When to Euthanize Dog with Hemangiosarcoma (What I Learned)


What is hemangiosarcoma? Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer that is deceptive. It does not always show early signs. Many of the symptoms of this cancer are non-specific, with a diagnosis only generally occurring after a major event, such as a hemorrhage or ruptured tumor. This is what makes this cancer extra dangerous. It is sneaky and often goes unnoticed until the worst happens. 

Due to the sneakiness of this cancer you usually will not even know that your dog is sick until you get a diagnosis from your doctor. This means that many owners are hit suddenly with the decision about euthanizing their dog from a spleen tumor, not having enough time to think and process this. They won’t know whether it is the right time to put their dog down, and thus need proper guidance and experience to help them in this painful decision. 

What is even worse is that many owners will likely have to make their decision there and there. Although you might be lucky and have a little time on your hands to make this decision.

We have all the information you need on how to deal with a tough situation like this, whether you are reading this in the veterinary office as you pace back and forth, or if you are simply reading up on all the things you may one day have to consider to be prepared for anything. We have done all the research, information from vets, dog owners who have been in this situation before, and more. 

Furthermore, we hope that the information we give you today will be everything that you need to decide when it is best to euthanize a dog suffering from hemangiosarcoma.

When you should euthanize a dog that has Hemangiosarcoma (Spleen tumor)?

Canine Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) often goes undetected until it is at a very aggressive and advanced stage, it is sadly also very resistant to the classic cancer treatments and surgeries, so owners will often have to decide whether they should put their dog down when they get s hemangiosarcoma diagnosis at the vets. 

However, this is not always the case, and it really does depend on the type of hemangiosarcoma, as well as the overall prognosis. 

A good example of this is if it is a skin and dermal hemangiosarcoma, then the prognosis can actually be quite good. It could be treated with surgery and will mean that your dog will have a longer life expectancy, so   could be put off for now. 

However, there is a horrifically high 60% risk that a hypodermal hemangiosarcoma, which is just underneath the top layer of skin, can spread internally. In cases such as this, the right time to euthanize your dog will be faster approaching. 

A more severe case of hemangiosarcoma is visceral, this means that it is affecting the internal organs. This type will spread very fast, it will lead to tumors hemorrhaging, as well as bleeding. In this instance, it is likely that your vet will advise you to euthanize the dog within hours of the diagnosis due to this often being fatal. While this does sound horrible, you may be saving your dog from being in pain for longer than they should have to, with next to no  chance of survival. 

Should you euthanize a dog that has hemangiosarcoma?

You should consult with your vet on the optimal time to euthanize your dog if they are suffering with hemangiosarcoma. Whether you should make the decision to euthanize your dog with hemangiosarcoma will be decided upon by a number of factors. Let’s look at what these factors are. 

  • Talk through the medical prognosis with your veterinarian. This means that if it is visceral and surgery can help you may have a little extra time on your side. If it is a skin hemangiosarcoma then the survival rate may be extra high. Understanding which type it is and if surgery is an option will be important here.
  • Making an assessment on your dog’s quality of life. There can be cases of some skin hemangiosarcoma surgeries being successful and reducing the chances of any HSA spread internally, which means that survival will be higher and suffering will be lessened. However, if there is weight loss, lack of moment, obvious pains, and a lack of food consumption, then euthanasia has to be put on the table and considered, no one, including our furry friends deserves to suffer like that. 
  • Think about financial costs. Visceral hemangiosarcoma is incurable, and while some surgery can provide some relief, eventually your dog will succumb to it. You will also need to take on the horrible choice of whether the costs of surgery are worth delaying the inevitable, especially when it means your dog may still suffer somewhat for longer, even if the surgery is successful. While it sounds horrible to take money into consideration, sometimes it really does come down to this. 

Do dogs with hemangiosarcoma suffer?

A vast majority of dog owners will make the decision on whether they should euthanize their dog, depending on the level of pain and quality of life they are experiencing while they suffer with hemangiosarcoma. Even if your dog is suffering, it is still not an easy choice to put down your furry best friend. 

This, however, is where things can get more difficult because you will not always know that your dog has hemangiosarcoma, because it often hides and is not always obvious. Sometimes, for example, a dog with visceral and dermal hemangiosarcoma can be walking around just fine with absolutely no signs of pain for a very long time.  

In fact, often the first time you will become aware that they have hemangiosarcoma will be when the cancerous tumor hemorrhages and then bleeds, and by the time that this happens it can already be too late. 

Yet, if hemangiosarcoma is diagnosed in your dog, and there has been no hemorrhage, i.e. with skin HSA, then your dog may not suffer but could exhibit some bleeding and may weaken as the disease processes. 

What are the causes of hemangiosarcoma in dogs?

Science is amazing and can find the answers to the many secrets of our existence, sadly this is not one of those times, and scientists still do not know the exact reasons for canine hemangiosarcoma. Interestingly, they have found that some certain dog breeds are more susceptible to hemangiosarcoma than others are, this means that there is a chance that there could be inherited factors at play with this disease. 

Research in these areas has suggested that it seems to be more common in the larger breeds of dog. 

There are some at risk breeds, such as; 

  • Basset Hounds. 
  • Boxer dogs. 
  • Dalmatians. 
  • Dobermans.
  • English Setters. 
  • Flat-coated Retrievers. 
  • German Shepherds. 
  • Golden Retrievers. 
  • Great Danes. 
  • Labrador Retrievers. 
  • Poodles. 
  • Portuguese Water Dogs. 
  • Skye Terrier. 
  • Whippets. 

It can affect many dogs, however it is most common in dogs over 6 years of age. 

“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.” – Michelle G Ritt (AHC Canine Health Foundation)

Is it possible for a dog to survive hemangiosarcoma?

Being aware of the survival rate of canine HSA is a key factor in your decision when it is time to euthanize a dog that is suffering with hemangiosarcoma, as dogs can actually survive this, however, it does depend on the type. 

It will be very variable though, so this is something that you should seek a professional opinion on though, and your vet will be able to tell you more. However, there are some rules of thumb in this area. 

Dermal hemangiosarcoma (Hemangiosarcoma on the skin) 

Canine HSA on the skin can be treated, and sometimes even cured with surgical removals of the cancerous tissue. While still unpleasant, it can lead to the cure of this cancer. 

Hypodermal hemangiosarcoma (Hemangiosarcoma under the skin) 

This type of hemangiosarcoma is more aggressive than dermal. In around 60% of cases it will likely spread internally. If it does go internal, then the prognosis will be that the dog will not survive. 

Visceral hemangiosarcoma (Hemangiosarcoma of the internal organs) 

If the tumors break open internally, then the prognosis for your dog’s survival is not good, even with surgical intervention. This is when euthanasia is most likely a decision to be put on the table. 

What is the life expectancy of a dog with hemangiosarcoma? 

The life expectancy of a dog with hemangiosarcoma is likely to vary depending on the type referred to in the previous section. A dermal hemangiosarcoma and a visceral hemangiosarcoma will have very different life expectancies. Let’s look at what you may expect after a diagnosis. 

  • On average, the life expectancy of a dog with hemangiosarcoma is around half a year (6 months) 
  • Around 6%-13% of dogs treated with surgery will still be alive a year after. 
  • 12% to 20% of dogs that are treated with both surgery and chemotherapy will be alive a year after. 
  • With great sorrow, almost every dog with HSA will succumb to the disease from a tumor rupture or metastasis of the organs eventually. 

Not a single one of these stats brings much hope, so as a dog owner you will eventually need to decide on euthanasia for your dog at some point, as regrettable as it is. 

How long can a dog with hemangiosarcoma live without surgery? 

How long your dog may live without surgical treatment can vary greatly. Once again it depends a lot on the type of hemangiosarcoma. 

  • A dog with dermal HSA that cannot be treated will have a varying life span. 
  • A dog with hypodermal HSA has a life expectancy of 6 months. 
  • A dog with visceral HSA who are not treated will likely die within 1-2 weeks post-diagnosis on average. 

What are the treatment options? 

Before you make the decision to euthanize your dog, explore all the treatment options with your vet as it really does depend on the type of HSA. 

With visceral hemangiosarcoma it will often remain undetected until it is at the advanced stage and will not respond well to treatments, even surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. So your dog will eventually either die from it or need to be put down. 

On the other hand, skin hemangiosarcoma can be treated, provided it has not gone under the skin and become hypodermal in form, treatments will often work. 

There are some natural and homeopathic remedies and treatments for canine hemangiosarcoma out there. And while it is understandable that owners want to find any solution that will prevent them having to say goodbye to their dog, do take it with a grain of salt. 

If you are curious about these homeopathic remedies, you can check out dog health websites that will educate you about why these types of remedies are not the same as veterinary treatments. A good place to look at is the Canine Health Foundation. 

If you are in any doubt at all, do discuss the treatment options available to you with your vet and get a professional opinion on whether you should euthanize your dog sooner or later, as well as the dependence on treatment options and costs. 

Summary

No one wants to have to say goodbye to their dog. Deciding the right time to put your dog down when they have a spleen tumor is an unfortunate and horrific life event that a majority of pet owners will have to deal with at some point or anyone. 

Hemangiosarcoma is a canine cancer that strikes hard and fast, not giving you much time to decide the fate of your dog. So, your choice will often have to be made quickly, take professional advice from your vet, with a degree of pragmatism, the prognosis is unlikely to be good news. Hang in there. 

Kerry White

Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners. Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.

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