Hidden Hemangio

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May 29, 2014 by Julia West

Warning: This post is a downer. But it contains potentially beneficial (if sad) information about a horrible disease. I have no proof that every item below is a direct result of the tumor that ended Xena’s life, but I feel in my bones that they are all connected.

As most of my reader’s know, I lost my first bitch to Hemangiosarcoma. This nasty form of cancer of the blood vessels is thought to have only subtle symptoms. The tumor silently grows attached to an internal organ (usually the spleen) until it ruptures. While I’d agree the symptoms aren’t severe, an owner who is as attentive to their dogs as you are, dear reader, may see the signs. Xena showed a number symptoms which were looked at as individual, unrelated issues. Looking back now, I see how they may have added together to predict the disease. However, her advanced age and iffy bloodlines had me on edge, so I do not blame my vet for not adding things up before Xena’s death.

The one “early” symptom that is emphasized in most descriptions is lethargy. Xena had intermittent bouts of “unexplained” lethargy. She’d have a day or two of very low energy, but she’d rest and rebound, so we attributed it to arthritis. Several of these incidents included a loss of appetite, which concerned us because it took a whole lot to keep my little chowhound from a meal.

Xena feeling lethargic, Thanksgiving 2011

Xena feeling lethargic, Thanksgiving 2011

She looked “floppy” when she was lethargic. The episodes seem to be near when she was due for her next Adequan injection so again, we attributed the lethargy to arthritis. I never put it together at the time, but an older dog with arthritis would move more stiffly, not more loosely.

There were a host of other symptoms that weren’t listed in any articles about this disease. They all showed up around the last 6 months of her life:

She had a persistent but very sporadic cough. It was a honk, similar to kennel cough but without accompanying symptoms. I brought her to the vet. Her lungs were clear and it was cold out, so it was chalked up to irritation from winter’s dry indoor air. I felt like there was more to it, but it was a gut feeling that I couldn’t back up with evidence.

Similarly, she gained a small, but stubborn, amount of weight. Since she had a bad knee, I was very careful to keep her weight steady. My vet told me to give my old girl a break – it was just a couple of pounds.  Her thyroid was fine but reducing her intake didn’t make a dent.

Xena lost some of her uptuck.

Xena lost some of her uptuck.

She began heat-seeking about the time the other symptoms began.  The dog who normally needed personal space was now regularly climbing on top of Dash. A couple of times she was so far on top of him, he was breathing loudly before prying himself out from under her. Again, this was attributed to arthritis, especially when starting her on Adequan seemed to improve her mobility and reduce the “Dash crushing” incidents.

Dog pile on Dash (and me)

Dog pile on Dash (and me)

Finally, after the last two bouts of lethargy, we were alarmed discover Xena was peeing blood. When we brought the urine sample in for testing, it was discovered that she really was peeing blood – there was no urine in the sample, only hemoglobin. The first incident occurred at the end of a walk in the woods with my mom. The second incident was after she appeared to tweak her back during obedience. Since there was no infection and her sore episodes were after periods of activity, my vet said it was most likely ideopathic renal bleeding. (Since losing her, I have talked to others who experienced this phenomena as well. Small tears in the tumor cause internal bleeding, which the body filters out through the kidneys. Vets do not seem to associate it with hemangio until later symptoms appear.)

What I cannot tell you is which is worse – knowing and having to come to terms with it, or coming to terms with it in the moment. I do know that feeling like I was crazy for the last 6 months of her life wasted a lot of the time and energy we could have spent in other, happier ways.

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