The Spleen: What does it do and how will my dog manage if it has to be removed?

Dog Spleen Removal – Splenectomy Surgery

The spleen is one of those organs of the body that most people have heard of but many are uncertain where it is and what it actually does. Although it has several important functions, dogs can manage to live a normal life without a spleen if it has to be removed. The most common reasons for removal (splenectomy) are if the spleen has ruptured (usually after a road traffic accident), or if it develops a tumour. Both of these can lead to very sudden illness which needs fast diagnosis and treatment to save the dog’s life.

Biggles in full flight, pictured before he had to have an emergency splenectomy

Biggles in full flight, pictured before he had to have an emergency splenectomy

Biggles the Springer Spaniel has recently had his spleen removed and is recovering well. Although I am not his vet, I helped to care for him during his convalescence, and with his owner’s permission I would like to tell his story.

Biggles is a typically lively spaniel, who enjoyed a normal Sunday romping around with his companion. On the Monday morning, his owner found him collapsed and weak and had to rush him straight to his vets. After examination, blood tests and x-rays, his problem was diagnosed as a tumour of the spleen and Biggles was operated on the same day. Unfortunately his tumour was large and ulcerated which meant Biggles had lost a lot of blood from the circulation into his tummy, so he needed several days of intensive care including fluids by drip and drugs to prevent vomiting and infection.

After several days of hospitalisation at the vets, Biggles began to feel so much better that the challenge was to stop him from doing too much. After major surgery he had to take it very easy, which was hard for him. Very short walks on a lead, away from his boisterous friends, were all that he was allowed during his recovery, but now he is beginning to get back to normal gradually.

So, where is the spleen and what does it do? The spleen is situated on the left side of the abdomen, close to the stomach. It is smaller in size than the liver but larger than a kidney. It is sometimes described as being shaped like a slipper because it is long and narrow with curved borders and has a narrower part in the middle. It is a very vascular organ, meaning it is full of blood vessels and blood storage areas.

The main jobs of the spleen are to act as a blood storage reservoir, to make red blood cells, to filter out and remove old blood cells and to fight infection as part of the immune system. Luckily, these jobs can be carried out elsewhere if the spleen has to be removed.

Position of a dog's spleen

Position of a dog's spleen

If a tumour develops on the spleen, it may grow very slowly but sometimes the symptoms can become apparent very suddenly, as in Biggles’ case. Symptoms can include tiredness, a swollen belly, anaemia (seen as pale or white membranes in the mouth and eyes which are normally pink) and loss of appetite. If the spleen is ruptured by an accident, or if a tumour bleeds heavily, the symptoms will be shock, collapse and possibly death.

The treatment of choice for a ruptured spleen or a tumour on the spleen is surgical removal of the whole spleen. If there is a tumour, checks will be made as far as possible to make sure that it has not already spread to other organs. If there is no evidence of spread, the spleen is removed and a sample of the tumour sent to a laboratory for microscopic examination (histology). This will help to decide if the tumour is benign or malignant, and whether any further treatment such as chemotherapy might be needed.

Not all tumours of the spleen are malignant. One of the more serious types is haemangiosarcoma, which can spread aggressively to other organs. Others can be local to the spleen and benign in character.

I am delighted to say that Biggles showed no signs of tumour spread at the time of his operation, and his histology results were good. There is every chance that Biggles will need no further treatment and will soon forget the whole experience as he continues to enjoy his life.

  • Kelli says:

    So glad to hear that Biggles is doing well. My 8 year old Boxer, Bailey, had to have his spleen removed Tuesday night. His Vet said that there was no spread to the other organs that he could see, but of course we still need to wait for results. My concern right now is with his recovery, it has been almost 48 hours an he hasn’t eaten and he is knuckling and dragging his back feet when he walks. He is a big boxer 117lbs and his tumor was softball size. I am just wondering if this is normal. THANKS for all you do for our furry friends!!

  • Keisha says:

    Great news for biggles, my dog had an X-ray yesterday and he has bleeding into his abdomin causes by a tumor on his spleen, he is an 11 year shepherd. And I’ve already chose to do the 2 thousand dollar surgery even though I have this awful feeling when he opens him up the tumor will already have spread judging by the amount of blood in his abdomin. I feel sick with worry but I’m hoping for the best outcome.

  • Sharron says:

    My 12 year old staff had a ruptured tumor & spleen removed Monday , his abdomen was full with blood and no signs it had spread yet , but vet has advised it will be back ! I am more worried about loss of blood and he is so anaemic ? can anyone advise?
    Keisha , I was sick all day Monday and like a crazy woman pacing , and waiting , but he did it for us im sure! Go for it and good luck !!
    Kelli , my Oscar is eating but only hand fed cooked meat , and he cant be bothered to walk any where !
    Well done biggles xxxxx

  • Ann says:

    Our 10 year old mixed breed had her spleen removed yesterday after a growth was discovered during surgery to remove bladder stones. This morning when I visited the vet , she was up and walking around.
    After reading Biggles story, I have hope now that she will continue to recover.

  • Keisha says:

    Cheers sharron, he’s booked in for Wednesday. Earliest they can get him in, his belly is really bloated so full of blood. I feel physically ill and it’s all I can think about. This tumor needs to not have spread, I can’t handle that and the fact I would have put him through surgery if the tumour has already spread. I guess if I do nothing he will die, no doubt about it, so this way he has a chance. He has been too good to me over the past ten years (rescue dog) I owe him a shot! That’s what I’m thinking anyway I keep googling it and it’s making me feel worse.

  • Keisha says:

    But yes the blood loss is my biggest concern too. Very worrying!

  • Ivana says:

    My 4 year old Bernese had a stomach torsion 2 days ago and emergency surgery. Vet discovered that spleen had ruptured and 2.2 litres of blood was suctioned out of the abdomen. He is now doing well and resting and gradually colour is returning to his gums. my only concern is the huge amount of water he is drinking (will check with my vet today). He is however beginning to eat small meals without too much coaxing. I’m hoping the excessive thirst is just a side-effect of surgery and not a development of other problems such as diabetes etc. anyone have any suggestions? Thanks, Ivana

  • Keisha says:

    Sadly, I had to have to my German shepherd boy put to sleep on the 11th march. The blood loss was just too bad and he was so weak. I’m heartbroken.

  • Tomika says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your German Shepherd. I can’t even imagine. Just the thought of the surgery is freaking me out there’s a chance of losing my baby kills me. My dog is boxer/lab mix. She has a very enlarged spleen. They are doing the surgery on Tuesday and until then she’s not allowed to get excited because it might rupture. I’m terrified that it might be malignant but the vet said her blood work looks good and chest x rays showed no signs of any other tumors. She also said since it’s so big it’s probably benign but they won’t know for sure til they open her up and send off a biopsy to the lab. I’m terrified. She is my baby. The vet said if she lives through the surgery she should live a long happy healthy life. She really doesn’t think it’s malignant cause the size of her spleen if it was the malignant kind she would already be showing signs of growths elsewhere. I’m also scared because all of these sites say they might need blood transfusions and I don’t if my vet has the ability or the blood to do the blood transfusions and I’m scared to ask because I have been calling and asking questions every few days sometimes a couple times in a day. I’m just worried. But if we don’t have the surgery my dog will die whether it’s malignant or not so there’s really no choice in the matter. I should stop worrying and give it to God that she will make it through and come out of the surgery fine and be healthy and happy once again.

  • Julie says:

    This is gives me so much hope! My Beagle has a growth on his spleen and is having it removed next week. I’m sick thinking they won’t get it in time and it may rupture. They have found no other growths on his other organs, so I’m praying for the surgery to go well and another year or so with my friend. Please send a prayer up for Cooper of you’re reading this. He and I both need all the help we can get right now.

  • Barb says:

    Very informative site, I came to it looking for suggestions to help my 8 year old lab, Butch live a long healthy life. He has had a rough 6 weeks. Started with a vet check on a half dollar size spot on his side that suddenly came and the crusty top fell off, turned out to be a skin cancer (Spindle Cell)and the vet found a different kind of cancer on the rear hock that was marble size, successful removal and a great check up 2 weeks later. Then 2 days after that visit he quit eating and acted distressed and wanted out constantly and kept straining to poop with nothing happening, rushed him sat. & Sun 35 miles to his vet and on Sunday she kept him. By Tues. morning she went into emergency surgery on him because it looked like a large mass on his spleen and the barium would not pass. She called during the surgery to say his normal 4 x 8 spleen was actually 8 x 16 and twisted and folded over in which made it look like a tumor in the x ray. When she untwisted his spleen it started going back to the normal size and showed a lot of bruising to it, so we made the decision to remove it. He immediately started improving, after 4 days we brought him home with over 10″ of staples in belly. He took his time each day increasing his activity and with in a few days he was playing with his best friend our 3 yo female lab Dolly and he couldn’t get enough to eat. I take him tomorrow to get the staples out, we already got the report no cancer and he has finished 2 different prescriptions of antibiotics and a pill to sooth his intestines. Over $2000.00 in vet bills paid, but he is so worth it. He came to us after the 8 yo lab we had before him died 8 months after his spleen was removed when he got sick right after a tumor was removed from his thigh. His gall bladder went and we let him go during the surgery because he was in such sad shape. So yep I have worries and want to make sure I feed Butch properly and take all the precautions I need to, any suggestions appreciated.

  • Linda says:

    Hi all: My eight year old mixed breed male dog had an emergency spleenectomy and tumor removal on March 1st.
    He needed a transfusion during surgery because of blood loss.
    I am thrilled beyond belief that he rallied so quickly, eating, drinking and ready to play – though not permitted off leash for almost three weeks. Thankfully the tumor was not malignant.
    He is now fully back to his rowdy self. Each of you are to be commended for being aware and caring pet owners. Without your insight and love more pets will be lost to a condition that can be reversed by a good surgeon. Xoxo

  • clayton says:

    My golden had his spleen removed three months ago Because of a softball sized hematoma that caused it to burst. He is doing well but he has developed a cough and is acting weaker then usual and this is starting to worry me and I cant find much information about it on the web. Has anyone seen these symptoms post spleen surgery with there Pet.

  • Carol says:

    My retired Greyhound had to have her spleen removed before we got her but we were told that she had to have it removed because of Congestion whatever that means,does anyone have an idea?.Anyway she is fine and well dispite not having it.

  • Kevin says:

    Our 10 year, 3 month old Minature Schnauzer had a small lump on his side that I felt while petting him. We had a Europe vacation planned for April 4,14 and thought we would wait, not wanting it to be on our minds the whole time, until we got home to go to the vet. Within a matter of three days, he went from a Very health dog to mear death looking/acting. To the vet we went. Xrays showed a mass and a day later ultrasound was done and showed not within other organs? and no bleed outs. We then a day later had his spleen removed, 2 1/2 lbs. Five days later, results. Cancer. A week later he is almost completely back to his old active self. His blood count is fine and eating every drop of food. Now we set and think when is his time up with us. That is the hardest thing now. We gave him more time with us and would not have second guessed that since it showed not in any other organs? We are taking him again back camping and will love him for the time we have!! God bless our TUCKER!

  • Sherry says:

    My 14 year old dog Murphy had his spleen removed yesterday morning with a baseball sized mass, no evidence of spread, but haven’t gotten the results back yet. I didn’t think I’d have to put him through surgery at this age, but after he had a bleed Sat night i had no choice. He came home this afternoon and seems okay, but not himself. He ate maybe 2 bites of chicken but won’t touch anything else. He can walk around but is pretty lethargic overall. I’m praying that he will eat something tomorrow. Anyone else had issues getting their dogs to eat? I’m wondering if its the pain meds (Tramadol). I may try lowering the dose a bit. He’s pretty out of it.

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