Splenectomy in Dogs

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Splenectomy is the medical term for the surgical removal of the spleen. This procedure is most commonly performed for tumors of the spleen, trauma or torsion, which is the twisting of the blood vessels supplying the spleen.

German shepherd dogs are predisposed to a type of tumor of the spleen called hemangiosarcoma, but older dogs and cats can get other types of splenic tumors as well. Splenic torsion is most commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs and can occur alone or with gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV).

Trauma or rupture of the spleen can occur after any severe traumatic event, such as being kicked, falling from a high distance or hit by a car.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will ask you many questions to develop a complete history of the progression of the problem. These questions will include:

  • How is your pet's appetite?
  • What is your pet's activity level and demeanor?
  • Have there been any episodes of exercise intolerance?
  • Has your pet collapsed?
  • How long has the problem been noted?

    Your veterinarian will also examine your pet completely, including checking for a fever and listening to his heart and lungs. He/she will palpate (feel) your pet's abdomen to check for an enlarged spleen, fluid in the abdomen or pain in the abdomen and will check your pet's gums to see if they are pale, which could indicate either anemia or shock.

    Diagnostic Tests

  • Blood and urine tests are submitted to look for anemia since ruptured splenic tumors or traumatically ruptured spleens can result in severe anemia. These tests will also identify abnormalities in kidney or liver function, which is important to know if your pet needs general anesthesia and surgery.

  • Abdominocentesis is performed by inserting a needle through the abdominal wall and a syringe is used to remove any fluid of blood in the abdominal cavity. This test is often done to see if there is blood in the abdomen, which could indicate a ruptured spleen.

  • Radiographs (x-rays) are taken of the abdomen to look for an enlarged spleen, a mass on the spleen and fluid in the abdomen, which could be blood from a ruptured spleen. X-rays are also taken of the chest, especially if a splenic tumor is suspected, since these often spread to the lungs.

  • An abdominal ultrasound is very helpful in identifying abnormalities of the spleen and other organs.

    Treatment

  • If the spleen has ruptured and has caused severe anemia and shock, your pet may require emergency stabilization. This can include intravenous fluids, steroids, oxygen therapy and blood transfusions.

  • Once the patient is stable for anesthesia, a splenectomy is done to remove the affected organ. Usually, the entire spleen is removed and sections may be submitted for biopsy.

  • If the spleen has a tumor on it, additional therapy, such as chemotherapy, may be indicated depending on the biopsy results.

  • Splenic disease can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, so an EKG is monitored for arrhythmias. Medications are given to treat the arrhythmia if needed.

    Home Care

    Closely follow your veterinarian's instructions on post-operative care in order to get the best results. You should also restrict your pet from activity for at least 1-2 weeks after surgery.

    Preventative Care

    If your pet collapses, shows signs of exercise intolerance, or if your pet's gums are white, you should see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

  • Splenectomy is the medical term for the surgical removal of the spleen. This procedure is often combined with exploratory abdominal surgery, in which all of the abdominal organs are inspected and biopsies are collected if needed.

    Indications for splenectomy include splenic tumors, splenic torsion, which is twisting of the blood vessels supplying the spleen, and trauma to the spleen.

    Splenic Tumors

    The most common splenic tumor in dogs is hemangiosarcoma. The breed most commonly affected is the German shepherd dog, but other breeds can be affected too. It is usually seen in older animals.

    Other types of tumors affecting the spleen include fibrosarcoma, mast cell tumor, lymphoma, osteosarcoma and leiomyosarcoma. Blood clots, or hematomas, are also seen.

    Splenic Torsion

    Splenic torsion is most commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs. It is also sometimes seen with gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV). Symptoms of a splenic torsion include pacing, and frequent changes in body position while sitting or lying down, drooling, gagging, retching, physical weakness, mental dullness, sudden collapse.

    Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is often seen with splenic torsion, as the pancreas is located adjacent to the spleen. Pancreatitis causes abdominal pain and vomiting.

    Trauma

    Trauma to the spleen from a kick or a car accident can result in rupture of the spleen. If the spleen ruptures from trauma or from a tumor bursting, the patient can lose a lot of blood into his abdominal cavity causing shock and collapse.

    Diagnosis

  • History. Your veterinarian will ask you many questions regarding the development and progression of the problem. If your pet was just involved in a traumatic event or has just collapsed, he may require emergency stabilization. This could include intravenous fluids, a blood transfusion and oxygen therapy. You should inform your veterinarian of your dog's appetite and demeanor, particularly if there has been any recent changes in these.

  • Physical exam. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam. This includes listening to the heart and lungs, taking the pet's temperature, and palpating the abdomen for pain, masses and fluid.

  • Abdominocentesis is performed by inserting a needle through the abdominal wall and a syringe is used to remove any fluid of blood in the abdominal cavity. This test is often done to see if there is blood in the abdomen, which could indicate a ruptured spleen.

  • Radiographs (x-rays). Masses of the spleen are often seen on x-rays. Fluid or blood in the abdomen can also be seen on x-rays, and it may obscure the view of masses or other things in the abdomen. Chest x-rays are often taken to look for spread of a tumor to the lungs. They are also necessary if the animal was involved in a traumatic event to look for injuries to the ribs, diaphragm and lungs.

  • Ultrasound. If there is a lot of fluid or blood in the abdomen, the x-rays will be hard to interpret as the fluid obscures the view of other structures in the abdomen. An abdominal ultrasound is very useful in this case to identify masses or other abnormalities of the spleen and other organs.

  • Computed tomography (CT scan). This is often used in humans to identify problems in the abdomen, but is not often used in veterinary medicine due to financial constraints or to limited availability. Radiographs, ultrasound and exploratory abdominal surgery often provide sufficient information without a CT scan.

  • Echocardiogram: An ultrasound of the heart is sometimes done, since a tumor on the spleen can also be related to a tumor on the heart.

  • Blood and urine tests. Blood and urine tests are submitted to look for anemia, evaluate kidney and liver function prior to anesthesia, and evaluate the oxygen and electrolyte levels in the blood. All of these tests are important in determining if the pet is stable for anesthesia and whether blood transfusions are necessary.

    Therapy

  • Emergency stabilization. If your pet was hit by a car or has experienced other major trauma, or has collapsed from severe anemia, your veterinarian may need to provide initial emergency stabilization therapy in the form of intravenous fluids, oxygen or a blood transfusion.

  • Once the pet is stable and diagnostic tests have indicated the need for a splenectomy, your pet is placed under general anesthesia and the spleen is removed. Splenectomy is performed using stainless steel surgical stapling devices or suture material, or a combination of both. Most often, and especially with cases of splenic tumors, the entire spleen is removed. The spleen is submitted for biopsy to test it for cancer and other diseases.

  • If the primary cause is not a tumor, a partial splenectomy may be an option. This may be desirable if the dog or cat is a carrier of a parasite in the blood, Babesia or Hemobartonella. The spleen is important in fighting these parasites.

    After surgery, your pet will need to be monitored and treated for anemia, pain and heart arrhythmias. Depending on the biopsy results, your veterinarian may recommend further therapies, such as chemotherapy.

    Follow-up Care

    Optimal treatment for your pet requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your pet does not rapidly improve.

    Administer all prescribed medications as directed. Alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your pet. You should also follow your veterinarian's instructions closely for post-operative care, including exercise restriction for 1-2 weeks. This allows the abdominal incision to heal.

    Use an Elizabethan collar if your pet tries to lick or remove his stitches or staples in the skin incision.

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