Dexter and his mom forever bonded in their hearts
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Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs: My Dog Died Without Warning

I lived every pet parent’s worst nightmare. Hemangiosarcoma in dogs is a canine cancer that is evil, insidious, and strikes like a bolt of lightning. Our beloved Cocker Spaniel, Dexter died approximately 18 hours after first being suspected of having HSA.

We did everything right: limited vaccines, an amazing diet, plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, regular veterinary checkups, supplements, and lots of love. When Dexter came into our lives, we hit the “dog lottery” and he was treated like a king. My heart beats dog® and we love our life’s journey with a Cocker Spaniel by our side.

Maybe you’ve arrived at this page because your dog was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma. Maybe you are waiting in an emergency room, outside in your car, or at the veterinarian’s office for further testing. Or maybe your beloved dog was stolen from you without warning due to the nightmare that is HSA.

This is our dog’s sudden and fatal journey with hemangiosarcoma. It is our hope that the more pet parents who know about HSA, the better. In addition to our experience, we are sharing the input, knowledge, and information obtained from our interviews with:

  • Dr. Laurie Coger, a holistic and integrative veterinarian and founder of The Healthy Dog Workshop
  • Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ, veterinarian, certified veterinary acupuncturist, and certified veterinary journalist
  • Julie Buzby, DVM, CVA, CAVCA, an integrative veterinarian and founder of ToeGrips
  • Sharon Loehr Daley, veterinary technician of 30 years who is now in her third year of vet school
  • Katie Reynolds, a veterinary technician who also works in an animal emergency setting

You’ll be given exclusive access to what the above experts have to say about HSA and their experiences with it. I will also include further resources so you can be diligent in fighting this form of canine cancer that often strikes without warning.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I am also a Chewy affiliate.

What is Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?

Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) tumors are malignant and derive from the cells lining blood throughout the body. Your dog has blood vessels everywhere, so HSA can occur anywhere.

The most common locations for HSA tumors are the spleen, liver, and heart. In my dog’s case, his suspected hemangiosarcoma was a large 5.3 cm x 6.2 cm cavitated mass arising from the caudal aspect of his right liver. It was adjacent to the neck of the gallbladder.

I feel like this is a “your hands are tied, and there’s not much you can do about it” type of canine cancer. I am a health and wellness pet writer and copywriter, yet I never encountered this cancer until it killed my dog.

According to Colorado State University’s Flint Animal Cancer Center, one in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. Cancer is the leading cause of death in pets beyond middle age. Many cancers can be caught early, and there is a multitude of treatments available.

Hemangiosarcoma is sadistic in its silent attack, aggressive nature, and bleak long-term prognosis. Stay with me so you can understand the types of hemangiosarcoma and which one has a better outlook for longer survival.

What Types of HSA Exist in Dogs?

Ironically there is no “cure” and HSA is nearly impossible to detect, but there are several types of hemangiosarcoma, some more aggressive and invasive than others:

Dermal (skin): Most often, the skin form of HSA appears as a red or black skin growth, as seen in this photo from VECC. The mass may become ulcerated and bleed. At least 33 percent of these tumors will spread to internal organs.

If you take nothing else away from this article, please remember this: Don’t wait, aspirate. If a lump or bump appears on your dog, your veterinarian needs to aspirate and/or biopsy it. No one, not even the most qualified veterinarian or specialist, can tell you what a lump is simply by looking at it or guessing.

Dr. Sue Ettinger is one of the most respected veterinary oncologists in the world, and she advocates for raising awareness of cancer in dogs. She advises all pet parents if you see something, do something, don’t wait – aspirate!

Subcutaneous: The layer beneath your dog’s skin. You may suddenly feel a lump beneath your pup’s skin. Two-thirds of subcutaneous hemangiosarcoma tumors spread internally. Don’t wait, aspirate.

Visceral: This is the type of HSA that killed my dog and countless others. Visceral generally pertains to the organs of the dog’s abdominal cavity. Visceral HSA is usually life-threatening and is the most common type of this cancer.

How Many Dogs Are Affected By HSA?

“I’ve lost three dogs and one cat to hemangiosarcoma, and one was my beloved Cocker Spaniel best friend,” says former veterinary oncology technician Sharon Loehr Daley. “It is extremely aggressive, does not show up on blood work, and is rarely seen on radiographs unless it’s affecting the heart and lungs.”

Daley says the only way you may be able to buy some extra time is if the mass affects the spleen. Dexter’s suspected HSA affected his liver.

If we tried to save Dexter’s life, he would have had to:

  1. Undergo a CT scan of his abdomen under general anesthesia (risky)
  2. Undergo major surgery to remove the mass only if the oncologic surgeons felt it was resectable. Unfortunately, the mass did not appear resectable.
  3. If the mass were removed and he had no postoperative complications, he would have required chemotherapy to extend his life by days, weeks, or maybe months.

Of the five most common cancers affecting dogs, hemangiosarcoma is on the list. It is often in the advanced stage before it is diagnosed.

Did My Dog Have Any Signs of Hemangiosarcoma?

No. I am a diligent note-taker, I keep accurate records, and I document anything out of the ordinary. One month prior to his sudden death, Dexter had an “off afternoon.” We gave him a few new chicken treats and he had some loose stool, but nothing unusual.

His gums seemed a bit light but certainly not what I could call “pale.” If gums are pale or white, we would rush him to the emergency room.

That day, he was sort of punky and we chalked it up to a tummy ache. We fed him boiled beef and rice for dinner, gave him something for his tummy, and he was fine by the next morning.

In fact, we visited a pet-friendly winery with friends and he was spunky, energetic, and his typical happy-go-lucky self.

You can read more about Dexter’s brief but detailed battle with hemangiosarcoma.

Did My Dog Have Any Recent Tests or Veterinary Visits?

Yes, in detail my Cocker Spaniel, Dexter’s history of recent tests and vet visits included:

07/07/21: Complete wellness exam, blood work, and head-to-tail checkup by his regular veterinarian: Blood levels were fine.

07/10/21: Echocardiogram performed by Dexter’s board-certified veterinary cardiologist. Dexter has a history of mitral valve disease controlled by medication. His echo was normal and the cardiologist reported his heart to be “strong” with no changes.

08/09/21: I checked Dexter’s urine levels with pH strips at home, as I do once or twice a month. Everything was normal.

09/29/21: Complete head to tail exam, blood work, complete thyroid panel, tonometry pressures in eyes (normal). Blood work revealed one level was slightly elevated but nothing of concern and had been elevated for years (amylase – and he had no pancreatitis)

Pet parents kissing beloved cocker spaniel

When Did My Dog Show Signs of Hemangiosarcoma Trouble?

On Saturday, November 13, our Dexter went from playing, wagging, eating, having a snack, going for a walk, and then suddenly he stopped and became well, frozen in time.

He breathed heavily. He had super pale gums. He laid down. He drank inordinate amounts of water as we caressed him on the couch.

We called around to different emergency hospitals but were hit with one roadblock after another. No one could take us. Local vet hospitals had an 8 to 10-hour wait, and one of my worst fears was realized. What if I couldn’t get him help?

At this point, we had no idea what was happening. My wife and I thought Dexter hurt his back, but something was definitely wrong. A local veterinarian offered emergency services and gave us an 8 pm appointment. Dexter would never return home.

Symptoms of Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs

One of the leaders in the research of HSA in dogs is the Modiano Lab of the University of Minnesota. They report most dogs show no signs of pain or discomfort until the disease has progressed to the later stages.

Some of the more common signs of a ruptured hemangiosarcoma in dogs include, but are not limited to:

  • Depression or lethargy
  • Inability to stand or walk
  • Refusal to move or play
  • Pale/white gums
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Collapsing
  • Distended abdomen

“How long has your dog’s abdomen been distended,” I recall the first emergency veterinarian asking me the evening of my journey into hell.

He called my wife and me into the back room where we were shown x-rays of a large mass. He was able to aspirate blood from Dexter’s abdomen and called that a “hemoabdomen,” meaning blood in his abdominal cavity.

The vet said Dexter was bleeding internally and they were not equipped to handle his case at their smaller facility. One of the veterinary technicians made several calls to emergency hospitals but no one could take us.

Everyone was either filled, not accepting transfers, or did not have blood in the event Dexter needed a transfusion.

Finally, one hospital came through and accepted Dexter as a patient. He was transferred via car, laying on my lap with an IV port in his leg. The three of us drove three hours from home to the hospital where the nightmare continued.

What Do Experts Say About Canine Hemangiosarcoma?

Katie Reynolds: If you do surgery, even with no spread, with hemangiosarcoma dogs generally only have a few months to live (even with chemotherapy).

Purdue is trying a medication along with chemo in their clinical trial, which shows promise.

I see similar cases like Dexter’s almost daily in the busy emergency room where I work. I mostly see larger breeds like Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Pits or Pit mixes. It is less seen in smaller and medium breeds but did take my Pomeranian, Parker.

Hemangiosarcoma in dogs is a canine cancer
Parker of Katie Reynolds

I hadn’t experienced curbside as a patient before, but my dog, Parker, started acting “off.” He looked spacey and wouldn’t eat breakfast. The doctor called and said, “I did a quick ultrasound and found a large, cavitated liver mass.”

Katie’s reaction was to scream uncontrollably (which was my reaction), “no no no no!” Katie knew what that meant: Parker had hemangiosarcoma.

At the tender age of 16, everything seemed under control with Parker’s health: he was spunky, his Cushing’s was under control, and his IVDD was stable. Within hours, he was gone.

She says if HSA tumors are caught early, they can be removed. But because they grow so fast, they are hard to find in the early stages. I talked to Dexter’s veterinarian about this, and she agreed.

Can Hemangiosarcoma Be Misdiagnosed?

Sometimes, dogs can have a benign bleed called a hemangioma, but Katie has rarely seen this. The few visceral hemangiomas she has seen have been in dogs around five years old and younger.

“I have seen many older patients over seven years of age go to surgery for a splenic or liver mass, and the surgeon opens them up, realize they can’t move forward, and the pet parents say goodbye to their dogs under anesthesia,” she shares.

I questioned if Dexter really had a hemangiosarcoma because I like proof. I am all about evidence and facts. As a journalist and writer and dog mom, I don’t live my life on guesses and “could be’s.”

During his 14-hour stay at the final emergency hospital, Dexter had blood work and an abdominal ultrasound. The only way to know with certainty that the mass was HSA would be a CT scan and surgery, both under anesthesia, both huge risks.

We had a long conversation with one of the veterinarians on call, who explained to us that the large tumor in Dexter’s liver was “highly likely to be cancerous and aggressive/malignant.”

They were unable to determine spread because of the large size of the mass. I asked about a fine needle aspirate of the mass, but that was nixed because the mass was “cavitated (bleeding into itself) and there was a risk for internal bleeding if it were sampled.”

Dexter likely had a small bleed from the mass the night before which is why he had blood in the abdomen. However, his body was able to reabsorb it. The mass did not appear resectable. We had the option to take Dexter home and try to make him comfortable. However, he’d be at risk of bleeding out.

Of note, I noticed there was a unique, sweet but rancid type odor from Dexter’s breath that he never had before. I am told that was the internal bleeding.

Dexter’s abdominal scan

How Can Hemangiosarcoma Happen In Previously Healthy Dogs?

Sharon Loehr Daley: Reading your records, it shows what excellent pet parents you are. Dexter’s initial bloodwork looked great. If I just saw that and did not know he had a bleeding mass, I would think he was in great health.

Sharon says the internal bleeding often takes time to show up on blood work. Dogs can form clots that are reabsorbed in the abdomen. The fact that Dexter had a cavitary mass coupled with his other signs, lethargy, and white gums, the tumor behaved like a hemangiosarcoma.

When Sharon’s Cocker was diagnosed with an HSA on her spleen, she had the organ removed. Two years later, her dog had hemangiosarcoma throughout her abdomen. Some dogs do get extra time.

She says that even if there is no evidence of metastasis, there can always be microscopic cancer cells in the bloodstream. Sharon lost four animals over a 25-year span to HSA. Each of her pets had different presentations.

Her dog, Daphine, was playful and spunky but suddenly fell ill.

“I thought she had pancreatitis and was shocked to find out it was cancer,” she recalls. “I was totally blindsided.”

Hemangiosarcoma tends to knock pet parents off their feet and force us to make life-altering decisions in panicked moments with veterinarians we barely know.

Can Ultrasounds or X-Rays Catch Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs Early?

Daley says some people recommend abdominal ultrasounds every six months, but that doesn’t guarantee anything.

I asked Dexter’s veterinarian the same question. She did an abdominal ultrasound on a Golden Retriever, which came back clean and no signs of tumors. A few days later the dog died from hemangiosarcoma. It grew that fast.

Dr. Coger says there are no screening tests and everything seems fine until something starts bleeding.

“Often there is no time to prepare yourself,” Coger says. “You get a better idea if surgery is an option [for a dog with HSA] once an abdominal ultrasound is completed.”

In Dexter’s case, Dr. Coger says if the cancer was primarily in his liver (which it was) and the spleen was secondary, there isn’t much that could have been done. If it invaded his gallbladder and surrounding liver, the mass would not have been resectable.

She says the spleen and liver are two of the most fragile organs in dogs. During an exploratory surgery in Dexter’s situation, they would likely bleed. With cancerous tissue, it would be even more fragile. Any pressure could fracture the organ.

Sadly, cancerous tumors like HSA have huge blood vessels that are multiple times the diameter of normal.

“You can’t clot blood that is streaming out of the biological equivalent of a fire hose,” Coger shares. “That’s the scenario many hemangiosarcoma dogs are facing.”

Her final words to me resonate over and over in my mind like a broken record: “You did nothing wrong, Carol.”

Can Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs Be Prevented?

Dr. Mahaney reports there is no way to prevent cancer. However, he advises general avoidance of toxins and radiation and keeping the dog’s immune system functioning well to eliminate cancer cells before they become tumors. Dexter did not have an abdominal ultrasound since 2017.

“Regularly ultrasounding a senior dog is a good means of potentially catching tumors of the liver, spleen, or other organs before they show clinical sign,” Dr. Mahaney advises.

He reminds pet parents to maintain a slim body condition in their dogs, as the burden of obesity causing inflammation can cause a variety of cellular changes and be taxing on organ systems.

Most dogs don’t have regular CT scans under general anesthesia as a screening tool, which Mahaney says would be the best means of seeing changes consistent with tumors.

“Take comfort in that he likely did not suffer as the clinical signs happened so suddenly and the bleeding from his liver is what led to him declining so rapidly,” he shares.

I asked Dr. Coger about HSA prevention and her six-step system includes:

  1. There are no guarantees.
  2. Read The Forever Dog book by Dr. Karen Becker and Rodney Habib (I own it and have gifted it to several people)
  3. Follow up with the references in that book
  4. Do not feed kibble or “feed grade” dog foods
  5. Minimize and thoughtfully use vaccines, flea and tick products, etc.
  6. Use genetic screening tests and cancer screening tests as they become available and proven accuracy (we are in the infancy stage on many of these).

There are no known methods for the prevention of hemangiosarcoma. Altering lifestyle behaviors, eliminating exposure to toys or other factors in the environment, and/or feeding special diets have no effect on the risk of developing this disease. Learn more about hemangiosarcoma basics at Modiano Lab.

Fact: Some dogs affected with hemangiosarcoma may not show any signs or symptoms until the tumor ruptures. These dogs, like my Dexter, may bleed internally but the blood gets reabsorbed by the body. Other dogs, like my Dexter, experience profuse internal bleeding that becomes a life-threatening emergency.

Can Canine Hemangiosarcoma Be Detected In Blood Work?

Dr. Julie Buzby reports most cancer does not show up on blood work. She feels Dexter’s mass was not palpable on recent examination, and his cardiologist wasn’t looking at the liver.

Unfortunately, HSA is usually detected when the tumor bursts or bleeds.

“The signs are typically a sudden onset of weakness and inability to get up. These can happen in any breed of dog, but the majority are in dogs that share a genome with German Shepherds. Golden Retrievers, sadly, probably take the number two spot,” per the Veterinary Information Network.

“Any dog over eight years old that’s related to a German Shepherd or Golden is potentially at risk for a spontaneous hemoabdomen, and this disease should be considered in any dog of this type who has a sudden episode of unexplained weakness. Check their gums, as they are often as white as a sheet during this event”

What About Genetic Testing?

I am a fan of genetic testing for dogs, such as Embark Dog DNA test for purebred pets, which I performed on Dexter prior to his passing. Embark is able to screen for over 210 genetic health risks, which you can then share with your veterinarian. HSA is not one of the tests they can screen for as of this writing.

Regarding multiple dogs developing HSA from the same litter, Modiano Lab says each dog is independent of any other dog.

More specifically, “Imagine risk this way: Two people begin flipping coins at the same time. Both will get heads and tails about 50% of the time, but what Person A gets in a toss does not influence what Person B gets on the same or subsequent tosses – just like the result of one toss by any individual does not influence or predict the result of the next toss. Every toss is a 50/50 chance of heads or tails. The same is true of cancer risk and dogs.”

On a sad and unexpected note, Dexter’s littermate brother, McGee, passed away from metastatic cancer exactly 8 days after Dexter. His prognosis was 2 weeks to 2 months. He passed away surrounded by his mom and dad, Maureen and John McGee, with the services of Lap of Love at his home.

cocker_spaniel
Dear sweet McGee

Important Facts About Canine Hemangiosarcoma

Modiano Lab indicates, “The major goal of treatment is to prevent or delay a terminal bleeding episode. The most effective treatment for hemangiosarcoma includes surgery to remove visible masses (to the extent that it can be done safely) followed by chemotherapy.”

It is more common in dogs than other animals or humans. Any breed or mixed mutt can get HSA, but some breeds are overrepresented. These include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Portuguese Water Dogs
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Flat-Coated Retrievers
  • Boxers
  • Skye Terriers

It is not known why hemangiosarcoma happens, which is terrifying. Modiano Lab says it appears to start from bone marrow cells and then travel throughout the body to form new blood vessels.

HSA doesn’t cause pain or discomfort. Our Dexter took his final breath shortly before the veterinarian administered the euthanasia cocktail.

Questions to Ask If HSA Is Suspected Or Diagnosed in Your Dog

In the throes of despair, confusion, shock, and fear, we didn’t have much time to prepare questions for the veterinarians and veterinary nurses we encountered. Here are some things to ask if your dog is diagnosed or suspected of having HSA:

  1. Where is the suspected tumor located?
  2. Has the tumor ruptured?
  3. Will you perform an abdominal ultrasound and by whom? (you really need someone experienced with abdominal ultrasounds)
  4. Could this be something other than hemangiosarcoma in my dog?
  5. Can you perform a CT scan of the area safely on my dog?
  6. Is anesthesia a risk to my dog?
  7. Can the tumor potentially be removed?
  8. Will my dog need chemotherapy or other treatment afterward?
  9. If I opt for surgery and chemotherapy or other treatments recommended, how long might this extend my dog’s life span?
  10. Will my dog have a quality of life?
  11. What do my dog’s blood levels show?
  12. Is my dog in pain?
  13. If my dog has pain, how will you control it?
  14. Will you be using any holistic treatments such as Yunnan Baiyao to control bleeding (which the hospital used on my dog, Dexter)?
  15. What is my dog’s prognosis and what is this based on?
  16. If my dog’s tumor is successfully removed, how often will he require followup care, ultrasounds, and xrays?
  17. What are the costs involved?
  18. Will my dog need the services of an oncologist?
  19. What doctor(s) will be treating my dog?
  20. Have the veterinarians working on my dog dealt with hemangiosarcoma in dogs before? (We were at a major veterinary hospital so they see HSA in dogs on a regular basis)

What Are the Latest Treatments For Canine Hemangiosarcoma?

eBAT: This drug was tested on dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma. Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine shared results and an update in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

I’m-Yunity: A study at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine  shows survival times of dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma tumors when using I’M-Yunity. This is a newer compound derived from the mushroom, Coriolus versicolor.

Clinical trials at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

Clinical trials at Tufts Cummings Veterinary Medical Center

Ethos Discovery battle against hemangiosarcoma – this is very promising

American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation Hemangiosarcoma Research Initiative

Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine clinical trials

Nu.Q Vet Cancer Screening Test: Developed by a Belgium-based epigenetics company, the test measures early markers of cancer. Learn more about Nu.Q and what veterinarians are saying. In preparation for this article, this is the first I heard of Nu.Q.

More information can be gleaned on the Texas A&M website, where the test is being offered through their Gastrointestinal Laboratory.

Turkey tail mushroom – something Dr. Karen Becker discusses in The Forever Dog book, on her Facebook page, and that my veterinarian is using on her own Golden Retriever with a splenic tumor.

Essential information about hemangiosarcoma in dogs – from a presentation by Dr. Sue Ettinger, aka the Cancer Vet.

A link between stealth pathogens and malignancy – Dr. Karen Becker with the latest research on Bartonella bacteria and HSA.

Is There Hope to Cure Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs?

There have been few advances beyond chemotherapy, which was added to the standard of care for HSA in dogs over 40 years ago.

Hemangiosarcoma affects thousands of dogs every year, but because it is primarily a canine cancer, investigation into it has been limited beyond the clinical trials and research noted above.

There is great hope in what Dr. Jamie Modiano, at the University of Minnesota, and the work he and his colleagues are doing.

What Does A Veterinary Oncologist Say About Hemangiosarcoma?

Dr. Sue Ettinger goes by the name “the cancer vet,” and she is a boarded veterinary medical cancer specialist. She is also a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine in Oncology.

This prestigious honor means she is only one of 400 board-certified veterinary specialists in medical oncology in North America.

Dr. Sue has a popular YouTube channel, and she has highly detailed information about hemangiosarcoma in dogs. Here are the videos on the topic you can reference:

Veterinary oncologist talks about hemangiosarcoma in canines
xray of dog looking for hemangiosarcoma tumor
Dr Sue cancer vet discusses hemangiosarcoma treatment in dogs

Is HSA Expensive To Treat and Manage?

Yes, hemangiosarcoma can be very expensive. In most cases, pet parents arrive at the emergency hospital. We pay emergency services prices because thank DOG the hospitals are there for us.

North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital provides some hemangiosarcoma treatment-related options but each facility and case is different.

I recommend you have a savings account, emergency fund, Care Credit, veterinary insurance, and/or start a GoFundMe if you are in a bind.

Further Reading and Research on Canine Hemangiosarcoma

Liquid biopsy for cancer detection: American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation

How cancer chooses a breed: In-depth article from Dr. Karen Becker

Can we find a cure for canine hemangiosarcoma: Interview with Dr. Jamie Modiano (of Modiano Lab) and recent research

White paper and research on hemangiosarcoma: Morris Animal Foundation resources

Shine-On project following 200 healthy dogs at risk for HSA: Dr. Jamie Modiano interview

Clinical evaluation of recent trial for HSA: American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation

Ty’s story with lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma: One blogger’s journey from helplessness to hope

Latest treatments for hemangiosarcoma in dogs: Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care

HSA road from hope to despair: American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation

Research in Golden Retrievers (which benefits all dogs): Golden Retriever Club of America

Where to Find Experts in Canine Hemangiosarcoma

In most cases, you will be rushing your dog to an emergency hospital or developing a plan of care and management with your veterinarian if the tumor(s) are caught early. Your veterinarian can often make a referral to an oncologist.

Know where your nearest emergency veterinary facilities are and their hours of operation. Many facilities are backed up, overbooked, and unable to take new patients since the onset of the pandemic.

To locate a board-certified veterinary oncologist, visit the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

For board-certified veterinary surgeons, visit the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Locate a board-certified veterinary emergency and critical care specialist by visiting the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.

Bonus: Unexpected warning signs of canine cancer

Why Did My Dog Die From Hemangiosarcoma?

I have no idea. For two weeks, I blamed myself.

“I must have missed something.”

“Was he acting off and I just didn’t realize it?”

“Were the cold laser treatments he got for his spine arthritis causing cancer?” (if your dog has cancer you don’t want to do cold laser, but cold laser itself is not a cancer-causing agent according to the veterinarians I spoke with)

“If I got him to an emergency hospital sooner, would he have survived?”

I realize now that I am not to blame, but grief does these things to a person. Sudden trauma and unexpected death messes with the mind. Add a broken heart and sheer devastation on top of that, and it’s the perfect storm of guilt and being blindsided by the grim reaper.

I’ve spoken with dozens of pet parents whose dogs of all ages, sizes, breeds, and health status have succumbed to hemangiosarcoma. There are some breeds that are more prone to get HSA than others, but any dog at any age can be affected.

I am so angry and so devastated because I thought we had a few more years with him. Fellow blogger Melissa Chapman wrote me the most poignant and simply beautiful message. I hold onto this:

message of hope for dog who died from cancer

Now What?

The burning questions I’ve received to date and which I am sure others might be thinking:

  1. Will we get another dog? Yes. My wife and I love dogs, and have a strong affinity for Cocker Spaniels. Dog is in our DNA.
  2. Does it scare you that this can happen to another dog in your life? Yes, but I cannot live in fear. We will provide our third Cocker Spaniel with the same level of veterinary care, exercise, mental stimulation, healthy eating, limited vaccines, no chemicals, and king status.
  3. Is there such a thing as a heart dog? Yes, some people say there is a dog that can touch you like no other. I believe every dog is my heart dog and I love them equally. There will always be something other-wordly and spiritual about Dexter’s presence in my life.
Dexter is our precious Cocker Spaniel

Dexter’s Legacy

The above information discusses how our precious dog, Dexter, died but it is not how he lived. I want others to know about hemangiosarcoma and how many dogs it affects.

Dexter came into our lives, taught us about love, and left us with grief of epic magnitude. Our little boy suddenly and tragically crossed from this earth to the Rainbow Bridge on November 14.

This tribute is in memoriam of a life well-lived. Dexter will forever be missed and forever be loved. By us, but also by all those whose lives he touched.

Over the years, Dexter received his Canine Good Citizen, the AKC Novice Trick Dog title, the AKC Intermediate Trick Dog title, he was a Brand Ambassador, and a National Dog Show Therapy Dog Ambassador Team Member. To us, Dexter was our heart dog who inspired us to trademark, “My Heart Beats Dog®”. Dexter was our heart shaper, love keeper, treat beggar, bone burier, ballplayer, and life changer.

“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is not.” ~Henry van Dyke~

“We suffer so they don’t have to.”  ~Unknown ~

Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs: My Dog Died Without Warning

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23 Comments

  1. Our 12 year old Lab Jake died of hemangiosarcoma. He was diagnosed at age 8 with oral melanoma. He had a partial jaw removal and was treated every three months with a new at that time vaccine that only a few Vet hospitals had. We were lucky to have one close by. He remained healthy and cancer free for four years and then BAM, hemangiosarcoma struck. We treated him with Yunnan Baio which is an herb that was used on the battlefields in Vietnam to help stop bleeding until the soldiers could get to medical care. When he would get weak, apparently from a bleed, we gave him this and he would bounce back for a while. Of course it was just a bandaid. I think we had him for about 6 weeks after diagnosis but he passed peacefully and seemingly in no pain. This disease is so heartwrenching. You feel so totally helpless. My heart is with yours right now. I understand.

    1. You are so right, Linda. This is incredibly heartwrenching. They gave Dexter the same drug in the hospital for the bleeding to stop but we knew it was temporary. Many hugs to you.

  2. Cocker Spaniel is in my DNA too…
    I have lost 4 dogs in the last 18 months…Buddy (13) from AIHA, Bailey(13, and Buddy’s sister) from HSA and Bodhi(8) from HSA….and Ellie-Mae(13, and sister to Buddy and Bailey) to HSA…..Two had it if the spleen and Ellie had HSA of the gallbladder…All were sudden and devastating…My heart still hurts and I am traumatized by their sudden deaths…. I too, blamed myself….But I have a great and compassionate Vet, that reassured me, I did nothing wrong….My dogs are my family, and I understand your loss…Godspeed Dexter!!!

    1. Words fail me, Vicky. I cannot imagine the grief you feel losing that many that fast. I send you all my condolences and messages of strength. Hugs.

  3. We lost our boy Airedale last March at 11 years probably from this condition. Everyone tells me how lucky I was that we accidentally diagnosed it before it ruptured his liver. He left us seeming so normal Hardest decision of our lives but we didn’t want him to suffer a crisis.
    May the love you shared heal your heart💔

    1. It is heartbreaking and evil. I can’t even begin to tell you how I can understand and relate. Hugs and paw prayers for a cure for hemangiosarcoma in our lifetimes.

  4. It’s so scary. Dogs sadly already live a shorter lives like humans (oh I wish they weren’t) and they have all sorts of issues. It’s such a heartache to lose your pet.

  5. Bravo-Dawg survived bone cancer limb amputation, five rounds of chemo, and two follow-up radiographs showed him free of cancer. We knew his chances for long-term survival were slim, but we were hopeful with clear pictures of his lungs (where osteo typically shows up when it spreads). But two weeks later, he died of hemangiosarcoma. He was two-and-a-half years old. We did everything “right” too, but the disease doesn’t care. Thank you for this in depth coverage, and I share your grief and pain.

    1. I remember Bravo-Dawg’s journey and all your posts. I had no idea he ultimately passed from hemangiosarcoma. I mean, it is totally evil and unfair and I will never understand. I take faith in my heart and soul we will see our loving babies again. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your kind words and his story here. Hugs.

  6. As Amy above said, I, too, share in your grief and pain. Our Dakota also passed of Hemangiosarcoma. It was on his heart. Two weeks prior to Dakota passing from it our nephew in Colorado’s 8 year old Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier also died from it. With Dakota, it came on suddenly as well…one day he was fine…until he wasn’t. I noticed him seeming “off” almost dazed looking after he was groomed. My Vet and my husband thought I was losing my mind. Our Vet swore he was ok. I made him see him. They did xrays, found it….and told me we had 12 hours to rush him to Blue Pearl Emergency Clinic or he would die. They confirmed the most awful news ever. There was a tumor on Dakota’s heart. We were “blessed” in the sense that we had exactly 4 weeks with him from the day he was diagnosed, but those 4 weeks were full of pain. The pain of KNOWING our beloved dog was serving a death sentence. Watching him eat…then…watching him WANT to eat and not touching ANYTHING. I feverishly made home made meatballs, bought cheese, liverwurst, scrambled eggs, I practically wanted to force feed him. After his refusal to eat for 4 days (part of which coincided with the untimely and sudden passing of Dakota’s beloved brother Cody), we made the awful decision that no pet parent wants to make. Carol and Darlene, what you lived through and continue to live through is the worst heartache and nightmare ever. This disease is horrific. Like you, Dakota ALWAYS saw the Vet multiple times per year, we did EVERYTHING in our power to keep him healthy. Hemangiosarcoma was like a sword through our hearts. It devastated us. I do agree with the person who said that in a sense Dexter’s passing suddenly was his way of sparing you. (Not that Dakota didn’t want to spare us), it’s just that Dexter probably felt you both could never live with watching him waste away, so in a sense (and I don’t mean this in a heartless way), he was sparing you. As that person said, you have WONDERFUL MEMORIES, he will NEVER, EVER LEAVE THEM or your hearts. While I have wonderful memories of Dakota, those last 9 days after Cody passed, are days that I wish I could forget. Watching my vibrant boy be taken from me after losing another just 9 days earlier, was more than I thought I could ever live through. But here I am. I almost didn’t read your post because I thought it would be too painful for me to relive, but…I am so happy that I did. All the questions you posted to be sure to ask, we did. You gave so much valuable information and I pray that it is information that you, myself and everyone who reads your blog will never have to use again. Dexter was an incredibly special boy……he still is, that will never change. Nor will the love you and Darlene have for him and Dexter still has for you. He will send the right Cocker your way, you can take that to the bank. Much love always.

    1. Caren, I did not know this happened to this degree. My heart breaks over for you, and I know Dakota was and is a cherished member of your family. It is so sad that this is happening to our innocent babies without warning. We give them the best health care, love, food, vet visits, testing, and still this happens. I wish I could help heal your heart, too. I have been through the loss of a beloved Cocker before and will again. The suddenness and the tragic nature of how Dex died, as your Dakota did ,compounds to the agony. And not being able to find a vet emergency hospital to help us forever is and remains very devastating. Hugs and love to you.

  7. My cocker spaniel, Toby, died from this awful disease almost 2 years ago at the age of 13. He had no signs that we knew of until right before he died. He suddenly stopped eating and if you knew Toby, he lived to eat. He would not even take treats. When I came home from work it looked like he had not moved from the spot he was in when I left. But, when I got home he perked up and seemed better. He ate a little and went outside and came back in all on his own. The next day he seemed ok that morning so we went on as usual. When I got home from work my daughter told me that his stool was very dark and had blood in it so we went straight to the emergency vet. After X-rays, an ultrasound, and a CT scan we were told that he had a massive tumor on his spleen that was bleeding into his abdomen. I was devastated. They did not recommend surgery because of his age and the fact that it could burst and he would not make it through the surgery. We could take him home and spend a little more time with him and try to treat it but if it burst and it probably would, it would kill him and did we want to risk this happening when we were asleep and put him through that alone? NO, I could not. So, our only option was to say goodbye and let him go peacefully in my arms with me telling him how much I loved him and he was the best boy in the world.

    1. Thank you for opening your heart to share your story, JoAnne. The pain is so excruciating for us. And it is so unfair that our precious babies go through this evil cancer.

  8. Carol Bryant you are an Amazing Person, Your articles are Awesome, there very informative and as a Cocker Spaniel parent I Love and rely on your articles. Tiffany is now 10 and I now know that with every day I am on borrowed time with her. At this stage of the game I am heart broken to know that she could be gone on any day with a quick blink of an eye. My heart beats Cocker Spaniel and Tiffany is my HEART!. She is the second Cocker in my life and I lived and breath for the breed, Shasta was my first Cocker and lived and breath every day for her until the day I had to let her go. My heart will be broken some day when Tiffany will not be there to greet me when I get home, My heart will need another dog but when will be unknown? Carol I have been where you are and I know the pain.. Please keep doing what you do because when that time comes I will definitely need you and the love you show to each and every one of us with your support.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Kimberly. I believe the worst part of Dexter’s death was the sudden nature of it without warning after all his testing was normal. I will always love our first Cocker Spaniel, Brandy Noel, and Dexter with all my heart. Like you, I live and breathe for the breed. We definitely plan to welcome our third Cocker Spaniel into our lives. My heart is with you. Cherish each day as you do, as it’s all any of us can do. Hugs and happy new year with good health.

  9. I lost my heart dog Sophie to hemangiosarcoma on January 14th, 2022. She came into my life as an 8 year old owner relinquish through a rescue organization. She was my 2nd English Springer Spaniel and the love and joy of my life. We were perfect for one another and every single day was filled with laughter, love, affection….. And she was so healthy! Every yearly checkup my vet and I would marvel at how healthy Sophie was. And then, just as others have written, she suddenly slowed down last fall, became quiet and my ‘chow hound’ didn’t want to eat! It took many tests and exams until finally in December, the xrays showed a mass on her spleen that was bleeding. She was already weak and anemic and I knew I couldn’t put her through surgery, etc. I hand fed her for 2 weeks and carried her to her various beds and finally on January 14th, she let me know she was done. Yes, the grief is almost unbearable. I too, was hoping for several more years with her. I had never heard of this cancer before. Thank you for this article and the comments from others. It helps to know Sophie and I are not alone in what happened,

  10. I lost my beautiful 9 year old white/tan German Shepherd mix on March 13, 2022. He was fine then he was dying on the bedroom floor when I woke up. He was majestic, looked like a white wolf and was the sweetest most loving, intuitive dog I ever had. He was my soulmate. We rushed to the emergency hospital and after they drained the blood from around his heart, he perked up – ahhh – maybe some hope. But it was not to be. His lungs were filled with cancer and then the sac around his heart started to fill up with blood again. After much crying, love and kisses he was euthanized in my arms. My beautiful Jake. No symptoms, at the vet two months before – seemingly perfect health -then gone. I am afraid I will never recover. The grief is too unbearable. He loved me so much and I him. My soulmate. My Jakie! This disease is horrible, insidious and leaves the pet parent with a shock so hard to recover from.

    1. You hit the nail on the head. It is horrible and evil and a freight train from hell.That is awful that your 9-year-old baby passed from HSA. I wish I had words of comfort. I am still coping and the grief will be a permanent part of me. I am so incredibly sorry. I wish you only peace in your heart and to carry your baby’s love with you forever. <3

  11. My heart goes out to everyone here who has lost a dog to this awful, evil, damn cancer!!! I lost my canine soulmate, my heart dog, Nikki on February 8, 2021 just after her 11th birthday. She played ball that morning, ate her breakfast, nothing was out of the ordinary. I left to pick up some groceries, came back and found her collapsed on the back patio, unable to even lift her head, gums white as a sheet. I frantically called my vet and my husband but she died in my arms within minutes. I was so shocked and crushed beyond belief to loose my girl in an instant like that, no warning at all, no chance to help her, just gone. She’d been for her annual vet check recently and all was well and she’d always been such a healthy vibrant dog, I had felt sure I’d have her a few more years. We didn’t know the horror that lurked inside. We didn’t know. In retrospect I know it was better that way for all of us. She passed quickly, at home in my arms where she always wanted to be, no last scary trip to the vet, no invasive surgery, I didn’t have to sign her life away and hold her while she was euthanized. Aw Nik, I miss you so much girl. I can’t wait to see you in Heaven! What a day that will be!

    1. Oh no, this is so devastating to read. I am incredibly sorry to learn of your Nikki’s passing. Cancer sucks and hemangiosarcoma is the king of evil cancers. I wish there was more that could be done to find this evil cancer before it steals our precious babies. Many hugs and my deepest condolences, Sherri.

  12. Just lost my almost 12 year old GSD to HSA a month ago. The previous Sunday he was playing with other dogs and romping around. The night before he almost pulled my arm out of its socket (he found beef jerky on the ground and was sOoOOoo excited). I joked that he was lying to our family about being 11. He was a puppy his whole life. Taking everything one day at a time but this post resonated with me – the feelings of guilt are real – and every time I look back at what I could have missed, I come back empty-handed and feeling guilty.

    I take solace in knowing he was loved deeper than he ever could have known, he himself loved so much – life, his people, and his two siblings he had at different points in life; and of course the lesson I will forever have – there’s joy in just simply being together.

    Buddy – I love you, have since I first met you, and there’s nothing that could make me say goodbye to that.

  13. My husband and I had to put my sweet boy to sleep on July 1. 2021. It was sudden and unexpected. Brady was off for several weeks and he felt warm. One day we were watching his breathing and we did not like what we saw, and he was not wanting to eat his food The next day I called my vet and left a message. She returned my call later that day when we were walking Brady and told me to bring him in the next day. She took his temp and did some x-rays and mentioned he had pneumonia and gave us some meds. She told us she was going to send out his x-rays and have them looked at. She mentioned that I could bring him in the next day for fluids if he was not doing well. My husband and I went to pick Brady up at the end of the day and our vet told us if we want to give him a fighting chance that we need to take him to the Er. Brady was in ICU and oxygen overnight. In the morning the Er called us and asked us if we still wanted them to do an ultrasound and we told them yes. Several hours later we got a call from a Er doctor and she told us that he seriously declined overnight and that his blood count had tanked and that he was bleeding internally, and we should think about putting him to sleep. Our vet was off that day, and she called us at home and was going somewhere with her family and she mentioned that she could turn around and be with us to put him to sleep, that meant the world to me. My sister and her husband also met us at the ER. When Brady entered the room, he did not look that sick. We thought maybe we could take him to our vet and have him put to sleep. Once we took pictures with him and when we laid down on my knee, we knew he was not going anywhere. When we were ready, we had them come in and put Brady to sleep. My vet mentioned that Brady probably had bone cancer. Brady was a Mommy’s boy, and we took him everywhere with us. My husband and I rescued him from Texas. He came from a big hoarding home and was never allowed to go outside or leave the room he was in for the first 9 months of his life. The ASPCA came in and brought out all but 5 of the dogs and then Brady went to the shelter and was only allowed to go to rescue. He was due to be put down at the last minute he got tagged for rescue. His foster Mom had a really hard time with him since he did not know how to become a dog. When we adopted Brady, he was a hot mess and was not potty trained. He had behavior issues and he was not perfect, but he was my dog and I loved him with all of my heart. When Brady got adopted, he hit the lottery. I spoiled him and gave him the best of things. He even got acupuncture for his arthritis. I am still having a hard time with Brady’s death. I have not been able to touch his things. I did have a reading not long after Brady passed. I know that he did not suffer and that he only felt unwell the last hour of his life and that his heart could not take what was going on with him. He mentioned his body was starting to break down and he did not want to be a burden, so he went quickly. He does not want me to be sad anymore and he wants me to get another dog and he said I should always have a dog or 2 in my life because I have so much love to give. He told me he will always love me and knows how much that I loved him. He does not want me to blame myself for his death. The house is so lonely without him. I miss that gorgeous smile of his. My husband and I him a previous dog and he died suddenly Buster was a home body and we never really took him that many places He was a Daddy’s boy. We were sad for several months but wanted another dog since it was lonely around the house and that is when I found Brady on petfinder. Losing Brady though has really had an impact on me, and I have been a mess since we had to put him to sleep. I am hoping that soon I will be able to welcome another dog into our home. I know that I can never replace Brady. Brady was my sunshine, and he will always hold a special place in my heart.

    1. Yvette,

      I am so sorry for your loss. I know exactly what you are experiencing. It is so unfair and so heartbreaking.

      May I ask how old your Brady was and what type of breed if known?

      I welcomed another pup to my life because I know my Dexter would want that. Brady will be happy you are doing the same.

      My deepest condolences. I totally get what you are going through.

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