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Splenectomy in Dogs

By: Dr. Cathy Reese

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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.

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