should. This complication is referred to as pericardial effusion.
Signs that your dog may suffer from hemangiosarcoma
You cannot identify this form of cancer yourself, yet you can pay attention to signs. Keep in mind that only a vet can provide a proper diagnostic after a set of detailed analyses that may also involve X rays. Pet owners can, on the other hand, pay attention to small signs that might indicate an issue. These signs are common and may also underline other affections – less harmful, of course.
Knowing when to euthanize a dog with hemangiosarcoma depends on how severe the cancer is. Keep in mind that some dogs may show no signs of this affection whatsoever. There could be internal bleeding in the abdomen, but there would be no visible signs of blood in the stool or the urine.
A general loss of appetite might be one of the common signs of hemangiosarcoma. As a direct consequence, your dog will also lose weight. Weight loss is a sign of other problems as well. Diarrhea and vomiting are just as common, not to mention lethargy. Your dog will experience general weakness – it may come and go though, so your dog may look perfectly fine the next day.
Bruising on the skin and pale gums are not to be overlooked either, not to mention heavy panting, difficulty breathing and collapse. The more signs you can see, the more likely your dog has cancer cells. Seek help from a vet straight away.
Even if your dog has these signs and no hemangiosarcoma, a vet’s help is still mandatory, as your pet obviously struggles with other health related problems.
How the diagnostic is set
A physical examination is the first step. The vet will then perform a more detailed investigation to identify internal bleeding, a problematic blood pressure or a tumor. There are times when dogs may reabsorb the blood back into circulation. However, such cases are extremely rare. Plus, this occurs when the dog is in a critical condition.
Vets tend to investigate internal organs like the spleen, liver and heart. X rays will show how far the cancer has gone, but you will also get a clue about the potential treatments. Sometimes, this type of cancer spreads to the lungs. Other than that, vets will also perform biopsies to identify cancer cells.
Treatments for hemangiosarcoma
It is important to understand potential treatments before deciding when to euthanize a dog with hermangiosarcoma. If your dog has reached to the point of collapse, the vet may provide a blood transfusion to bring in some liquids. Other fluids will also be given. Meanwhile, the blood pressure will be constantly monitored, only to ensure the dog is stable again.
The problematic mass of cells and blood will have to be removed then. At this stage, a surgery is mandatory – there is no other way to do it. In three out of four situations, the mass has split into the spleen or liver. It is not a general cure though. Sure, the main tumor will be removed. The bleeding will be stopped for a while, but the cancer might have spread to other organs.
The next step involves chemotherapy. Its main role is to fight other cancer cells spread around the body. Again, chemotherapy is not a general cure and the affection can still take your dog down at some point or another.
How to make a decision
Making a decision is the hardest thing in the world. Once you identify the symptoms and the dog is diagnosed, you will have to discuss the potential effects of a treatment with the vet. What makes the decision so hard? You know that affection will take your furry friend down. But then, the dog may still be active and happy every now and then, so it might give you the false impression that it recovers.
If your dog has hemangiosarcoma and it is diagnosed late, you would rather cut the suffering than see your dog struggle. The last thing your beloved friend deserves is trauma caused by complications. Profuse bleeding, shocking situations and collapse will become more and more common until your dog will pass away.
Again, discuss this option with your vet. You might be able to extend your dog’s lifespan with another few months of stress and pain or you could let your friend rest in peace. This emotional decision should be taken with your family members and the vet, but not before analyzing the treatment options.
This harsh decision is usually recommended when the cancer has spread around to other organs. Discomfort and distress are more and more common. Your dog may have short moments of happiness, but it will spend most of its days suffering, so euthanasia seems to be the most humane option in this case.
Frequently asked questions
This is a terrible situation for you and your dog, so you may obviously have a few questions in the process.
Do dogs suffer when they have hemangiosarcoma?
In an initial stage, hemangiosarcoma may not cause any suffering. Symptoms may not even show up. Later on, things become more problematic. Dogs will end up in great discomfort and pain. Sure, there will be moments when they seem alright – it happens, but these moments are rare. Generally speaking, the more advanced the affection is, the more pain your dog goes through. You should be able to tell by its lack of energy and its sad eyes. Your furry friend has no clue what is going on, but it is not feeling well.
Should I euthanize my dog with hemangiosarcoma?
A treatment becomes an option if the disease is diagnosed in an early stage. Even later on, a treatment is still doable and can expand the dog’s lifespan. However, the disease does not have a cure. It is hard to tell whether or not your dog should be put to sleep, as it depends on how advanced the affection is. In later stages, euthanasia seems to be the most common recommendation from vets. The dog is in great suffering and its life becomes miserable – your furry friend does not deserve it after so many years by your side.
How long can a dog live with hemangiosarcoma without surgery?
Most dogs will bleed to death within a few weeks – sometimes, even less than a week. The silent killer shows no signs until it is too late. Some dogs might be strong enough to survive for up to a few months, but such situations are rare.
How aggressive is hemangiosarcoma in dogs?
Put it this way – the disease will kill your dog. It is a silent killer and there will be no obvious signs until your dog has little to live. In other words, the disease is extremely aggressive. This type of cancer also spreads quite fast. Even with surgery and a treatment, your dog’s lifespan will not improve too much.
Bottom line, learning when to euthanize a dog with hemangiosarcoma depends on more factors. It depends on how severe the affection is and how your dog reacts to it. Without a treatment, your furry friend will bleed to death. Seek help from a vet straight away.
Most cases end up with euthanasia because no dog owner wants to see their furry friend struggle in pain until the very last moment. Making this decision could be difficult, but it is often the best solution.