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Dog Splenectomy: Costs, Procedure, Complications, Recovery Times

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A dog splenectomy is the surgical procedure meant to remove a dog's spleen. It may be surprising for many dog owners to learn that dogs (and humans!) can live without a spleen. A dog splenectomy procedure may be carried out as an emergency, life-saving surgery if the dog's spleen has already ruptured or as an "elective" surgery when dogs are stable or slightly anemia and the vet has detected the presence of suspected masses on the spleen. Before taking your dog into surgery, you may want to learn more about the costs, complications and recovery times of a dog splenectomy procedure.

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Dog splenectomy costs

Dog Splenectomy Costs

Dog splenectomy costs tend to vary based on several factors. For instance, costs may vary greatly based on your location and whether you will be having the procedure carried out by a general practice veterinarian or a specialist.

Included in the surgery costs is often bloodwork (to see if the dog is anemic, whether the blood clots fine, whether other organs are involved or if there are underlying conditions), hospitalization, anesthesia, surgical preparation, the surgery itself, intravenous fluids, antibiotics, painkillers etc. Generally, at a minimum when carried out by a general vet, the costs are upwards of $1,000.

There may be substantial increased dog splenectomy costs when the procedure is carried out as an emergency. This because there are often emergency fees involved along with additional costs such stabilization, longer hospitalization times, blood transfusions, etc. In this case, between the costs for specialist and critical care, blood transfusions and hospitalization, the total dog splenectomy costs may amount close to or even over $5000.

In addition to the surgery, sending out the removed spleen to a pathologist for evaluation may cost an additional $150-400 depending on location and whether there were other samples collected from other organs during the surgery.

Dog Splenectomy Procedure

Dog Neutering Complications

Dog splenectomy procedure

A dog splenectomy procedure is often suggested when a vet detects the presence of some type of tumor on the spleen. The presence of tumors are often detected by abdominal ultrasound and sometimes the nature of such tumors may be diagnosed by fine needle aspiration of the spleen. On other occasions, insights may be obtained through a skin biopsy punch or wedge resection.

Once a dog is admitted into the hospital, the dog will be put under general anesthesia. Surgical prep involves shaving the belly, preparing the surgical site and hooking the dog up machines that will monitor the dog's heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels.

The surgery is overall pretty straightforward. The vet moves aside muscles and other tissues so to reveal the dog's spleen. Ligation and sealing of blood vessels takes place and the vet then removes the spleen and closes the incision.

While a dog splenectomy is not an advanced surgery and in most cases can be performed by general veterinary practitioners, having a dog splenectomy procedure carried out by a specialist offers the advantage of reduced anesthesia time since for a specialist splenectomies are quite routine. Specialists are therefore much faster and have greater skill since they have carried out the procedure often many more times than a regular vet.

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Tumor size and adhesions to other organs are not necessarily indicative of malignancy. "You can never, ever, tell hemangiosarcoma by looking at it." remarks veterinarian Dr. Rebecca. "Some of the worst, huge, bleeding tumors I have seen on a spleen, that were causing the dog to bleed to death, came back as hemangiomas or hematomas, not hemangiosarcoma, and those dogs had a normal life span" she points out.

However, it is possible during surgery to tell whether the cancer may have spread to other organs. During the spleen surgery, the vet will therefore visualize whether there are signs of the cancer spreading that were missed by the ultrasound. If there are metastatic lesions, unfortunately the dog should be euthanized on the table, explains veterinarian Dr. Michael Salkin. 

"The VERY worst case scenario would be that your surgeon finds that the tumour has infiltrated the liver and surrounding tissue, something that can often only be seen during surgery, and that they decide that (the dog) needs to be put to sleep while under the anaesthetic. I have only had to do this on a few number of occasions and I have been a veterinarian for over 25 years"'."~Dr. Valadoux, veterinarian

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Dog Splenectomy Complications 

During a dog splenectomy, there are risks for several complications taking place while the dog is under the knife.

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Being that the spleen is a very vascular organ, the biggest risk in a dog splenectomy is the risk for blood loss which is why it's important to have the surgery done in a place where there is the possibility of having a transfusion.

This is something that is generally not available in general practice veterinary hospitals, but is available in specialty hospitals (critical care) and universities. There is no problem providing dogs with blood transfusions as needed as long as all the blood is typed and crossmatched.

Another complication is the presence of potential ventricular arrhythmias. These are abnormal rapid heart rhythms that originate in the lower chambers of the dog's heart (the ventricles). We see these complications happen as a result of several factors such as hypoxia (low oxygen levels), anemia (decreased red blood cells), or hypovolemia (loss of blood due to hemorrhage or shock), explains veterinarian Dr. Brian M.

Dog Splenectomy Recovery

Dog Gasping for Air Before Dying

Recovering from a dog splenectomy can be long and hard for some dogs however, some dogs bounce right back. Generally though, recovery time for dog splenectomy is anywhere between one and two weeks.

Many dogs are kept hospitalized for a day or two following a dog splenectomy so that the dog can be observed for signs of problems. Sometimes though, dogs are sent home the same day but dog owners must understand what to watch for. After recovery, it is quite normal for dogs to be a bit groggy for about 24-36 hours, depending on the drugs used for both anesthesia and pain relief. Pain relief drugs such as tramadol are known to cause grogginess and may cause dogs to act a bit dazed.

It's important for owners of recovering dogs to recognize any early signs of potential internal bleeding. Dog owners should monitor the dog's gum color and report to their emergency vet immediately should they notice white/pale gums which indicate internal bleeding. Dogs undergoing a dog splenectomy have long incisions. Dog owners should monitor the incision site and watch for bruising. If there is bruising that is enlarging, this can also be a sign of abdominal internal bleeding.

Pain is expected following surgery, but should be kept under control with the medications provided by the vet upon discharge. Another potential complication includes pneumonia. Report to your vet respiratory symptoms such as coughing along with fever and lethargy. The first signs are typically seen a day or two following surgery.

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Sometimes, in elderly dogs with arthritis, stiffness or back pain may occur following surgery. This is because the surgery involves positioning the dog on her back and tying the front and rear legs to the table. If the ties happen to be too tight and pull the legs at an abnormal angle, this can cause stiffness and nerve swelling the following day. It may take a couple of weeks of rest, anti-inflammatories, and pain medications, for the affected dog to regain function in the limbs once the inflammation subsides.

Although dogs can live without a spleen, life without a spleen will be slightly different. Other organs in the body will have to take over the functions previously performed by the spleen. Namely, the dog's bone marrow and the lymph nodes. While these organs were already doing these functions, with the spleen no longer there, they will be picking up the spleen part too.

Because the spleen plays an important role in protecting the body from infection, life without a spleen may translate into a greater risk for illness or getting serious infections. This risk for infections is higher after surgery.

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Longer Term Prognosis

Once the results of the spleen biopsy come back, dog owners can have a better idea on dog spleen cancer prognosis. If the tumor was benign, then the cancer would not have spread to other body parts and therefore the surgery is curative.

If malignant, although the main source of problems has been removed (the spleen) which spares the dog from bleeding to death, most dogs with hemangiosarcoma will eventually succumb to a secondary cancer. Although no signs of cancer spread are seen by the naked eye, the tumor cells would be microscopic and not visible, explains veterinarian Dr. Christian.

Such tumor spread often takes place already by the time the spleen cancer is discovered. The most common areas of spread are generally to the neighboring liver or the heart

. If the dog has a history of mild anemia or the dog sustained an acute episode of bleeding, then unfortunately, cancer cells will have been seeded throughout the dog's abdomen reaching other organs. How soon after the dog splenectomy procedure this happens tends to vary from one dog and another and whether chemotherapy is instituted.

"When there is NO visible metastasis, even if the mass is determined to be malignant, these patients tend to live longer than those dogs for whom there is already visible metastasis."Dr. Fiona, veterinarian

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