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Splenectomy in Cats

By: Dr. Cathy Reese

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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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