Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs

icon April 26, 2024

Hemangiosarcoma is a devastating form of cancer that affects dogs, originating in the cells lining blood vessels. It commonly develops in the spleen, heart, or liver, but can also occur in other organs and tissues. This aggressive cancer often presents few symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage, making early detection and intervention challenging. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis associated with hemangiosarcoma in dogs.

What Is Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?

Hemangiosarcoma is a malignant cancer derived from endothelial cells, which line the interior surface of blood vessels. These cancerous cells can proliferate rapidly and invade surrounding tissues, leading to the formation of tumors and, in some cases, metastasis to distant organs. Hemangiosarcoma is most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged to older dogs, with certain breeds, such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers, being predisposed to the disease.

hemangiosarcoma in dogs pictures

What Causes Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?

The exact cause of hemangiosarcoma in dogs remains unclear, but several factors may contribute to its development:

1. Genetic Predisposition:
Certain breeds exhibit a higher incidence of hemangiosarcoma, suggesting a genetic predisposition to the disease. Genetic mutations may increase the risk of tumor formation in blood vessel cells.

2. Environmental Factors:
Exposure to environmental carcinogens, such as ultraviolet radiation or chemical toxins, may play a role in the development of hemangiosarcoma. However, conclusive evidence linking specific environmental factors to the disease is limited.

3. Age and Gender:
Hemangiosarcoma primarily affects older dogs, with the median age of diagnosis ranging from 8 to 11 years. Additionally, some studies suggest a slight predilection for male dogs, although the reasons for this gender disparity are not fully understood.

Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs Symptoms

Hemangiosarcoma often presents with nonspecific symptoms that may mimic other medical conditions, contributing to its challenge in early detection. Common symptoms include:

1. Lethargy and Weakness:
Dogs with hemangiosarcoma may exhibit generalized weakness, fatigue, or reluctance to engage in physical activity due to anemia or internal bleeding.

2. Abdominal Distension:
Tumors in the spleen or liver can cause abdominal swelling or distension, leading to a palpable mass or fluid accumulation.

3. Collapse or Sudden
Onset of Weakness: Hemangiosarcoma in the heart, known as cardiac hemangiosarcoma, can cause sudden collapse or weakness due to cardiac tamponade resulting from bleeding into the pericardial sac.

4. Difficulty Breathing:
Dogs with cardiac hemangiosarcoma may experience dyspnea (difficulty breathing) or respiratory distress due to compression of the heart or lungs by the tumor.

5. Pale Gums:
Anemia resulting from chronic blood loss or acute hemorrhage may manifest as pale mucous membranes, particularly the gums.

6. Sudden Death:
In some cases, dogs with hemangiosarcoma may experience sudden death due to acute internal bleeding or cardiovascular collapse.

Is Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs Painful?

Hemangiosarcoma in dogs can be painful, especially as the tumor grows and puts pressure on surrounding tissues. Additionally, internal bleeding associated with the disease can cause discomfort and distress. Prompt veterinary care is essential for managing pain and improving quality of life.

Is Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs Hereditary?

While hemangiosarcoma in dogs may have a genetic component, it's not solely hereditary. Certain breeds have a higher predisposition, suggesting genetic influence, but environmental factors also play a role. Research is ongoing to better understand the genetic and environmental factors contributing to the disease.

Diagnosis of Hemangiosarcoma:

Diagnosing hemangiosarcoma in dogs often involves a combination of clinical evaluation, diagnostic imaging, and laboratory tests:

1. Physical Examination: Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination, including palpation of the abdomen to assess for masses or organ enlargement.

2. Diagnostic Imaging: Imaging modalities such as radiography (X-rays), ultrasound, or computed tomography (CT) scans may be utilized to visualize internal organs and identify suspicious lesions or tumors.

3. Blood Tests: Complete blood count (CBC) and serum chemistry panels can provide valuable information about your dog's overall health status, including the presence of anemia, changes in organ function, or abnormalities in clotting parameters.

4. Fine-Needle Aspiration or Biopsy: If a mass or tumor is identified, your veterinarian may recommend obtaining a sample of tissue via fine-needle aspiration or biopsy for cytological or histopathological analysis to confirm the diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma.

5. Cardiac Evaluation: In cases of suspected cardiac hemangiosarcoma, echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart) may be performed to assess cardiac function and detect the presence of intracardiac masses or pericardial effusion.

Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs Treatment

Treatment for hemangiosarcoma in dogs typically involves a multimodal approach aimed at controlling tumor growth, managing symptoms, and improving quality of life. However, it's essential to recognize that hemangiosarcoma is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, and prognosis can be guarded. Treatment options may include:

1. Surgery: Surgical removal of the primary tumor, along with affected organs such as the spleen (splenectomy) or portions of the liver, may be recommended if the tumor is localized and has not metastasized extensively. However, complete surgical resection can be challenging due to the infiltrative nature of hemangiosarcoma and the risk of intraoperative bleeding.

2. Chemotherapy: Adjuvant chemotherapy may be administered following surgery to target residual cancer cells, reduce the risk of metastasis, and prolong survival. Commonly used chemotherapeutic agents for hemangiosarcoma include doxorubicin, vincristine, and cyclophosphamide.

3. Palliative Care: In cases where surgery or chemotherapy is not feasible or may not significantly prolong survival, palliative care focuses on relieving pain, managing symptoms, and maintaining quality of life. This may involve the use of pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, and supportive care measures such as blood transfusions or dietary modifications.

4. Clinical Trials: Participation in clinical trials evaluating novel treatment approaches, such as targeted therapies or immunotherapies, may be an option for some dogs with hemangiosarcoma. These studies aim to advance our understanding of the disease and identify more effective treatment strategies.

Can Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs Be Cured?

Hemangiosarcoma in dogs is rarely cured due to its aggressive nature and tendency to metastasize. While treatment options such as surgery and chemotherapy may prolong survival, complete eradication of the disease is challenging, and recurrence is common.

Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of a dog diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma varies depending on factors such as the tumor's location, extent of spread, treatment options pursued, and overall health of the dog. Unfortunately, prognosis is often guarded, with survival times typically ranging from weeks to months, even with treatment.

Prognosis and Long-Term Management:

The prognosis for dogs with hemangiosarcoma varies depending on various factors, including the location and extent of the tumor, the presence of metastasis, the dog's overall health status, and the treatment approach chosen. Unfortunately, hemangiosarcoma is associated with a high rate of metastasis and recurrence, even with aggressive treatment. Median survival times for dogs with untreated splenic hemangiosarcoma range from weeks to months, while dogs undergoing surgery followed by chemotherapy may survive up to 6 to 12 months on average. However, some dogs may experience longer survival times with appropriate treatment and supportive care measures.

Long-term management of dogs with hemangiosarcoma focuses on monitoring for disease progression, managing symptoms, and maintaining quality of life. Regular veterinary examinations, imaging studies, and blood tests may be recommended to monitor for recurrence or metastasis. Additionally, supportive care measures such as pain management, nutritional support, and environmental modifications can help optimize your dog's comfort and well-being.

How to Prevent Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?

Unfortunately, there's no definitive way to prevent hemangiosarcoma in dogs due to its complex and multifactorial nature. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, and moderate exercise, may help support overall well-being and potentially reduce the risk of certain cancers. Additionally, avoiding known carcinogens and minimizing exposure to environmental toxins may be beneficial, although their direct link to hemangiosarcoma remains unclear.


Hemangiosarcoma is a devastating diagnosis for dogs, characterized by aggressive tumor growth, metastasis, and poor long-term prognosis. Early detection and intervention are crucial for improving outcomes, but the nonspecific nature of symptoms and rapid disease progression pose significant challenges. Through a combination of diagnostic evaluation, treatment modalities such as surgery and chemotherapy, and supportive care measures, veterinarians strive to alleviate pain, prolong survival, and enhance the quality of life for dogs affected by hemangiosarcoma. While the prognosis may be guarded, advances in veterinary oncology and ongoing research offer hope for better treatment options and outcomes in the future.

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