Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer that doesn’t always show early signs. Many of the symptoms are non-specific, with diagnosis often only occurring after a major event such as a ruptured tumor and haemorrhage.
Because of this you probably won’t even know you dog is ill until a diagnosis. This means owners aren’t always given the time they need to make a decision on euthanizing their dog with a spleen tumor. That means they won’t know how to tell it’s the right time to put their dog down without proper guidance and experience.
Unfortunately, many owners will have to make a decision there and then, whilst others might be luckier and have a little time on their hands.
I am not a vet but do know people who have had dogs with hemangiosarcoma where the choice on whether to put them down and when the best time was. In these notes I’ve tried to compile thoughts from those owners and mixed in some research from veterinarian websites I’ve studied.
I hope the notes below are a helpful guide if you need to make the decision on when to euthanize a dog with hemangiosarcoma.
When to euthanize a dog with hemangiosarcoma / spleen tumor?
Canine HSA will often go undetected until it’s at a very aggressive and advanced stage. It’s also very resistant to classic cancer treatments and surgeries, so owners will often have to decide whether to put down their dog with hemangiosarcoma at the vets after diagnosis.
It’s not always the case though and will depend on the type of hemangiosarcoma and the overall prognosis.
For example, if it’s a skin and dermal hemangiosarcoma the prognosis can be quite good. It can be treated with surgery and mean your dog has a longer life expectancy, where euthanasia can be put off for now.
However, there is a 60% risk that hypodermal hemangiosarcoma which is just under the top layer of skin spreads internally. In cases like this the right time to put your dog down will be sped up.
A more serious case of hemangiosarcoma is when it’s visceral, i.e. affecting the internal organs. It will spread very quickly, leading to tumors haemorrhaging and bleeding. In cases like this, the vet will often advice you put the dog down within hours of the diagnosis due to it often being fatal.
Should you euthanize your dog with hemangiosarcoma (spleen tumor)?
You will need to consult with your vet on when the best time to euthanize your dog with hemangiosarcoma is. Whether you should put down and euthanize your dog with hemangiosarcoma will come down to a number of factors including:
- Talk through the prognosis with your vet: For example, if it’s visceral and surgery can help, you might have a little time on your side. If it’s skin hemangiosarcoma, the survival rate could be higher.
- Assess your dog’s quality of life: Some skin hemangiosarcoma surgery can be successful and reduce the chances of HSA spreading internally. However, if you see weight loss, lethargy, lack of moment, obvious pain, and your dog not eating, then euthanasia has to be a consideration.
- Consider the cost: Visceral hemangiosarcoma is incurable, and whilst some surgery can provide a reprieve, eventually your dog will succumb to HSA. You will have to take the unfortunate choice on whether surgery costs are worth delaying what is an inevitable death.
Do dogs suffer when they have hemangiosarcoma?
The majority of dog owners will decide whether to put a dog down with hemangiosarcoma based on the dog’s pain and quality of life. Even if the dog is suffering, you still have a tough choice to make on when to put them down.
But this is where it gets tricky, because you won’t often know your dog has hemangiosarcoma because it’s not always obvious. For example, a dog with visceral and dermal hemangiosarcoma can be walking around quite fine, with no signs of pain.
As discussed, the first time you will become aware of it is when the cancerous tumor haemorrhages and then bleeds… and by this time, it can be too late.
However, if hemangiosarcoma is diagnosed in your dog, and there hasn’t been a haemorrhage – for example with skin HSA – your dog might not suffer but could exhibit some bleeding and weakness as the disease progresses.
What causes hemangiosarcoma in dogs?
Scientists still don’t know the exact reasons for canine hemangiosarcoma. Interestingly though, they have found that certain dog breeds are more prone to HSA than others – meaning there could be inherited factors at play.
Research suggests that it tends to be larger dog breeds where the disease is most common. The breeds said to be more at risk of developing HSA include:
- Basset Hounds
- English Setters
- Flat-Coated Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Great Danes
- Labrador Retrievers
- Portuguese Water Dogs
- Skye Terries
It can affect a lot of dogs, particularly those aged 6 years and older:
“It is estimated that this type of cancer accounts for 5-7% of all tumors seen in dogs. Considering the lifetime risk of cancer for dogs is between 1 in 2 and 1 in 3, we can calculate that 1.5 to 2.5 million of the 72 million pet dogs in the United States today will get hemangiosarcoma and succumb from it. Although dogs of any age and breed are susceptible to hemangiosarcoma, it occurs more commonly in dogs beyond middle age.” Source.
Can dogs survive hemangiosarcoma?
The survival rate of canine HSA is key for you to decide when is it time to euthanize a dog with hemangiosarcoma… because dogs can survive it, depending on the type.
It will be very variable though, so it’s something you should seek a professional opinion on. But some rules of thumb are as follows:
- Dermal hemangiosarcoma (on the skin): Canine HSA on the skin can be treated and sometimes cured with surgical removals of the cancerous tissue.
- Hypodermal hemangiosarcoma (under the skin): More aggressive than dermal, in 60% of cases it will spread internally. If it does go internal, the prognosis is non-survival.
- Visceral hemangiosarcoma (internal organs): If the tumors break open internally the prognosis for survival is not good, even with a surgical intervention.
How long do dogs live with hemangiosarcoma?
The life expectancy of dogs with hemangiosarcoma will vary depending on the type referred to in the last section. According to the Whole Dog Journal website, you might be able to expect the following after a diagnosis:
- On average, the life expectancy of dogs with hemangiosarcoma is just 6 months.
- 6% to 13% of dogs treated with surgery will be alive 12 months later.
- 12% to 20% of dogs treated with surgery and chemotherapy will be alive 12 months later.
- Unfortunately, almost all dogs with HSA will succumb to the disease from tumor rupture or metastasis to the organs eventually.
As you can see, none of those statistics make for good reading, so as an owner you will need to make the decision to euthanize your dog with hemangiosarcoma at some point.
How long can a dog live with hemangiosarcoma without surgery?
According to the Whole Dog Journal website, how long the dog can live without surgical treatment will depend on the type of hemangiosarcoma. They say that:
- Dogs with dermal HSA that cannot be treated varies greatly.
- Dogs with hypodermal HSA is 6 months.
- Dogs with visceral HSA who are not treated will die between 7 and 14 days post-diagnosis on average.
Before you decide to put your dog down, explore all the possible treatment options with your vet, because it will depend on the variant of HSA.
With visceral hemangiosarcoma it tends to remain undetected until it’s the advanced stage so won’t respond well to treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. Sadly, your dog will die from the cancer or need to be put down.
Skin hemangiosarcoma can be treated, and providing it’s not got under the skin to be in a hypodermal form, the treatments will often work.
You might also have read about natural and homeopathic remedies and treatments for canine hemangiosarcoma. Whilst it’s understandable for owners to try to find any solution that prevents them having to put down their dog with hemangiosarcoma, please do take it with a grain of salt.
There’s some great information on the Canine Health Foundation website which is funded and supported by the American Kennel Club. Here’s a quote I found which sums things up perfectly:
“Several alternative approaches have recently become popular as people try to find treatments for canine hemangiosarcoma. This usually follows publicity after a dog receives treatments and survives longer than anticipated, leading proponents to advertise this as success and evidence that their approach is curative. The danger of attributing curative power to treatment approaches after an anecdotal response cannot be overstated. There is no reported case where one of these therapies has been consistently successful.”
If in any doubt, please do discuss treatment options with your vet and get a professional opinion on whether you should euthanize your dog now or later, dependent on treatment options and costs.
Deciding when the right time to put your dog down when they have spleen tumor is an unfortunate life event that many pet owners will need to address at some point. Most of the time you will be given time to think it through and make a well-informed decision.
But hemangiosarcoma is a canine cancer that can strike hard and fast.
Due to the aggressive nature of HSA, the choice to euthanize will often need to be made quickly and without a lot of time to consider the options.
Professional advice from a vet is your best bet, with a degree of pragmatism, as often the prognosis will not be good news.