Saturday, my sweet dog Ike died of hemangiosarcoma. Tragically, we had no idea he was seriously ill.

In fact, he’d had his senior exam not long before this. We were constantly alert to Ike’s daily health, and probably nothing would have changed the sad outcome. I’m sharing these details in the hopes it may help someone else…although sadly, there is very little that can be done to prevent or treat it. At the end I will list a few suggestions.

Ike’s symptoms (*this may not be the way it is for all dogs):
1. Ike was 10 years old. Over the last several months he seemed excessively tired at night, preferring to remain on his pillow in the living room rather than climb the stairs to join us. We’d mentioned it to our vet who surmised multiple possibilities for this. Maybe it was joint pain. We even considered that he wanted to be downstairs to stay with our other dog, who had started sleeping downstairs as well. Maybe it was just part of aging. Looking back, it was the cancer we didn’t know was in his body, making him so tired.

2. One day a couple weeks ago, Ike had diarrhea with a little blood in it. You never like to see blood in the stools. In the past, I’ve taken my dogs to the vet the moment I see this, and almost always it has turned out to be something benign that improves in a few days. We decided to bring him to the vet the next day…but the next day the stools seemed okay so we figured it was nothing serious.

3. Over the course of a few weeks, Ike vomited twice. Maybe he ate too fast. Once was in the car. Maybe he ate too close to riding and the motion made him sick. He had a sensitive stomach. I wasn’t overly worried.

4. A few times, Ike refused his breakfast. Once we had started mixing in a new food. Maybe he didn’t like the food. And he always readily ate treats, and ate fine by dinner time.

5. This up and down pattern of feeling off and then feeling better, eating then not eating, gave us a false sense that he was getting better. Looking at his overall trend, however, we had decided that he should be checked out soon to find out what was going on.

6. Saturday he came upstairs to wake us up, as had been his pattern. He then trotted downstairs and we let him outside and he seemed fine. When he came inside, he refused his food. I called the vet and made an appointment.

Moments later–and I mean just moments–he was lying on the front porch, very still. I got his leash and asked him if he wanted to go for a walk–something that usually elicits elation–and nothing. He didn’t respond at all. Immediately, we rushed him to the emergency vet.

There, in a very short time, the doctors did bloodwork, xrays and ultrasounds and gave us the diagnosis– hemangiosarcoma. A tumor on his spleen. And blood in his stomach. It had ruptured. The vet was very, very clear. Ike was in bad shape. Surgery to remove the spleen could be done, and was the only way to tell for sure if the tumor was benign or malignant. But of all the cases she’s seen that presented themselves like Ike’s, and had ruptured like Ike’s, they were almost always malignant. And if she removed the spleen, the cancer came back in a very short time. One time it was only 10 days. Other times it was a couple weeks to two months. Even with chemotherapy after surgery, the prognosis was poor. And the surgery would be around $5000. I don’t have $5000, but I would have done it. I would have, for Ike. We asked the vet if there was any chance it was benign. She said no. Given that there was really no hope, we had no choice but to do the one very difficult almost impossible thing that we were totally unprepared to do. I won’t go into details about that, and many of you know from your own experiences how devastating it is to go through. We held him, loved him, cuddled him, told him he was a good boy, kissed him and said goodbye, run free, see you at the bridge.

Here are some facts ***not intended to substitute for your veterinarian’s opinion***
1. Not all masses on the spleen are cancerous.
2. Hemangiosarcoma is very invasive and there may be no clinical signs until the dog suddenly dies.
3. Golden retrievers, along with other breeds such as German shepherds, Boxers, English setters, Labrador retrievers are more likely to get hemangiosarcoma.
4. The up and down symptoms we observed are due to the fact that the mass is bleeding, and then the dog recovers temporarily as new blood cells are made.
5. Symptoms include:
slight lethargy
loss of appetite
nose bleeds
mild anemia

6. Upon rupture, symptoms include:
pale tongue and gums
rapid heart rate

7. Treatment options include:
blood transfusion
but prognosis is poor and life expectancy even with treatment is about 3 months.

8. Prevention includes:
Breeds that are predisposed to this may benefit from yearly ultrasounds.
The vet may routinely palpate the abdomen to check for masses.
Routine bloodwork in predisposed breeds may help identify possibility of tumor.