Tuesday, July 10, 2018

When Symptoms Are Not What They Seem: Molly's Hemangiosarcoma

This is not the first time I am sharing a hemangiosarcoma story. And I fear not the last either. Here is one thing I've learned - you won't see it coming, except you will. If your dog's arthritis seems to start acting up, especially if you have one of the susceptible breeds, get an abdominal exam and ultrasound.

Dog Conditions: Real-Life Stories - When Symptoms Are Not What They Seem: Molly's Hemangiosarcoma

"Some dog breeds are more disposed to this type of tumor, including German Shepherds, boxers, Great Danes, English Setters, Golden Retrievers, and Pointers. In addition, there may be a higher risk for male dogs." ~petMD

Arthritis acting up?


Yes, a dog suffering from arthritis can have good days and not so good days. Weather can impact how the joints feel, weekend warrior syndrome can play a role ... But what if there are some severely bad days, to the point of being unable to get up, and the pattern isn't making sense?

It could happen. It could happen that the pain doesn't respond to pain management. But it could also happen that your dog's problem is not caused by their arthritis at all!

The more I learn about splenic tumors, the more paranoid I have become.


Not all splenic tumors are malignant. But even the benign one can kill your dog very quickly--through severe internal bleeding.

Zelda is an 11-year-old German Shepherd. When she first started having trouble with mobility, she was diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease. That was five years ago. Which she might have had.

Now, since the symptoms returned, with her history, she was put on antibiotics once again.


But the treatment wasn't making her any better, she was getting worse. She had a hard time moving around, wasn't interested in food and had extremely low energy to the point that it landed her in the ER.

That's when she was also diagnosed with anemia.


It was then when I first heard her story--her mom was seeking dietary recommendations to help with the anemia. Could the potential ticks be behind all this?

As I was reading the details, red flags popped up in my mind. "Did anybody check her abdomen? Have them check the spleen," I insisted.

Molly was at the vet repeatedly. She had a hard time getting around, had a hard time eating ... But nobody examined her abdomen.

Molly was growing weaker.


Molly's mom was convinced the vets were missing something. So was I. "Somebody, please, check her abdomen!"

And then, in the middle of the night, after growing progressively weaker, Molly passed out. Her mom rushed Molly's limp body to the veterinary ER once again. When Molly came to, her breathing was labored, and she didn't even have enough strength to keep her eyes open. The antibiotics didn't seem to have been doing much--Molly kept getting worse.

Finally, after weeks of Molly being unwell, somebody took x-rays of her abdomen--there was a mass.


Given Molly's state and the x-ray finding, they kept her in the hospital to tend to her and investigate further.

In the morning, Molly's mom got the call nobody ever wants to get. Molly was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma. It's not just in the spleen but also all over her liver. There isn't much that can be done other than keeping Molly comfortable. Could she get up to six months with aggressive chemo? Molly's mom did not want to go down that road.

Molly is on palliative treatment.


The goal is to keep her as comfortable as possible for however long she has left. Most likely, Molly has not months, not weeks, but days. They will make them as happy as they possibly can.

The moment I heard Molly's story I felt it was a splenic bleed, but I hoped it was perhaps hemangioma. Perhaps it was benign. Or perhaps it was early enough. It wasn't.


Related articles:
Is Your Dog's Arthritis Acting Up? Consider an Abdominal Ultrasound
What Your Probably Didn't Know About Splenic Tumors: Listen to this Podcast
Walks Like a Splenic Tumor, Quacks Like a Splenic Tumor ... It Must be a UTI?
Fast Decline: Joey's Hemangiosarcoma
The Forest and the Trees: Summer's Hemangiosarcoma



Do you have a story to share?
Your story can help others, maybe even save a life!


What were the first signs you noticed? How did your dog get diagnosed? What treatment did/didn't work for you? What was your experience with your vet(s)? How did you cope with the challenges?

Email me, I'll be happy to hear from you.

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.


Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is an award-winning guide to help you better understand what your dog is telling you about their health and how to best advocate for them. 

Learn how to see and how to think about changes in your dog’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Some signs that might not trigger your concern can be important indicators that your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. Other symptoms, while hard to miss, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or limping, are easy to spot but can have a laundry list of potential causes, some of them serious or even life-threatening. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is a dog health advocacy guide 101. It covers a variety of common symptoms, including when each of them might be an emergency. 

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39 comments

  1. This is a really sad story, and I am so sorry to read about Molly. But this is a good reminder not to make assumptions and always to get weird symptoms checked by a vet. Our Boston Terrier was having symptoms of kennel cough, but it didn't seem likely, given our lifestyle. We took her to the vet, and it turned out to be Congestive Heart Failure. She is doing very well on medication and low-sodium food now, but if we hadn't taken her in, who knows?

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    1. Yes. To quote from a movie the name of which I don't remember, "assumption is the mother of all f*$&ups."

      Yes, I shared to story to hopefully save some lives.

      I would love if you were to share yours as well.

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  2. This is a very sad story but it's good that you make us aware of all the things to consider... and that what we see might not be reality... thank you. ~ Dear Mishu

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    1. Very sad. And not the first time when I've seen things play out this way. So I'm trying to raise awareness.

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  3. That is such a sad story, and I do have personal experience with hemangiosarcoma. I can tell you it does sneak up on you. I was petting one of my cats one day, and I felt this golf balled sized lump in his neck. Now I petted him all the time, so that thing grew in no time. Sadly surgery wasn't an option because it was sitting on his carotid artery, but chemo gave us a few extra months. The scary thing is, it could have grown from nothing to that size in just a couple of weeks.

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    1. I think the reason why it can get so large so fast is that it is kind of like a blood blister - fills with blood; until it spills. In dogs, it goes most commonly after the spleen; that much harder to detect.

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  4. An excellent post and a good reminder that no matter how much we know about our pets and their ailments, we should never self-diagnose!

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    1. That and keep seeking answers if treatment isn't working.

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  5. I am so sorry to hear about Molly and every time I read your posts I start checking Layla although TG she is fine and healthy but we are doing our bi-annual check up next month.

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    1. I'm sorry, I don't want to make you too paranoid. Just diligent.

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  6. Wow - what a sad story. Unfortunately it seems so common to have health issues feel like they are sneaking up on you. It would probably be a great idea to keep a monthly wellness journal for an aging dog - perhaps things that are not noticeable right now may develop into an obvious pattern that could help in the future?

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    1. Yes, that actually would be a fantastic idea. What I find frustrating is when you notice something is wrong and the real diagnosis gets missed anyway.

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  7. What a scary thing to have yoru dog be ill and doctors not knowing what it is. I am sad it was a tumor though. I keep all my animals in a schedule for viisting the vet so that we can prevent any issue.

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    1. We've been through something like that for five years with Jasmine's IBD. Constantly at the vet, constantly with no answers. Fortunately, when we finally got a diagnosis we were able to deal with the problem.

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  8. So very sad for the owners especially when they tried so hard at the vets and only antibiotics were continually subscribed. I am amazed that the vet did not wonder why the antibiotics weren't working and request further investigation.

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    1. That's why I preach and teach how to advocate for our dogs' health.

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  9. OMG, that is so sad & even more scary. It's amazing how quickly something like this can end a dog's life seemingly out of the blue.

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    1. Even sadder that it isn't really out of the blue ... just hard to see coming.

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  10. What a sad story. Poor Molly. Good reminder to keep asking questions if things don't seem to be working.

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    1. Yes. That's the key. If treatment isn't working, it's not the right treatment or it's not the right diagnosis.

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  11. I'm so sorry that they didn't check Molly's abdomen sooner! My sister's dog, Franny, had a similar story. After many weeks or even months of no energy and different diagnoses, someone did thoroughly check her abdomen, found a mass, and she had her spleen removed.

    That was six months ago, and it so good to have the "real Franny" back.

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    1. That is exactly the reason behind my blog - helping people see when they should push for better answers. I'm glad Fanny is doing well. If it was a hemangioma, surgery takes care of the problem.

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    2. Would you like Franny's story shared here as well?

      Delete
  12. We always keep an eye on our cats. Knowing something is wrong is enough of an alarm to be to be down at the vets every time!

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    1. You're kitties are lucky to have you.

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  13. I can't believe no one palpated her abdomen! My cocker, Chipper had a very enlarged spleen. The vet didn't think it was hemangiosarcoma but Chipper became more and more anmemic. We knew he wouldn't survive surgery and we still didn't even have a diagnosis. He only lasted a few weeks. I'm sorry to hear about Molly. If only they had found her cancer sooner, she may have done better with treatment.

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    1. Even the benign version, hemangioma, can be lethal exactly for that reason - severe blood loss. So sorry about Chipper. Would you like to share the story here? I'm trying to raise awareness about these things.

      Delete
  14. Very sad days and anxiety for Molly's mom...if only our dogs could talk to let us know where the hidden pain is...

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    1. In all honestly, it's not like human med is that much better figuring out anything more complicated than a broken leg.

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  15. If only our pets could tell us exactly where they are hurting. So sorry for Molly and her mom.

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  16. So sad! We believe my previous Persian cat, Praline, had cancer on her spleen. Once it was diagnosed, she was gone within weeks.

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    1. It is an aggressive cancer. And usually doesn't get caught until it's quite progressed.

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  17. I'm so sorry to hear about Molly and that her hemangiosarcoma turned out not to be benign. Heartbreaking news for pet parents. Thank you for sharing this information.

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  18. Oh I'm so sorry to hear this about Molly. It was so sad to read but also frustrating to know the vet never thought to check the abdomen or x-ray the abdomen. When it comes to exploring what's wrong we as pet parents definitely shouldn't expect doctors to act in our pets best interest. Never be afraid to ask questions, get a second or third opinion or gi with your intuition. Poor Molly.

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    1. I do believe that vets do act in our pets' best interest. Most of them anyway. It doesn't mean, though, that they never miss things. That's where we come in.

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  19. How sad that they couldn't figure it out earlier. Good reminder to get a second opinion!

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  20. So sorry to hear about Molly's condition, but at least she is being kept comfortable. Sometimes I wish they could talk and tell us how they are feeling or where it hurts so that we could help them sooner, rather than later when it is sometimes too late.

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  21. That’s really sad. One of my dogs will be 11 this year. She is still very mobile and alert for her age, but I am always watching out for any change in behavior. Thank you for sharing this story and information

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