Splenectomy: What happens when your dog’s spleen is removed?
The spleen is one of the lesser-known organs in the body. Not everyone knows what the spleen does, let alone that they exist in a dog’s body. And though the organ performs important functions in keeping a dog healthy, they can actually live without it, which unfortunately is necessary for certain situations. There are many reasons why a dog’s spleen needs to be removed, all of which are aimed at preventing certain disease complications and improving the health of the animal. We will discuss below what the spleen is, what it does for the dog’s body, and why certain situations call for the removal of this organ.
Your Dog’s Spleen
The spleen is an oval-shaped and flat organ found in the abdomen of most mammals, including humans and dogs. It is seated just behind the stomach and appears similar to the liver in terms of texture and consistency. Like the liver, it is also very fragile and can rupture from external trauma.
The spleen performs many functions that ultimately help the body maintain proper health. It serves as the body’s blood bank, providing storage for red blood cells. The spleen contains numerous winding narrow veins and arteries allowing for a high number of red blood cells traveling through the spleen at any given time. If the dog requires extra blood supply, usually in cases of hemorrhage or bleeding, the spleen will contract and release the stored red blood cells in the organ, providing the body with a fresh supply of blood.
The spleen helps in the removal of old red blood cells to be replaced by new ones to ensure optimal circulation and nutrient distribution throughout the body. Red blood cells have a life span and will die around 110 days after they’re produced by the bone marrow. Older red blood cells become very brittle compared to newly released cells and will break down as they travel through the winding vessels inside the spleen. As they break down, the red blood cells release the iron stored inside which is then captured by the spleen to be recycled and used again for the production of new red blood cells.
Another function of the spleen is to help control red blood cell infections. When a dog is infected by a blood parasite, the parasite often attaches itself to the surface of the red blood cells. When an infected red blood cell travels through the spleen, the specialized organ bites off a section of the red blood cell where the infection or the parasite is, through a process called “pitting”.
Pitting of the spleen happens when an infected red blood cell has been tagged by the immune system and the specific section has been marked off to be removed or “pitted”. This allows the spleen to remove any parasites or infected red blood cells to prevent them from further spreading the infection inside the dog’s body. Lastly, the spleen also acts as a lymphatic organ that helps in the drainage of lymph locally and helps in the production of antibodies and immune cells such as lymphocytes.
Why Your Vet Might Recommend a Splenectomy
While the spleen performs numerous beneficial functions, there are situations where the removal of the entire organ is more beneficial for the dog’s health. As mentioned, the spleen is a highly vascularized organ, and it’s also very fragile and can easily be damaged even from external traumas. Any blunt trauma to the abdomen of the dog can result in a ruptured spleen.
When the spleen becomes ruptured, excessive hemorrhage will occur due to the high number of blood vessels inside the organ. Since these blood vessels are small, control of the bleeding by ligating or cauterizing each blood vessel is practically impossible. In cases like these, the only way to manage hemorrhage is by removing the entire spleen.
Another situation where splenectomy is indicated is when there’s tumor growth in the organ. These tumors, regardless of malignancy, can cause severe hemorrhage that may be difficult to control. If tumors are detected in the spleen, commonly through diagnostic imaging such as radiographs and ultrasound, your vet will recommend splenectomy to prevent hemorrhage and other complications associated with the disease.
Listed below are some of the diseases of the spleen that usually warrant complete removal of the organ:
1. Tumors on the Spleen
The spleen is a highly vascularized organ and is one of the most common organs affected by tumor growth. Tumors arising from the spleen can either be benign, or malignant. Most splenic masses reported in canines are either hemangioma or its malignant form, hemangiosarcoma.
Hemangioma and hemangiosarcoma are tumors that originate from the blood vessels, which the spleen has an abundance of. The presence of splenic tumors can lead to excessive bleeding which, when not addressed appropriately, can lead to severe blood loss and shock to the canine patient. Tumors arising from the spleen can be very difficult to isolate and remove because of the fragility of the splenic tissue.
In cases where a hemangioma or hemangiosarcoma is attached to the spleen and has a risk of bleeding, the only surgical approach to completely remove the mass is to remove the spleen itself through a surgical procedure called a splenectomy. The procedure is often straightforward since the spleen can easily be isolated from other nearby organs and tissues, and complications are uncommon unless the tumor has attached to other organs like the liver or the kidneys.
If there is evidence of metastasis and spread of cancer to other systems, which is unfortunately common in cases of hemangiosarcoma, removal of the spleen will only help prevent the risk of bleeding but the dog will still have to undergo treatment to control the spread of cancer.
2. Rupture of the Spleen
As mentioned, the spleen is a very fragile organ. Blunt trauma from outside can cause rupture of the spleen and lead to severe hemorrhage due to the number of blood vessels in the organ. Any injury or trauma to the abdomen, such as a vehicular accident or physical trauma from kicking, can lead to splenic rupture and internal bleeding.
Rupture of the spleen is one of the topmost concerns for internal bleeding from abdominal trauma. Because the blood vessels in the spleen are very small, and the fragile nature of the organ, removal of the entire spleen through splenectomy is the only way to control the hemorrhage in cases of splenic rupture.
What to Expect After Your Dog has a Splenectomy
The surgical removal of the spleen can be argued as a straightforward procedure, with controlled risks. The most common complication associated with splenectomy is hemorrhage since the organ is highly vascularized and numerous major blood vessels are supplying it. After the surgery, your dog may be hospitalized for 1-2 days to be observed for any complications.
If there is no post-operative hemorrhage or complications detected, your vet will discharge your canine buddy, who will be sent home with post-operative medications and instructions for home-care management of the surgical wound.
Daily cleaning of the wound may be required to prevent infection. Your vet may also prescribe oral antibiotics to be given for about a week or so to further help prevent infection. Pain medication and anti-inflammatories will also be prescribed to help manage inflammation and pain post-operatively.
In some cases, iron supplements may be needed to help the dog’s body recover from the blood loss, either from the surgery or from the splenic disease.
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