Losing your dog to Hemangiosarcoma is most often sudden, and leaves you absolutely shell shocked.
This is Theo, our alpha male, sweet as can be sergeant! This picture was taken one week before we lost him to cancer. A cancer we hadn’t the foggiest clue he had.
He was our rescued German Shepherd/Collie cross who at the age of 12-14 (we don’t know whether he was 2 or 4 when we rescued him) succumbed quite suddenly to this disease.
I got the call one evening while out at dinner that Theo hadn’t been himself that day. He was lethargic, and his belly was tender to the touch. He’d lost his appetite and was just “off”. Immediately, he was taken to our veterinarian who thought it best he go to OVC Guelph. His symptoms were consistent with a pancreatitis and given his age and medical history it was best that he have 24 hour fluids and closely monitored care.
Once he was in Guelph and had fluids, he seemed to perk up and was raring to go outside. The technicians were taking him out for a potty break (typical Theo, he was probably getting antsy to see his daddy in the waiting room) when he suddenly collapsed. What we know now (and couldn’t have known then) is that he went into shock as his tumor ruptured suddenly and he was hemorrhaging.
There was nothing that could be done. Theo passed away with those that loved him most at his bedside. I will never forget walking into the canine ICU to say goodbye. It was gut wrenching. Our dog that was once so stoic and strong was so incredibly weak. We left the clinic with so many questions. We felt guilt, anger, and profound sadness. How could we not have known? Could we have found it and treated it?
I quickly discovered that Theo’s story is not an uncommon one. And like so many others, we lost our dog so suddenly with what seemed like little to no warning.
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What is it?
Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer that starts in the cells that line canine blood vessels. The tumors can really be found anywhere (kidneys, brain, bones) but are most often found in the heart, liver, or spleen of the dog. The deeper the tumor the greater the prospect of metastasizing.
These tumors are most often malignant. Though the tumors themselves develop slowly they spread like wildfire. When they metastasize it’s likely going to be to the liver, brain, the lining of the stomach, or the lungs of dogs.
Who’s At Higher Risk?
There is no known cause for these tumors, but there does seem to be some genetic link. Hemangiosarcoma can affect any dog, no matter the size or breed. Though research, suggests that Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Schnauzers have a higher likelihood of developing such tumors.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms are: Weight loss, lethargy, loss of appetite, arrhythmia, weakness, and pale mucous membranes. Sadly the clinical signs are not so striking until the tumor has ruptured causing a sudden shock and collapse.
Diagnosis & Prognosis?
This cancer is fatal. If the tumors are found early enough, tumors of if possible the affected organs and/or tumor can be surgically removed. Dogs will then undergo chemotherapy and their life expectancy can range from weeks to a year.
Finding this cancer before it’s too late is rare. Tumors are often too small to be picked up on ultrasound and it’s difficult to detect in standard blood work ups.
The Ontario Veterinary College invests countless hours every year researching Hemangiosarcoma and other canine/feline cancers. The research done at their facilities is even proving helpful, and there are links found, in treating human cancer cancers. It’s invaluable research, and there are great strides being made.
As it relates to Hemangiosarcoma researchers are testing a biomarker that can identify it. Essentially they’re looking for a specific protein in the blood of dogs with this disease in the hopes of earlier diagnosis, and treatment.
Hopefully soon they will find a way to provide us with greater odds of finding these tumors in their earlier stages, improving life expectancy and reducing the circumstances of sudden deaths like Theo’s.
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