Hemangiosarcoma- a common malignancy of the spleen and other organs

Hemangiosarcoma is a malignant tumor in the spleen. It is a fairly common malignant tumor in dogs, comprising seven per cent of all diagnosed malignancies. It is mostly seen in older males. German Shepherds, Boxers, Great Danes, English Setters, Golden Retrievers, and Pointers are high risk breeds. Unfortunately, the disease is often diagnosed under emergency situations.

Clinical signs can be subtle or obvious. Some afflicted dogs may go into shock and collapse. Dogs will often have non-specific signs, such as periodic weakness, lameness, listlessness and anorexia that can last over several months. Sudden collapse episodes are associated with internal hemorrhaging and may be followed by recovery or shock.

Affected dogs present rapid heart beat, panting and pale gums. Abdominal distention, anorexia, and weight loss may also be seen. Bleeding and bruising of the mucus membranes and the skin are caused by secondary blood clotting disorders such as Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (consumption of clotting factors) and Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count). Abrupt rupture of the spleen can lead to rapid deterioration and sudden death.

Treatment requires intensive care in a hospital setting and, in many cases, emergency surgery. In most cases, a spleenectomy (removal of the spleen) is performed in addition to exploration of the liver and other abdominal organs. Severely anemic dogs need blood transfusions. Histopathology and other diagnostic tests are needed to determine the nature of the tumor. Chemotherapy may extend patient life, however, the prognosis is always poor. Survival may extend from several weeks to months.

There are other conditions and tumors that present similar signs but may carry a better prognosis. Definitive diagnosis is essential for predicting your dog's future and choosing the appropriate treatment.

Periodic physical exams of senior pets are extremely important. Blood and urine tests should be done at the same time as well. Owners of older dogs should watch for the signs mentioned above. If you suspect something is wrong, ask your vet. It's better to be safe than sorry.

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