Misdiagnosis in a Dog: 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.

Misdiagnosis in a Dog: 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.

Molly 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:
The Forest and the Trees: Summer’s Hemangiosarcoma

Further reading:
Liver and Spleen Cancer (Hemangiosarcoma) in Dogs

Categories: CancerConditionsHemangiosarcomaReal-life StoriesUncategorized

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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