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Hemangiosarcoma is a malignant tumour that affects dogs of middle and older ages. It is relatively common and it mainly develops in medium to larger size breeds such as Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, however it can also occurs in other breeds. The tumour originates from cells that line the blood vessels and it easily spreads to many organs including heart, liver, spleen, and skin. Hemangiosarcoma is aggressive, insidious, and clinical symptoms are more likely to show only in the later stages; these include weakness and bleeding (usually nose bleeding) that often can be confused with another type of blood disorder called immune mediated hemolytic anemia. Abnormal growth can occur in different parts of the heart, including the pericardium, heart base, or the myocardium. Heart tumors are not common in dogs. When they do occur, they typically affect middle-aged to older dogs (7-15 years) and there is some evidence that German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers may be at increased risk for developing this type of cancer. It's best to leave these issues to a specialist, specifically a veterinary oncologist.
Symptoms can be hard to spot and often the dog will die without owners will catch any signs of the disease. This is because the tumour develops within internal organs, and in most of the cases during the early stages the rate of tumour growth is relatively slow. However there are some clinical symptoms and changes in the animal behavior that have been reported in dogs affected by Hemangiosarcoma.
The causes of a dog suffering from Hemangiosarcoma are still unknown; the tumour is initiated within cells lining small blood vessels and then it spreads within internal organs or more superficially on the animal’s skin. It is possible that there is a genetic/hereditary cause for this type of tumour as it commonly affects big size dogs and specific breeds. Also Dermal Hemangiosarcoma is more likely to occur in short hair dogs that have been exposed to sunlight; it appears in the animal’s hairless body areas such as inner tight and belly. Currently we cannot attest which are the specific causes leading to the onset of the Hemangiosarcoma, however it is possible that a combination of genetic and environmental factors highly influences the development of this disease.
Hemangiosarcoma can be found in any type of tissue nourished by blood vessels, thus almost anywhere in the body. The tumor is classified according to the site of its onset and referred as Dermal, Subcutaneous and Visceral Hemangiosarcoma.
: This is the less invasive and less likely to spread to other parts of the body. Dermal Hemangiosarcoma is easy to remove surgically and it has a high rate of complete remittance.
: It is more invasive than the Dermal one, as it develops underneath the skin and it is more likely to spread to internal organs.
: This is by far the most insidious and difficult to spot, it mainly develops in the heart, the liver and the spleen. They are all life-threatening as they always lead to severe internal bleeding.
Hemangiosarcoma, especially at the beginning, is barely detectable in dogs and in most of the cases a physical examination cannot be conclusive or sufficient to determine the presence of the tumour. For its proper diagnose, X-rays, ultrasounds and a tissue biopsy are the most reliable tests for a suspected mass. In some cases analysis of the dog’s blood sample could reveal the presence of abnormal proteins or low levels of circulating red blood cells; this is very likely to be a sign of internal bleeding deriving from the tumour’s rupture.
When a Visceral or Subcutaneous Hemangiosarcoma is suspected pet’s owners could be of a great help in the diagnosis by taking a sample of the animal’s internal fluids either from the abdomen or from the chest. The presence of blood in the fluid can further confirm the presence of the tumour. Additionally pet owners are invited to carefully observe and evaluate for any changes in the dog’s personality and habits, especially to its vital functions such as eating and breathing, physical performances, and also physical signs like bleeding, gums and internal eyelids color and abdominal swelling.
Medical tests required for a conclusive diagnosis include:
There are not many options to treat Hemangiosarcoma mainly because the disease is very difficult to diagnose early at the onset and also because similarly to other type of tumours the available therapies are very unspecific and they are associated with many side effects.
The surgical remove of the internal tumour is probably the best option available, although in most of the case it does not represent a completely cure but it can ameliorate the dog’s life as it decreases the risk of internal bleeding due to the tumour rupture. Surgical procedures especially cardiac and liver surgeries are very risky and complicated as those are vital organs and often the mass is highly interwoven within other tissues. Additionally a complete tumour eradication is almost impossible to achieve, as often at the time of the surgery, the tumour has already spread within the body and this implies further long-term treatments such as chemotherapy or ultrasounds.
Chemotherapy is another possible option; it consists in the intravenous administration of a drug that blocks the replication of rapidly dividing cells such as tumour cells, thus preventing their growth. On the bad side short-term side effects are generally very severe as chemotherapy drugs cannot discriminate between tumour cells and other type of cells in the body. The most common side effects include nausea, decrease in appetite, weakness, hair loss and in some cases death.
Natural remedies such as herbs, vitamins and holistic approaches have recently gained public attention to treat this type of disease, although at the moment there are no scientific evidences for successful treatments of the tumour.
The surgical treatment of Hemangiosarcoma requires a follow-up time during which the animal is strictly observed and monitored with medical tests and analysis to ensure the best recovery and overall his well-being. Surgeries are often followed by chemotherapy or ultrasounds that require a routine schedule. Moreover chemotherapy is associated with blood cell analysis in order to control the effect of the drug on the bone marrow. If the dog shows some changes in eating habits, his diet needs to be adjusted accordingly or it is necessary to provide supplements and supportive medications such as intravenous fluids.
The recovery time for dogs affected by Hemangiosarcoma is extremely variable; and dogs diagnosed with internal Hemangiosarcoma die within less than a year from the diagnosis. A better chance of survival is for dogs affected by Subcutaneous and Dermal Hemangiosarcoma that are less likely to spread and often have a complete remission following surgical removal of the tumor.
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2 found helpful
My 5 year old Shih Tzu was diagnosed with a heart tumor yesterday at the Animal Medical Center. I was told by the Cardiologist that surgery was not an option since the tumor is within the heart. He also stated that radiation therapy was not ideal because it would diminish my dogs quality of life. As of right now he is home with me and is in no pain or duress. He is being his normal self. Are there any holistic medicines I can try? He is so young and I want to give him ghe beat quality of life he can have. Also any special diet i should give him for his condition. Thank you.
Sept. 2, 2017
Heart tumours are devastating and the prognosis is unfavourable even in cases where surgery has been performed; hemangiosarcoma (I am assuming as you didn’t specify the type) is the most common heart tumour and is very aggressive. There is little to do apart from offering good nursing care; treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy have little value and may lead to a poor quality of life in a dog’s final days. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
Sept. 2, 2017
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1 found helpful
Can the chemo harm my dog heart? She has brain tumor and has heart murmur.
July 26, 2017
Chemotherapy can be quite toxic to the body. It’s use is balanced against the type of cancer it is treating with the side effects of the chemotherapy being the lesser of two evils (chemotherapy vs cancer). There are many chemotherapy drugs in use and each has their own side effects, your Veterinarian would be able to inform you about which drug Honey is taking and the potential side effects she may suffer (both short and long-term). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
July 26, 2017
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0 found helpful
We have a boxer who is 10 years old. We have had him since he was a puppy. He started vomitting a couple of weeks ago and we thought it was his food so we changed his food and he did fine. About three days ago he would not eat and his breathing was labored. We took him to the vet and found out today that he has a heart-based tumor. He still has fluid in his chest cavity and the right side of his heart is not contracting. He is doing better today and is eating. We were not given a time frame of how long we have. He gets to come home today so he can be with his family. I do not know what to do as to put him to sleep or not. I know he does not have long to live and the selfish part of me wants to keep him alive for me and the kids as long as I can but the humane side of me is that I do not want him to suffer.
0 found helpful
My 14 year old lurcher went to the vet this week because his arthritis seemed to be playing him up and he has a heart murmur grade 3 so we asked that it be checked and it was no change and lungs clear. However he started on the new tablet the next day and seemed spaced out, did not want to eat and retching so I queried the tablet with the vet and agreed we would go along with it as it could be side affects, the tablet was know to supress appetite sometimes. However the next day yesterday the retching was still happening and I asked for an ultrasound of his heart. Sadly that showed fluid and a cloud, he is a brilliant dog and had an xray without using just local which confirmed a tumour at the top of his hear. The vet drained the fluid and we took him home hoping for a few weeks but the retching is back, the vet explained the tumour would probably be aggressive and could not say how long Berkley has. We don't want him to suffer but we don't want him to go when should we make that awful decision
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