Abdominal Masses In Dogs

Since I just deal with geriatric, elderly and terminal pets, I see masses (tumors, growths) within the abdomen fairly frequently. Certain breeds are represented more often: Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Pit Bulls are among the most commonly affected. However, these tumors can be seen in any breed and any size dog or cat. Generally, around 35% are benign and 65% are malignant. They are often found during an examination for some other problem. They will hemorrhage (bleed) spontaneously and cause the animal to be weak with minimal ability to function. The mucous membranes and tongue are usually pale, but not always. The symptoms are dependent on how much blood is lost into the abdomen. NOTE: There is no evidence of blood outside the body, although people will often think there is. The blood is kept within the abdominal cavity and is eventually re-absorbed. There are many different varieties of tumors or masses, but the two seen most commonly are hemangiosarcoma, an extremely malignant and metastatic (travels to other regions of the body) cancer, and hematomas of the liver or spleen. The latter are benign and can be thought of as a gigantic blood blister. I have removed many of both varieties and some were as large as soccer balls, weighing 7 to 10 pounds or more. Diagnosis of a singular mass can be difficult in the pre-surgical candidate. An abdominal ultrasound will be helpful in determining what organs are involved, the size and whether there is intra-abdominal metastasis. If the mass is removed surgically, then the diagnosis will be made when a portion of the growth is examined by the pathologist. Since many of these masses are found in geriatric or elderly dogs, many caretakers will elect not to do surgery due to the animal’s age. In these cases, euthanasia is often recommended as opposed to palliative care. In my experience, a significant percentage can function well for a period of time post diagnosis, and it is especially helpful to understand the dynamics of what goes on when there is hemorrhage internally. The seriousness of the symptoms is related to the amount of bleeding that occurs. Even with a small bleed, the dog will be uncomfortable at first, will be weak and generally, won’t want to walk, eat or drink. Some dogs will vomit. The amount of blood lost into the abdomen will determine the length of time the above symptoms will be seen. Smaller hemorrhages will result in a fairly quick recovery, from a few hours to a day. Larger hemorrhages require a longer recovery time and some dogs will succumb to extensive blood loss. However, this happens much less often than the suggestion by the veterinarians who say it will. If there is an understanding, intellectually, of what is happening, then it’s easier to calm the emotional angst. A Chinese herb, Yunnan Baiyao, can be extremely beneficial to help the blood to clot and to minimize the bleeding. Chinese mushrooms, (Turkey tail is an example) have some cancer reducing effects and stimulate the immune system in a positive way. Letting the animal rest is probably the most helpful thing. NEVER try to get your dog to stand using the abdomen as a fulcrum. This can cause another hemorrhage or worsen the one presently happening. In most cases the dog will respond within 72 hours and gradually regain strength. Whenever the diagnosis of an abdominal mass is made, it is important to gain perspective. Yes, it is an ominous problem, but it does not require immediate euthanasia in my view. Treat the abdomen as a cracked egg ready to break at any time. Be proactive in preventing any possible traumatic event from occurring. Put yoga mats on the hardwood, laminate or tile floors as well as smooth concrete surfaces. If there are steps your dog must go up or down, make sure he/she is on a short leash. Walk down the steps in front to make sure there won’t be a fall and walk up the stairs behind to make sure the abdomen does not hit because of a misstep. Only use the area between the hind legs to lift the rear and only use the sternum to lift the front. It’s usually a two person endeavor to help the dog to rise from a prone position. Getting the large dog into a vehicle can be dangerous for them. They are often used to jumping in themselves, but do not allow this. If they hit the abdomen, it will cause a hemorrhage. Be sure to call me if you have concerns or questions. Check out the following link to learn more about hemangiosarcoma. Colorado State University has a world renowned cancer center. 

Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs