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Hemangiosarcoma in German Shepherds: A Deadly Canine Cancer

German Shepherd Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is a common and deadly cancer in German Shepherds accounting for approximately 5% – 7% of cases. This highly malignant tumor originates from the cells lining blood vessels, and its ability to rapidly spread throughout the body makes it particularly challenging to diagnose and treat.

So, in this article, we will shed light on the symptoms, causes, and diagnostic tests associated with hemangiosarcoma so that GSD owners can provide the best care for their beloved pets.

What is Hemangiosarcoma in German Shepherds

Hemangiosarcoma is a malignant tumor that originates from cells lining blood vessels. It can occur in various organs, including the spleen, liver, heart, and skin. This aggressive cancer most affects middle-aged and older dogs and is often diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment options are limited.

Hemangiosarcoma typically originates in the German Shepherd’s bone marrow and quickly spreads throughout the body. The heart and spleen are the most common sites where this tumor is detected initially.

The inclination towards affecting the heart and spleen is what makes these tumors exceptionally lethal.

Hemangiosarcoma is known as a “silent killer” because dogs often show no symptoms until the tumor has grown so large that it ruptures and spreads—too late to save the dog’s life.

When the tumor ruptures suddenly, it leads to severe blood loss, into body cavities like the chest or abdomen.

This puts owners and veterinarians in the challenging position of having to make difficult decisions within minutes of diagnosis.

RELATED: German Shepherd Cancer Symptoms & Types

Are German Shepherds More Susceptible to Hemangisarcoma?

Yes, certain dog breeds, including German Shepherds, have been reported to be more susceptible to hemangiosarcoma compared to other breeds. While hemangiosarcoma can occur in dogs of any breed, it appears to have a higher incidence in large or deep-chested breeds.

Hemangiosarcoma mostly affects the following breeds:

  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Boxers
  • Pit Bulls
  • Portuguese water dogs
  • Dogs with thin hair coats that are exposed to the sun for too long.

The reasons for the breed predisposition to hemangiosarcoma are not fully understood. Genetic factors are believed to play a role, and certain breeds may have a genetic predisposition to the development of this cancer.

Additionally, the size and conformation of certain breeds, particularly those with deep chests, may contribute to an increased risk, possibly due to the way blood vessels are arranged in the body.


Spleen hemangiosarcoma in German Shepherds

Types of Hemangiosarcomas in German Shepherds

Hemangiosarcoma can affect various organs in the body, but some types are more common in dogs. The three most prevalent types of hemangiosarcoma in dogs typically involve the spleen, heart & skin:

Splenic Hemangiosarcoma

This is the most common type of hemangiosarcoma in German Shepherds. The tumor originates in the blood vessels of the spleen and is often asymptomatic until it reaches an advanced stage.

It is often seen in combination with liver and cardiac hemangiosarcoma.

German Shepherds with splenic hemangiosarcoma may show signs of weakness, lethargy, and abdominal distension. Sudden collapse may occur if the tumor ruptures, leading to internal bleeding.

Cardiac Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma can develop in the heart, affecting the heart’s muscular walls (myocardium) or the sac surrounding the heart (pericardium). This type of hemangiosarcoma is less common than the splenic form.

Clinical signs may include coughing, difficulty breathing, and exercise intolerance. Cardiac hemangiosarcoma is often challenging to diagnose and treat due to the vital nature of the organ.

Cutaneous & Skin Hemangiosarcoma

This type of hemangiosarcoma affects the deeper layers of the skin and subcutaneous tissues.

Skin tumors caused by hemangiosarcoma often appear as lumps or ulcers that do not heal properly.

Hemangiosarcoma of the skin and subcutaneous tissues is more commonly found in certain breeds, such as German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers.

In addition to these internal organ tumors, hemangiosarcoma can also affect a German Shepherd’s lungs, bones, kidneys, brain, oral cavity, abdomen, and muscles.

If you suspect that your dog may have any type of hemangiosarcoma, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment options. Remember, timely medical attention can make a significant difference in your dog’s health and well-being.

symptoms of hemangiosarcoma in German Shepherds

Symptoms of Hemangiosarcoma in German Shepherds

Hemangiosarcoma is a type of cancer that can affect various organs in dogs, including the heart, spleen, liver, and skin. The symptoms experienced by dogs with hemangiosarcoma can vary depending on which organ is affected.

Splenic Hemangiosarcoma Symptoms

Lethargy. German Shepherds affected by hemangiosarcoma in their spleen may appear tired and lack energy.

Weakness is another symptom that may be observed, as the cancer can cause a decrease in red blood cells leading to anemia.

Pale gums are also frequently seen in dogs with hemangiosarcoma. This occurs because the tumor causes blood loss, resulting in decreased oxygenation and circulation throughout the body. As a result, the gums may appear pale or even white.

Abdominal distension is another symptom that can occur when hemangiosarcoma affects organs such as the spleen or liver. The tumor growth can cause swelling and enlargement of these organs, leading to a visibly distended abdomen.

Cardiac Hemangiosarcoma Symptoms

When hemangiosarcoma affects the heart (cardiac hemangiosarcoma), additional symptoms may manifest.

Dogs with cardiac hemangiosarcoma may experience coughing due to fluid accumulation around the heart or difficulty breathing due to impaired heart function.

In severe cases, cardiac hemangiosarcoma can lead to collapse/sudden death or fainting episodes. These symptoms occur because the tumor affects the normal functioning of the heart and impairs its ability to pump blood effectively.

Other symptoms may include difficulty in breathing, exercise intolerance, and vomiting.

Skin Hemangiosarcoma Symptoms

Skin tumors caused by hemangiosarcoma often appear as lumps or ulcers that do not heal properly.

These tumors may bleed easily and tend to grow rapidly.

Other symptoms of skin hemangiosarcoma may include lethargy, lameness, loss of appetite, and weakness.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can be indicative of various health issues, and the presence of one or more of these signs does not necessarily confirm hemangiosarcoma.

Since early detection is challenging, especially given the aggressive nature of this cancer, German Shepherd owners must seek veterinary attention promptly if they notice any unusual or concerning changes in their dog’s behavior, activity levels, or overall health.


Diagnosing Hemangiosarcoma in German Shepherd

Diagnosing hemangiosarcoma in dogs requires a comprehensive approach that combines various veterinary techniques. Veterinarians employ a combination of physical examination, blood tests, imaging, and tissue biopsy to accurately diagnose this aggressive cancer.

Physical examination

During the physical examination, veterinarians carefully assess the dog for any signs or symptoms that may indicate hemangiosarcoma.

They examine the dog’s overall health, check for abnormalities such as enlarged organs or masses, and evaluate other potential indicators of the disease.

Blood tests

Blood tests play a crucial role in diagnosing hemangiosarcoma by providing valuable insights into the dog’s overall health and detecting any abnormalities.

These tests may include complete blood count (CBC), which evaluates red and white blood cell counts and platelet levels; serum chemistry panel to assess organ function; coagulation profile to check for abnormal clotting tendencies; and tumor markers like von Willebrand factor antigen (vWF-Ag) levels.

Abnormalities detected through blood tests can help guide further diagnostic investigations.

Imaging techniques

Imaging techniques such as X-rays and ultrasound are commonly used to evaluate dogs suspected of having hemangiosarcoma.

X-rays can reveal changes in organ size or shape that may indicate the presence of tumors or metastasis.

Ultrasound provides detailed images of internal organs, allowing veterinarians to visualize masses or abnormalities within tissues more clearly.

These imaging modalities assist in determining if there are suspicious lesions consistent with hemangiosarcoma.

Tissue biopsy

This procedure involves obtaining a small sample of the suspicious mass or organ and examining it under a microscope. Fine needle aspirates or cytology may be used to collect cells from masses, while surgical biopsies are necessary for deeper tissues or organs.

The biopsy allows veterinary pathologists to analyze the cellular characteristics and determine if they are consistent with hemangiosarcoma.

German Shepherd Hemangiosarcoma: Treatment

The treatment plan will depend on various factors, including the size and location of the tumor, as well as the overall health of the dog.

Let’s explore some common treatment options for hemangiosarcoma in dogs.

Surgical Removal of the Tumor

If possible, veterinarians will attempt to remove the tumor completely. This procedure may involve removing not only the visible tumor but also a margin of healthy tissue surrounding it.

By doing so, they aim to eliminate as many cancer cells as possible and reduce the risk of recurrence.

Chemotherapy to Target Remaining Cancer Cells

Even after surgical removal of the tumor, there may still be microscopic cancer cells left behind. To target these remaining cells and prevent metastasis (the spread of cancer), chemotherapy is commonly recommended.

Chemotherapy involves using drugs that kill or inhibit the growth of cancer cells throughout the body. It can help improve survival rates and prolong a dog’s quality of life.

Additional Therapies: Radiation Therapy and Immunotherapy

In certain cases, additional therapies may be considered to complement surgery and chemotherapy for hemangiosarcoma in German Shepherds.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation beams to target and destroy cancer cells. It can be particularly beneficial when tumors cannot be surgically removed entirely or when there is a high risk of local recurrence.

Radiation therapy can help shrink tumors, alleviate pain, and improve the overall quality of life for your German Shepherd.

Immunotherapy is another emerging treatment option that aims to harness the power of the dog’s immune system to fight cancer. It involves using substances or medications to stimulate and enhance the immune response against cancer cells.

While still being researched, immunotherapy shows promise in improving outcomes for dogs with various types of cancer, including hemangiosarcoma.

Survival Rates of German Shepherds with Hemangiosarcoma

German Shepherds with splenic hemangiosarcoma usually have a poor prognosis, especially if they don’t undergo surgery or only have their spleen removed without chemotherapy.

In these cases, their expected lifespan is usually between 2 weeks and 3 months after being diagnosed. However, if the dog is eligible for spleen removal surgery and receives chemotherapy, their survival time increases to approximately 9 months.

Unfortunately, less than 10% of dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma will still be alive one year after being diagnosed.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for cardiac hemangiosarcoma either, and the prognosis is not good. Dogs with cardiac hemangiosarcoma receive palliative care to improve their comfort and overall quality of life.

If they undergo chemotherapy, some dogs may live for up to 4 months, while those who do not receive treatment may only survive for a few days to 2 weeks.

Cutaneous or skin hemangiosarcoma has a better prognosis, depending on the size and duration of the tumor.

If hemangiosarcoma is caused by exposure to UV rays, it rarely spreads to other parts of the body, and dogs can live for many years after surgical removal of the tumor.


As a dog owner, it is important to stay informed about hemangiosarcoma in German Shepherds and to work closely with your veterinarian to provide the best care for your furry friend.

Regular check-ups and screenings can help detect any potential signs of this disease at an early stage. Supporting ongoing research efforts in canine oncology can contribute to advancements in treatment options and ultimately save more lives. Remember, you are not alone in this journey – there are support networks available to help you cope with the emotional challenges that come with a hemangiosarcoma diagnosis.

German Shepherd Hemangiosarcoma FAQs

1. What are the signs a dog is dying of hemangiosarcoma?

Signs that a dog with hemangiosarcoma may be nearing the end of life include severe weakness, collapse, labored breathing, and pale gums, often indicating internal bleeding. Sudden deterioration can occur due to the aggressive nature of the disease.

2. How long do dogs live with hemangiosarcoma?

The prognosis for dogs with hemangiosarcoma is often guarded, with survival times averaging a few weeks to months. The prognosis depends on factors such as the stage at diagnosis, the success of treatment, and whether the tumor has spread to other organs.

3. What is the average age of a dog when hemangiosarcoma is detected?

Hemangiosarcoma can affect dogs of various ages, but it is more commonly diagnosed in older dogs, typically between 8 and 13 years. However, it can occur in younger dogs as well.

4. Can a dog live with hemangiosarcoma?

While treatment options exist, including surgery and chemotherapy, hemangiosarcoma is often challenging to manage, and the prognosis is generally poor. Some dogs may respond well to treatment, but the aggressive nature of the cancer makes long-term survival less likely.


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