Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is a cancer that only dogs can get. And it’s a scary diagnosis. But there are some natural treatment options for hemangiosarcoma in dogs … and things you can do to give your dog more time with you.
What Is HSA In Dogs?
Hemangiosarcoma, also called HSA, is more common in larger breeds as they age. It’s a cancer of the blood vessel lining (vascular endothelium). Because your dog has blood vessels everywhere, it can spread fast. You’ll also hear it called angiosarcoma or malignant hemangioendothelioma. Hemangiosarcoma accounts for 5-7% of all tumors in dogs.
There are three types of HSA:
- Visceral – affects internal organs, especially spleen, heart (right atrium), liver
- Dermal or cutaneous – found on the skin, often where fur has thinned
- Hypodermal – in the layer of tissue under the skin (subcutis)
Hemangiosarcoma often starts where there’s a lot of blood supply … like the spleen or heart. It’s no surprise that 66% of spleen cancers and 40% of heart cancers are HSA. The spleen filters red blood cells … so you’ll often see this spleen cancer in dogs.
One problem with HSA is that there usually aren’t any warning signs. It starts out slow and there’s usually no pain, so it’s difficult to detect. But it’s a very aggressive cancer. In half the cases, by the time HSA is diagnosed, it’s already spread. And it can quickly metastasize … to the lungs, abdominal lymph nodes, brain, bone and muscle …
Hypodermal and visceral HSA are the most aggressive and invasive types. Dermal HSA is treatable if it hasn’t spread. But it can also metastasize internally. When the disease progresses, tumors can grow and rupture. This is often the first sign of HSA … severe bleeding, collapse, shock and death.
So let’s start by looking at a natural approach to managing hemangiosarcoma … and cancers in general.
Why Use Natural Options For HSA?
In a talk about cancer at the Dogs Naturally Natural Canine Health Symposium in 2016, Dr Ian Billinghurst reminded the audience that cancer treatments … for humans as well as companion animals … have progressed very little. There are some new immunotherapies … but most remissions last only a few months. And there are no drugs that treat metastatic cancer.
In a cancer like HSA, if the cancer metastasizes, you can’t just cut it out. Dr Billinghurst’s approach is to strengthen the body with nutrition. He finds this can increase survival times as well as improve quality of life.
“Instead of weakening the body … the far more rational (and scientific) approach is to strengthen the body. To give it the nutritional tools that allow it to fight the cancer. At the same time, I use nutritional means that weaken and take the power away from the cancer.”
Can You Buy More Time With Your Dog?
Here are some natural approaches to consider for your dog. Some of these choices may help prolong your dog’s life … or at least, your dog’s quality of life. Even if you opt for conventional treatment … it’s a good idea to support your dog with some good nutrition and alternative therapies.
Choose The Right Practitioner
You’ll need to find a skilled homeopath, herbalist or holistic vet who’s experienced with cancer patients. Look for a practitioner who’s already had results with other dogs. You’ll want to find professionals who can guide your choices for the best food and supplements … plus herbal or homeopathic therapies that may be helpful.
Here are some things that can help support your dog.
Refuse Future Vaccinations
Don’t allow a sick dog to be vaccinated. Vaccines do long-term damage and disrupt the immune system. No dog owner (or vet!) should ever vaccinate a dog with cancer.
Feed A Whole Food Diet
“Food is medicine” has never been more true than now. The #1 food rule is: don’t feed kibble or any starchy foods! Your dog needs a whole food diet without starches or sugars to support his body and immune system. Dr Ian Billinghurst explains how sugar feeds cancer.
- Starch in the diet converts to sugar.
- High blood sugar produces high insulin. This hormone turns on cell reproduction and cell growth … including cancer cell growth.
- Sugar increases inflammation.
- Sugar leads to excess calories.
When you remove sugar from the diet, you starve the cancer cells. Ask your holistic vet to help you with diet. Many suggest ketogenic diets for cancer patients … but be sure to get expert advice to formulate the right diet for your dog.
Follow these general guidelines:
- Eliminate kibble and starchy foods
- Feed fresh, whole foods, preferably raw meat-based
- If possible, feed grass-fed meats
- Include organ meats for nutrient density
- Buy organic to avoid adding additional toxins to your dog
- Choose colorful, low glycemic vegetables (steamed or pureed for digestibility)
- Give antioxidants (especially berries)
- Feed greens, especially broccoli sprouts which have anti-cancer properties
- Include omega-3 fatty acids
- Add whole food supplements to boost nutrition and your dog’s immune system
Give Mushrooms For Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs
Medicinal mushrooms are the best natural food additions for a dog with hemangiosarcoma. And research shows turkey tail mushrooms are especially potent.
Turkey Tail Mushrooms (Coriolus versicolor or Trametes versicolor)
Turkey tail mushroom has been shown to fight hemangiosarcoma in dogs. Research shows turkey tail can extend … even double your dog’s survival time with hemangiosarcoma.
A 2012 study at University of Pennsylvania treated hemangiosarcoma dogs with I’M-Yunity … an extract of polysaccharopeptide (PSP) from turkey tail mushrooms (1). There were 15 dogs in the trial. Each group of 5 dogs got different doses: 25, 50 or 100 mg per kilo per day.
The results surprised the researchers. Previously, the longest median survival time for spleen HSA with no further treatment was 86 days. But with just the PSP treatment, some dogs lived longer than a year ….without any other treatments. The median survival time in the 100 mg group was the highest … at 199 days … more than double the previous report of 86 days!
The researchers also noted that it was longer than the median survival time for dogs getting doxorubicin chemotherapy … which is 141 to 179 days. Plus there were no side effects or huge expense.
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Other Medicinal Mushrooms
Mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans. Beta-glucans have many benefits … including supporting the immune system.
Be sure to buy an organic product made from whole mushrooms to get the highest level of beta-glucans. Many mushroom supplements are made from mycelium, which is only the root part of the mushroom. Mycelium is grown on grains, which means mycelium products are lower in beta-glucans and higher in starch than whole mushrooms.
If you buy a mushroom blend for dogs, follow the dosing directions on the label. If it’s made for humans, assume the dose is for a 150 lb person and adjust for your dog’s weight.
Yunnan Baiyo is a popular herbal formula in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) … and TCM for humans too. It’s a proprietary formula patented by the Chinese government … so there’s no information available about what’s in it. But it's been used successfully by Chinese medicine practitioners for years.
Yunnan Baiyao is well-known to stop bleeding as it improves platelets and clotting. So it can stop bleeding from external wounds as well as internal hemorrhaging. That’s what makes it effective in helping dogs with hemangiosarcoma.
Yunnan Baiyao may also slow the growth of an HSA tumor (2). There’s research being done to study its potential in killing HSA cells. Yunnan Baiyao may also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Make sure your holistic vet knows the proper dosing for Yunnan Baiyao as it needs to be tailored to your dog. TCVM vets will have the most experience with this supplement
Homeopathic remedies from a good veterinary homeopath can help your dog with HSA. Dr Charles Loops, a homeopathic vet who specializes in cancer patients, has a lot of experience treating dogs with HSA. He finds that homeopathy can equal or exceed chemotherapy survival times. It’s a gentle treatment that maintains your dog’s quality of life, without side effects.
Dr Loops has found that 12 to 15% of his HSA cases survive longer than a year. Some haven’t had relapses. Homeopaths like Dr Loops will determine an individual treatment for each HSA dog. And he may alternate a number of different remedies as part of his treatment plan.…
What Breeds Are At Risk For Hemangiosarcoma?
HSA is more common in older, larger dogs, usually at 9 to 12 years. These breeds are most susceptible to subcutaneous and visceral tumors:
- Golden Retrievers (risk is 1 in 5)
- German Shepherds
- Labrador Retrievers
- English Setters
- Flat-Coated Retrievers
- Portuguese Water Dogs
- Skye Terriers
HSA of the skin (dermal) is more common in breeds with light skin and thin coats. Sun exposure may also be a factor. Dalmatians, Basset Hounds, Whippets, Pit Bulls and Boxers are breeds more prone to dermal HSA.
Other Risk Factors For Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs
Here are some factors that may increase HSA risk.
The Swiss Cancer Registry reviewed 121,000 dog cancer cases from 1955 to 2008 (3). They looked at 1,904 dogs with hemangioma and HSA and found the risk was lower for female dogs.
The Swiss study also found a higher risk of tumors near the genitals in neutered vs intact dogs. Other studies looked at the effect of spay/neuter on HSA risk.
One study looked at 2,505 Vizslas born between 1992 and 2008 … and found females spayed at 12 months or under were at 9 times greater risk of developing HSA than intact dogs (4). The risk was also higher in males and females neutered after 12 months of age.
Another study found the risk of cardiac HSA was 5 times higher in spayed female dogs ((5, 6). The risk was slightly higher in neutered males. Another study found spayed females had 2.2 times greater risk for spleen HSA than intact females (7).
There was a November 2020 study that reviewed 5,736 dogs with HSA from 1964 to 2003 (8). Researchers concluded that neutering increases the risk of splenic HSA and HSA in general ... but not cardiac HSA.
Symptoms of Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs
As mentioned earlier, dogs often don’t show symptoms of HSA. But you might see some subtle early signs like:
- Weight loss
- Low energy
- Reduced appetite
- Vomiting or diarrhea
If these symptoms continue for more than a day or 2, talk to your vet.
Severe Signs Of HSA
Dr Charles Loops, a homeopathic vet mentioned earlier, specializes in cancer cases. The most common symptoms of HSA he sees are due to anemia from bleeding in the abdominal cavity. They will show as:
- Weakness or fainting
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased panting
- Difficulty breathing
- Pale mucous membranes/gums
- Distended belly
Sometimes the anemia can seem temporary as the tumor bleeds and the body reabsorbs the blood. Your dog may have some days of weakness and then seem better. But if it’s HSA, the episodes will likely repeat.
You might see other serious signs:
- Lack of coordination
- Partial paralysis
So you need to get your dog to your vet if you see any of these signs.
Dermal HSA can appear in areas with little or no fur. You might also see black or reddish growths on the skin around the abdomen, back legs and prepuce.
Diagnosis Of Hemangiosarcoma
The best chance to fight HSA is to get your dog to a vet and find it before bleeding has started. Even during a regular exam, your vet might discover HSA. These blood tumors can metastasize quickly … even with early diagnosis.
In a hands-on exam your vet can palpate your dog’s abdomen and feel for an enlarged spleen. She might find a fluid “wave” that moves within the belly and can indicate internal bleeding.
Diagnostic blood work will likely include complete blood count, chemistry panel, urinalysis and a clotting profile. Tests to rule out other diseases may include …
- Screening for tick-borne or infectious disease
- Fecal test for intestinal parasites
- Electrolyte test for dehydration and electrolyte levels
- Urine test for urinary tract infection and to assess kidney function
- Thyroid test
Possible Spleen HSA
If your vet suspects splenic HSA, she’ll do abdominal x-rays and an ultrasound, which can show masses, metastatic lesions and abdominal fluid. She may aspirate abdominal fluid to see if it’s blood.
New Diagnostic Tool For Splenic Tumors
There’s now a tool to help vets identify malignant vs benign masses that look like hemangiosarcoma. This used to involve guesswork and could lead to unnecessary euthanasia decisions if a dog had a benign mass incorrectly diagnosed as malignant. This online calculator is the Tufts Splenic Tumor Assessment Tool (T-STAT). The calculator doesn’t give a definitive diagnosis, but offers better accuracy.
Suspected Heart HSA
Diagnosing heart HSA is done with an echocardiogram – ultrasound of the heart. If it shows fluid around the heart, your vet may recommend aspiration …
- If fluid is removed from the pericardial sac, it will relieve symptoms and stabilize your dog.
- The aspirate can diagnose lymphoma, a more treatable cancer.
- Some oncologists believe the pH of the sample can assess the presence of cancer.
- It may show elevated levels of cardiac troponin I, a marker for HSA.
How To Assess The Spread Of HSA
Next will be a round of x-rays and ultrasounds of other organs. This will show if there’s been spread of the HSA tumor. Be aware that most cases of HSA have already spread at diagnosis. Some vets may also recommend a whole body CT (computed tomographic) scan … especially if your dog is lame.
A VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) test will also assess how much HSA has spread. By determining spread, your medical team can stage the cancer and determine treatment possibilities.
What Is The Life Expectancy Of A Dog With Hemangiosarcoma?
The outlook for HSA is usually poor. Even with treatment, only 10% of dogs will survive a year with conventional treatment. It’s possible that the natural options described earlier may extend your dog’s survival time … and there are several anecdotal accounts of successful natural therapies.
Skin tumors are not quite as deadly, with survival times ranging from 6 to 26 months depending on the stage at diagnosis.
One study of dogs who had aggressive surgery plus chemotherapy with doxorubicin, with or without radiation, had median survival times of 4 years.
Conventional Treatment Of Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs
For all types of HSA, most practitioners will recommend surgery. Even Dr Charles Loops (again, a homeopathic vet) says that a splenectomy can allow dogs to return to a fairly normal life. Homeopathy can improve and prolong quality of life in these patients.
Conventional oncologists will likely recommend surgery followed by chemotherapy. But cancer is a systemic disease, so surgically removing a tumor isn’t always the best solution. Whatever type of HSA your dog has, always ask about all the options … and get a second opinion. HSA is heavily researched and many new treatments are being studied.
One major drawback of conventional treatments is the cost. Treatments that involve surgery plus chemo or radiation can cost $5,000 to $10,000.
Whatever treatment you choose, you can always do your best to provide your dog with a healthy lifestyle.
How To Prevent Hemangiosarcoma In Dogs
The cause of hemangiosarcoma in dogs isn’t known so it’s really hard to know how to prevent it. But here are a few things you can do:
- Avoid a lot of sun exposure if you have a light skinned or thin coated dog susceptible to skin HSA
- Feed the best whole food diet you can, with no starchy carbohydrates
- Give immune supporting supplements
- Give your dog chemical-free water (filtered or spring water)
- Avoid or minimize vaccinations
- Avoid antibiotics or other drugs and use natural remedies instead
- Don’t use chemicals in your home or yard
- Don’t spay or neuter your dog
Above all, be meticulous in managing your dog’s health.
Hemangiosarcoma has very few proven treatment options … and the only good news about hemangiosarcoma in dogs is that it’s not often painful. The natural options described here may help keep your dog with you longer … while still allowing him to enjoy his quality of life.
1. Dorothy Cimino Brown, Jennifer Reetz. Single Agent Polysaccharopeptide Delays Metastases and Improves Survival in Naturally Occurring Hemangiosarcoma. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012: 384301.
2. KA Wirth et al. In vitro effects of Yunnan Baiyao on canine hemangiosarcoma cell lines. Veterinary and Comparative Oncology, Vol 14, Issue 3, Sept 2016 (First published 29 June 2014).
3. Grüntzig K, et al. Swiss Canine Cancer Registry 1955-2008: Occurrence of the Most Common Tumour Diagnoses and Influence of Age, Breed, Body Size, Sex and Neutering Status on Tumour Development. J Comp Pathol. 2016 Aug-Oct;155(2-3):156-170.
4. Zink MC et al. Evaluation of the risk and age of onset of cancer and behavioral disorders in gonadectomized Vizslas. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2014 Feb 1;244(3):309-19.
5. Ware WA, Hopper DL. Cardiac tumors in dogs: 1982-1995. J Vet Intern Med. 1999 Mar-Apr;13(2):95-103.
6. Dr Joanne Intile DVM MS, DACVIM (Oncology), CVJ (Certified Veterinary Journalist). The Role Of Neutering In Cancer Development.
7. Prymak C, McKee LJ, Goldschmidt MH, Glickman LT. Epidemiologic, clinical, pathologic, and prognostic characteristics of splenic hemangiosarcoma and splenic hematoma in dogs: 217 cases (1985). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1988 Sep 15;193(6):706-12.
8. Robinson KL et al. Neutering is associated with developing hemangiosarcoma in dogs in the Veterinary Medical Database: An age and time-period matched case-control study (1964-2003). Can Vet J. 2020 May;61(5):499-504.
Carloni, A, Terragni, R, Morselli-Labate, AM, et al. Prevalence, distribution, and clinical characteristics of hemangiosarcoma-associated skeletal muscle metastases in 61 dogs: A whole body computed tomographic study. J Vet Intern Med. 2019; 33: 812– 819.
Chaikin P, Welihozkiy A. Hemangiosarcoma in a Dog: Unusual Presentation and Increased Survival Using a Complementary/Holistic Approach Combined with Metronomic Chemotherapy. Case Rep Vet Med. 2018 Feb 5;2018:6160980.