H is for Hope for Dogs Diagnosed With Hemangiosarcoma
Every. Two. Minutes. A. Dog, Succumbs. To. HSA.
Let that set in for a moment.
Tens. Of. Thousands. Of. Dogs.
Again, what numbers! Mind blowing.
30%. Of. All. Dog. Deaths. Is. Cancer.
Where it All Began For Us ~ Gibson’s Story
When my Gibson was felled by this HSA-monster, he was just a few weeks shy of his 10th birthday. It was the first time I ever heard of this type of cancer. As with most dog parents, when he first collapsed, I had no idea what happened. Often he loved to hug the big water dish on the deck and being an over 98-pound big, wooly Siberian Husky, when Gibson made up his mind to chill, it was not easy to move him unless he wanted to move! Needless to say, it was shortly after he beat a bout of ataxia (brought on by his epilepsy medications), and having just come out of a leg brace for Conservative Care Treatment for a partially torn cruciate ligament, he was feeling strong! In fact, I had just proudly posted a video of him running back up the deck ramp sans leg brace and lift harness. It was truly a wonderful moment. I can still remember that feeling of flying high at his recovery! However, that joy was short lived. Not long after, he was lying by the water bowl. I went to bring them all in from the deck for dinner, but Gibson wouldn’t – couldn’t – move. I knew from his look that something was very wrong. I grabbed the lift harness and slid it under him and somehow I managed to get him into the house. I thought maybe he had reinjured his leg, or the ataxia snuck back, but when he wouldn’t touch his dinner or water, and was extremely lethargic, dread filled me.
My Gibson in the car on the way to the vet's for his splenectomy surgery. My tough warrior did it on his terms, he managed to walk to the car, although he was carried into the vet hospital. Little did I know, this would be the one of the last photos of him. Here, he was wooing to his FiveSibes packmates, who were wooing back from the back deck. It was a very emotional moment I will never forget.
Naturally, it was after hours for my vet, so off to the ER clinic we went, where he continued to worsen. He was lying flat out on the stretcher, and I knew I was losing him. I begged the ER vet to please cool him down as he was an epileptic and I begged for cool towels and a fan while she ran tests. Then she showed me the slides on the microscope where his blood sample was strange…very strange. And Xrays showed an enlarged spleen. But the ER vet was still stumped as to the strange reaction of his blood on the slide. What we did not see (until he was transferred to my vet) was my boy was bleeding out from a ruptured spleen. By 2:30 AM, the on-call vet was still studying the slides, but in the meantime, my boy’s temp had gone up to 107℉…and he was dying. I knew it in my heart.
With his temp so high, I feared he was dying, or at the very least, he would go into a seizure. I made a phone call to my vet, who picked right up and intervened. I stayed with my boy keeping him cool and reassuring him I was right there until my vet opened up his practice early just so we could transfer Gibson there. My vet, thankfully, believed in treating the symptoms while looking for a cause. That was when Gib was diagnosed with a ruptured spleen. However, before my vet could do a splenectomy, we needed to get Gibson strong enough to survive the surgery. After they stabilized him, I brought him home and cared for him, feeding him ice chips since he had no interest in drinking. The vet tech came to our house to administer IVs to him. When he was deemed strong enough to make it to surgery, I brought him in. I had “that” discussion with my vet, who I respect a hundred-fold and consider a dear personal friend, that if he went in and found anything “bad” – what did I want to do? I knew I never ever wanted my boy to suffer. I did not want him to come out of surgery only to face pain and no quality of life. He was such a special boy and had fought bravely and hard against Canine Epilepsy for seven years by this point.
After a week of at-home care and IVs, he went in for the splenectomy. Praying and clock-watching for the hour, my heart sunk when I received that dreaded phone call from my vet that when he went in to remove the spleen, Gibson’s stomach was full of cancerous growths, and there was an orange-sized tumor hiding behind his ruptured spleen. I cannot still to this day believe how strong he was to fight this horrific form of cancer I learned was called hemangiosarcoma.
Stunned, I soon began to connect with others whose dogs had succumbed to it. Pretty much receiving it as a diagnosis, was a death sentence for the dog. That has led me to find out, is it always? Is there any treatment if caught early? What is the prognosis today for a dog who is diagnosed with it?
Next Up - Our Bandit’s Story
Then, just 10 months after we moved into our new home, Bandit fell…and cried out…and could not get up. Sudden déjà vu to Gibson’s episode filled me with dread and worry. I knew right then, without a doubt, she had HSA. Remembering all what Gibson went through, I did not want to put our spunky crazy girl through any type of pain or drawn-out suffering. While I would have done anything to keep my Sibes alive longer and healthy. But after going through Gibson’s experience only to discover he was full of cancer, I approached Bandit’s diagnosis differently. At the vet’s, her stomach was distended…full of blood and fluid…and I made the crushing decision to let her go. It left me all wondering, were there early signs? Was that oral tumor significant to her having HSA? She had healed so well after the surgery…that once again the H-monster left me bereft from yet another loss of a beloved dog.
Bandit had thankfully fully healed from her oral tumor removal surgery and returned to her sassy, speedy, crazy Husky self who loved her walks investigating our new woods and dog neighbors and roughhousing with her brother Wolfie. And then a few months later, like Gibson, she was gone…her life stolen by hemangiosarcoma. Two dogs out of five.
It will always be amazing to me just how well dogs hide their health issues. On what was to become Bandit's last day, she enjoyed playing with with her brother Wolfie; a neighborhood walk with me, Wolfie, and the grandkids; and playing with my grandson, who was only three at the time and learned how to ask her to "sit." By supper time, she went to go potty and collapsed.
What is Hemangiosarcoma?
Are There Any Signs or Symptoms?
According to the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine (NCSU-CVM), “Clinical signs depend on the location of disease. For internal tumors, signs usually relate to the severity of internal bleeding that occurs secondary to tumor rupture. Signs can be as subtle as intermittent lethargy or weakness with decreased interest in exercise/activities and appetite, or as severe as collapse, with or without a distended abdomen, severe respiratory signs, and/or pale gums.”
For more information on clinical signs, tests, diagnosis, side effects, costs, and even a chart for navigating your choices, visit the NCSU-CVM HERE.
What is the Prognosis of Hemangiosarcoma?
“Hemangiosarcoma is one of the deadliest forms of canine cancer,” states the Morris Animal Foundation. “Hemangiosarcomas frequently are located in areas of abundant blood supply such as the heart and spleen. This predilection for growth in blood-rich areas is the reason these tumors are so deadly. Hemangiosarcomas can suddenly rupture, causing massive blood loss, and forcing owners and veterinarians to make difficult decisions within minutes of diagnosis.”
Are the Tumors Always Malignant?
I asked my uber skilled and knowledgeable vet of over 30 years, and my FiveSibes lead vet, Arnold Rugg, DVM, Founder and former Chief Medical and Surgical Director of Kingston Animal Hospital in Kingston, NY to elaborate more about hemangiosarcoma so I could clearly understand what happened to my Gibson (Bandit was under the care of a different vet as we had moved by then). “Splenic tumors of dogs are divided into benign and malignant,” he explained. “The most common, unfortunately, is the hemangiosarcoma. These malignancies can also be found in the heart and liver. Once discovered often the dog will succumb to the disease in three to six months. Often these tumors break and bleed. They metastasize to the liver and heart.”
“If the cancer is localized to the spleen, it may be benign or a less malignant cancer (condrosarcoma, for example). The life expectancy with lesser malignant cancer is longer.”
~Arnold Rugg, DVM, Founder & Former Chief Medical and Surgical Director, Kingston Animal Hospital
Dr. Rugg went on to explain, “There are also benign tumors of the spleen. They resolve with a splenectomy (removal of the spleen surgically). The disease can present as an emergency. The dog is bleeding internally from an area of the spleen. This requires a splenectomy. At the time of the surgery, obvious metastatic lesions are noted and if the cancer has spread, the pet owner is informed and asked whether they want to proceed further or euthanize. If they want to proceed, the splenectomy is performed, and sections of the spleen are sent out. If the cancer is localized to the spleen, it may be benign or a less malignant cancer (condrosarcoma, for example). The life expectancy with lesser malignant is longer. After the surgery, if the bleeding is under control, a transfusion may or may not be needed. The owner is recommended to see a veterinary oncologist, depending on the pathology.”
Dr. Rugg explains, “Breed predilection: it is most common in Golden Retrievers (Morris Animal Foundation is conducting research on this-see end of this post for more info). Dr. Rugg also mentions Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds head this list. However, “Any dog can get it,” he notes. “I don’t know of any genetic link. Environment can also play a part in cancer, as we know.”
Studies & Research
Falling under the fast-growing concept of One Health—a unified study and approach to healthcare and subsequent treatments for both humans and animals who share this planet—it is the hope that once a cure is found for one, it will also be for the other. Therefore, what we learn from dogs with HSA, not only helps future dogs with a diagnosis, but also humans. And what we learn from humans, can also help us in our studies for illnesses in dogs.
~Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP, Veterinary Partner
There also is support for studies in early disease diagnosis and new therapeutic approaches.
Maybe, hopefully, one day there will be a cancer vaccine, or better yet, a CURE, for both humans and canines.
“I will be forever thankful for each and every extra day I get...but we will fight, because there is HOPE!”
~Jan Jasa, Hu-Mom to multiple dogs with HSA and Dog Blogger
What About Prevention?
To register (for free) to view a VetVine more in-depth “Update on Canine Hemangiosarcoma” video, visit HERE.
Hope Springs Eternal
Jan Jasa, a multi-dog parent of Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies and blogger at Angels Khady and Holly’s House, has lost six of her 10 dogs to HSA and one is currently living with it. She has had several success tales to tell, including her wooly Alaskan Malamute, "Suka," (pictured up top) who was diagnosed and had surgery in August of 2022 to remove the left lobe of her liver. After her years of learning about HSA and what did and didn't work for her dogs, Jan put Suka on the same vitamins and supplements Titus was on, plus more that she has discovered through her research. Suka is doing amazing well, and just celebrated her 12th Birthday this month!
"We weren't sure we'd be here a year ago as she was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma that was attached to her liver and the abdominal wall, and she had to have the entire left lobe of her liver removed," explains Jan. "She isn't cancer free, but we are fighting it holistically with lots of different immune boosters, antioxidants, and cancer fighting mushroom supplements. All her check-ups and bloodwork over the past year have been great! We are hopeful we will get much more time with her, but so happy just to have made it this far, and for every day she is still with us."
After Jan had lost three of her dogs to hemangiosarcoma, she conducted her own research on what to watch for. "The biggest clue seemed to be a change in appetite," she notes. "From eating well, to being picky, or just not having much of an appetite at all. So, when her 13-year-old Alaskan Malamute/Siberian Husky "Lena," who had always been one to inhale her food, turned her nose up at her food for a couple of days, I decided I would go with my gut that something was just not right. I decided I would rather spend a bunch of money on tests to find out there was nothing wrong, than to wait it out and be too late. So, I took her to see our internal medicine specialist."
Jan explained, "I didn't want to put her old body through so much trauma, for such a small amount of time. Her quality of life was much more important than putting her through something that 'might' give ME more time."
Jan says she immediately started doing more research on HSA. She found an article in Dogs Naturally titled "The Truth About Hemangiosarcoma" to be especially helpful. You can read that article HERE.
"I came across a small research study that the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine did in 2012 using a Coriolus Vesicolor (Turkey Tail Mushroom) and how it had shown that based on a (certain) dosage... it actually slowed the progression of the cancer. I then found an HSA group on social media that focused on diet, holistic, and homeopathic care for HSA dogs."
Jan also learned "of various different types of Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) that have been used for hundreds, even thousands of years, to treat cancer." Other than mushroom, Jan also discovered what she refers to as "one of the most important supplements called Yunnan Baiyao. It has shown to help stop bleeding, and given on a 'maintenance' or daily dose, has been shown to help prevent bleeds. And, since HSA is a vascular cancer, many dogs can have 'bleeds,' which often leads to their sudden death from internal blood loss. There are many supplements that can help boost the immune system to help fight the cancer, and also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant supplements to help keep the immune system from feeding the cancer cells."
More time is something every dog parent hopes for when they are given a grim diagnosis.
In Jan’s words, “I will be forever thankful for each and every extra day I get..but we will fight, because there is HOPE!”
And that, itself—until there is a cure—is a true success story.
NOTE: Before trying any new medications traditional or holistic, always do your own research, be sure to be on legitimate sites, and have an in-depth disucssion with your dog's veterinarian or vet oncologist. Being pro-active is being your dog's advocate.
Are There Any Early Detection Tests?
Holistic & Integrative Approaches
- Diet (avoiding high-carb foods, ketogentic diets, etc.)
- Reducing exposure to carcinogens
Clinical Studies/Trials Open for Dog Diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma/Cancer
Currently, the nonprofit Ethos Discovery is running a call-out for their Ethos Precision Medicine Umbrella Study for Hemangiosarcoma (Ethos-PUSH).
According to their website, “Ethos-PUSH looks to assess the efficacy of new treatment options for dogs with hemangiosarcoma (HSA).”
“Our trial has already demonstrated that a greater number of dogs (40-50%) with a ruptured splenic tumor end up having a benign diagnosis that is cured with surgery alone.”
What does this study mean for the future of dogs diagnosed with HSA? “The Ethos-PUSH study seeks to deliver a highly advanced program investigating the use of novel drugs for the treatment of hemangiosarcoma (HSA) with the goal of curing this aggressive cancer. Ethos Discovery’s previous work in HSA has taught us that HSA is not a single cancer but is rather at least four different subtypes of cancer, each characterized by a different genomic mutation. Previous studies evaluating drugs for the treatment of HSA have shown variable results, and the discovery of these different subtypes could explain this phenomenon.”
Is your dog eligible for the HSA Study? Ethos Discovery lists the following as their criteria for signing up:
- Any dog diagnosed with a ruptured splenic tumor whose owners are pursuing surgery for splenectomy.
- No evidence of metastasis as determined via chest X-rays and during surgery.
- Dogs weighing more than 5kg and less than 45kg (11 lbs. to less than 99 lbs.).
For more information on how to participate, timeframe, and what this Study is all about, visit Ethos Discovery HERE.
The Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is “is one of the largest, most comprehensive prospective canine health studies in the United States. The Study’s purpose is to identify the nutritional, environmental, lifestyle and genetic risk factors for cancer and other diseases in dogs,” according to the website. “The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study’s success depends on highly committed golden retriever owners. Each owner: 1) Participates in the study for the life of the dog; 2) Completes an annual online questionnaire regarding their dog’s nutrition, lifestyle, and environment; 3) Takes their dog to its veterinarian for annual examinations and sample collections (blood, urine, feces, hair and toenail clippings); and 4) Allows collection of tumor samples for evaluation, when applicable.
Colorado State University’s The Vaccination Against Canine Cancer Study (VACCS Trial) states that this “will be the largest clinical trial conducted to date for canine cancer.” They go on to explain that the VACCS Trial’s goal “Is to evaluate a new vaccine strategy for the prevention, rather than treatment of dogs with cancer. Healthy dogs meeting the qualifications below will be randomized to receive either a series of vaccines similar to other routine vaccines that are given to dogs currently, or placebo vaccines. Dogs will live at home and be checked two times yearly until May 2024. In addition to potentially providing a new strategy for cancer prevention in dogs, if successful, this study could provide important justification for eventually looking at a similar approach in humans.”
Here is Colorado State University’s eligibility list for the VACCS Trial Study:
- Owners must live within 150 miles of one of the participating trial sites: -Colorado State University | Fort Collins, Colorado; - University of California – Davis | Davis, California; - University of Wisconsin – Madison | Madison, Wisconsin.
- Dog be between 5.5 and 11.5 years of age
- Weigh at least 12 pounds (5 kg)
- No history of previous cancer
- No significant other illness that could result in a life span of less than 5 years
- No history of previous autoimmune disease
- No current treatment with oral or injectable immunosuppressive medications
- Only breeds listed below are eligible:
Mixed breed (includes Doodles, Puggles, etc.), Afghan Hound, Airedale Terrier, Alaskan Malamute, Basset Hound, Beagle, Bernese Mountain Dog, Borzoi, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Briard, Bullmastiff, Cocker Spaniel, Corgi, Deerhound, English Setter, Field Spaniel, Flat-Coated Retriever, French Bulldog, German Shepherd, German Shorthaired Pointer, Giant Schnauzer, Golden Retriever, Gordon Setter, Great Pyrenees, Irish Setter, Irish Water Spaniel, Irish Wolfhound, Italian Spinone, Keeshond, Labrador Retriever, Leonberger, Newfoundland, Norwegian Elkhound, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Old English Eheepdog, Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Saluki, Scottish Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Siberian Husky, Springer Spaniel, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Standard Poodle, Tibetan Terrier, Viszla, Welsh Terrier, West Highland White Terrier.
To find out more about the VACCS Trial, and to register, visit HERE.
The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine is currently holding an open enrollment for their University of Florida Vaccine Study for Dogs with Splenic Hemangiosarcoma. Their criteria for enrollment are as follows:
They go on to state that “Treatment” means that: “Your dog will have the vaccine in addition to standard of care therapy. The vaccine will be given over six visits approximately three weeks apart in addition to six chemotherapy visits. If appropriate, your dog will also receive boosters every six months. The chemotherapy visits will be scheduled two weeks prior to each vaccine visit. At each visit, blood will also be drawn to measure the immune response for study purposes.”
Candidates must complete a Study Interest Form to see if your dog qualifies, and also have your referring veterinarian complete the required Oncology Referral Form. For these forms and full information on the Study, visit HERE.
The University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine is currently holding an open trial for their Compassionate Use of Recombinant Bispecific Angiotoxin Simultaneously Targeting EGFR and uPAR (eBAT Compassionate Care). According to their website, this study is because, “Hemangiosarcoma is a type of sarcoma that is difficult to treat because of its aggressive behavior and rapid progression after diagnosis. We have shown that a novel EGF bispecific ligand targeted angiotoxin (eBAT) is safe in dogs and that it can kill hemangiosarcoma cells in the laboratory. We have treated 50 pet dogs with eBAT. The results from our previous trials show that eBAT doubled 6-month survival of dogs with hemangiosarcoma, from 38% to 77%, and more than doubled the expected 1-year survival, from about 15% to about 40%. Results of this study will provide information to develop a therapy for both dogs and humans with this incurable disease.”
Dogs must be screened at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center (VMC) prior to enrollment, and eBAT treatment will also take place at the VMC.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Baker Institute for Animal Health Hemangiosarcoma Research Project states “Splenic hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive vascular tumor that is often called a “silent killer” because dog owners usually do not realize that there is a problem until the tumor has ruptured internally and spread. There is an urgent need to develop new, more effective evidence-based diagnostic tools and therapies in order to catch this tumor at an earlier stage and provide better treatment options.” The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. (CHF) had awarded a grant to Scott Coonrod, PhD, supporting his project, “Genome-wide molecular interrogation of canine HSA.”
Dr. Coonrod, a Judy Wilpon Professor of Cancer Biology and the Director for the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, focuses his research attention in the Coonrod Lab on “cancer, the out-of-control growth of cells that claims millions of animal and human lives every year and seeks “smarter treatments for a canine cancer.” In collaboration with his team at his lab, Dr. Coonrod “is working to find targeted treatments for hemangiosarcoma, a common and often untreatable form of cancer in dogs. Using new sequencing technologies… Coonrod’s team is identifying the genes that make these tumors tick, then they aim to test drugs specifically intended to target the pathways that those genes control.” To read more about this, visit Dr. Coonrod’s Lab HERE.
Dr. Coonrod also contributed to the article, “Chromatin run-on sequencing analysis finds that ECM remodeling plays an important role in canine hemangiosarcoma pathogenesis” in BMC Veterinary Research to “keeps scientist on track to diagnosing and treating ‘silent killer’ in canines.”
This project would not have been possible without a great team of dedicated scientists from the Baker Institute, CUHA, Tohoku University in Japan and the generous support of Baker Institute donors.
For more info, please visit Cornell’s The Baker Institute for Animal Health HERE.