How to Identify and Treat Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs by Deborah Shores, DVM

Flickr Photo by Moyan Brenn

What is Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?

Despite its complicated name, hemangiosarcoma is relatively easy to explain. It is cancer of the cells that line your dog’s blood vessels (vascular endothelial cells) that causes tumors. Although all breeds can develop hemangiosarcoma, it tends to be most common in Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Boxers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Flat Coated Retrievers, and Skye Terriers.  

According to a study performed by the Golden Retriever Club of America in 1998, 68% of Golden Retrievers are diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma between the age of 8 and 12. A shocking 1 in 5 Golden Retrievers will get hemangiosarcoma in their lifetime.(1)

Hemangiosarcoma typically affects the spleen, the right atrium of the heart, and the tissue under the skin (subcutis). It develops very slowly and painlessly and is not normally evident until the advanced stages of the disease. It is more difficult to treat than most cancers since the tumors have progressed and are generally resistant to treatment by the time it is diagnosed. 

Hemangiosarcoma tumors are fed by blood vessels and are filled with blood. Over time, the tumors can rupture, leaking blood into the abdomen, chest, and heart area. When this hemorrhage occurs, sudden collapse and death can follow.


What are the Symptoms of Hemangiosarcoma?

Many symptoms go unnoticed and it is not until your dog suddenly collapses that the issue becomes known. 
Some symptoms of the blood leaking into the abdomen and other parts of the body include:
●      Pale gums
●      Lethargy
●      Weakness
●      Loss of appetite 

These symptoms may not appear at all or can appear irregularly for a month or longer until ultimately resulting in collapse. 

What are the Treatment Options for Hemangiosarcoma?

Treatment options for hemangiosarcoma are unfortunately limited. There is no cure for hemangiosarcoma. However, some treatment options can extend your dog’s life.

Diagnosis is made typically after an episode of collapse or if the veterinarian identifies the mass on routine abdominal palpation (examination). If a mass on the spleen is identified, an ultrasound may be used to determine how soon surgery is recommended. 

Surgical intervention to remove the spleen is the typical course of treatment, followed by aggressive chemotherapy. Surgery increases survival time to 3-4 months, while the combination of chemotherapy and surgery can increase your dog’s lifespan a few more months. 

How hemangiosarcoma is treated may be radically changing in the next few years. There has been development of a new treatment using canine antibodies. These antibodies attack hemangiosarcoma cells and the growth factors that speed the growth of the tumor. 

Early results are showing that these antibodies can be used in conjunction with chemotherapy and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.(2)

What are Alternative Treatment Options Hemangiosarcoma?

It is important to talk to a local holistic veterinarian for holistic or alternative treatment options. One possibility for dogs that are post-surgery or undergoing chemotherapy is the use of traditional Chinese medicine.  Use of extracts from the Chinese mushroom Coriolus versicolor have been shown to delay the spread of canine hemangiosarcoma and lengthen survival times in research models and clinical use.(3) 

With hemangiosarcoma, it is most important to keep your dog comfortable and healthy during the last few months or years of his life. Nutritional support is the cornerstone of any cancer treatment plan. As discussed in our previous article Cancer In Dogs, good nutrition is essential to your dog maintaining a healthy, happy life during and after cancer treatment. 

Elimay Supplements offers a few products that can help aid your dog, such as Chemo DetoxOnco Care, and Omegasboosting the immune system, encouraging healthy cell growth and providing anti-inflammatory benefits. 

(1)     Glickman, L. et al., 1998-1999, Golden Retriever Club of America National Health Survey. Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine and the Golden Retriever Club of America. Sourced 27 August 2013 at:
(2)     Mason, N., et al. 2011. Canine-Derived Antibody Fragments That Target Hemangiosarcoma and Its Growth Factors. ACVIM Proceedings. Veterinary Information Network.
(3)     Brown, D., Reetz, J. 2012, January. Single Agent Polysaccharopeptide Delays Metastases and Improves Survival in Naturally Occurring Hemangiosarcoma.Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012(0):384301. Sourced 27 August 2013 at: Veterinary Information Network and


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