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Is Spleen Cancer Painful in Dogs?

Spleen Cancer in Dogs

Many dog owners may wonder "is spleen cancer painful in dogs?" and whether their dogs are suffering or not. This is a very good question considering that cancer is a condition known for causing considerable pain in humans and the fact that dogs do not manifest pain in the same way that humans do. Determining whether spleen cancer is painful in dogs requires understanding subtle and less subtle signs of pain in dogs and how this cancer affects the body as it develops and spreads. Reading some statements from doctors and vets regarding spleen cancer pain in dogs and humans can provide some elucidations.

 Humans with spleen cancer often report a sensation of pain or fullness in the left upper abdomen.

Humans with spleen cancer often report a sensation of pain or fullness in the left upper abdomen.

Is Spleen Cancer Painful in Humans?

Is spleen cancer painful in dogs? Spared from the gift of voice, dogs cannot answer this question for us. It may therefore help to take a peek as to whether spleen cancer is painful in humans.

Interestingly, by looking at how humans perceive spleen cancer we are able to deduce a few hints that may explain some behaviors seen in dogs suffering from this condition.

For instance, according to Mayo Clinic, people suffering from an enlarged spleen often suffer from reduced appetite.

Considering that the spleen is right next to the stomach, this makes perfectly sense. When the spleen is enlarged, it puts pressure on the stomach causing a sensation of fullness even without eating or after eating only a small amount of food.

People affected by spleen cancer are reported to experience as well anemia and its associated weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness and shortness of breath. A sensation of pain or fullness in the left upper abdomen may occur too. Just as in dogs, it appears that in humans too there are chances of no symptoms at all showing up in some cases.

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According to MedicineNet, in humans affected by spleen cancer, discomfort or pain may be felt in the left upper part of the abdomen (near the stomach) but may also radiate to the back or shoulder area. This radiated pain may feel more intense when taking a deep breath or moving around.

While spleen cancer is common in dogs, in humans this form of cancer is quite rare. Statistics show that in humans less than 200 cases are diagnosed annually. Interestingly, in humans just as in dogs, a splenectomy results in similar survival times: 1 to 3 months; while the addition of chemotherapy may increase survival rate to 5 to 7 months.

Is Spleen Cancer Painful in Dogs?

 Loss of appetite can be an early sign of spleen cancer in dogs.

Loss of appetite can be an early sign of spleen cancer in dogs.

A while back, it was thought that dogs perceived pain differently than in humans. Fortunately, modern veterinary medicine has debunked this once popular myth. Dogs may share several of the symptoms seen in humans as described above.

Among humans, it is known that, when internal bleeding causes blood to leak into the peritoneum, there may be a significant amount of pain felt with movement. The abdomen can become tense and feel rigid to touch, explains Dr. Benjamin Wedro in an article on Medicinenet.

Dr. Drew, veterinarian seems to agree on the above doctor's statement. He claims "Internal bleeding IS a painful occurrence. The lining of the abdominal cavity, where the blood is pooling, is very sensitive to the presence of blood. As a result , even small amounts of blood in the abdomen can cause significant pain."

With dogs spared from the gift of voice, once again, it is difficult to tell whether dogs with a ruptured spleen are suffering or not as even among vets there doesn't seem to be any agreement. Veterinarian Dr. B for instance claims in regards to dogs suffering from hemangiosarcoma "As for pain, these dogs don't usually seem to be painful. They are very weak and that weakness worsens overall until they die. "

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If not pain, dogs with spleen cancer may develop some level of discomfort for sure. Many owners of dogs suffering from spleen cancer report of a loss of appetite in their dogs. This may be due to the sensation of fullness associated with the enlarged spleen putting pressure on the stomach. Dogs may have little appetite or may crave only particular foods. Some dogs may want to eat in small quantities rather than one or two big meals a day.

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Many dogs with spleen cancer are anemic and may suffer from lethargy, rear leg weakness and panting episodes. According to veterinarian Dr. Smith, certain splenic tumors tend to bleed slowly for weeks to months. Affected dogs may develop vague symptoms such as weakness, abdominal pain, decreased activity, and anemia.

Knowing whether a dog with spleen cancer is pain is often difficult. Dogs manifest pain in different ways than humans and vocalizations such as yelping are mostly seen in acute episodes of pain (for example, owner stepping on the dog's tail or dog walking on a torn). Signs of pain in dogs include panting, restlessness, moving from one sleeping spot to another, licking and sleeping more.

While there are many pain medications available for dogs, it's important to avoid the ones that are unsafe and known for thinning the blood such as aspirin. Some suggestions would include gabapentin, Galliprant, Metacam or Tramadol which are obtained by prescription, suggests veterinarian Dr. G. 

dog blood transfusion complications

Transfusions only offer temporary help to dogs with spleen cancer.

The Effects of Blood Loss

Because the spleen is a very vascular organ, the presence of a benign or malignant tumor has the potential to cause quite massive bleeding in to the abdominal cavity. Left untreated, spleen cancer is unfortunately a common cause of anemia and death in dogs.

It's not uncommon for dogs suffering from spleen cancer to experience lower level bleeds into the abdomen or chest that cause waxing and waning symptoms. Low level bleeds may initially occur but the body may be able to handle these. These low-levels bleeds involve small blood vessels and therefore, the bleeding occurs in small amounts. The body effectively repairs these minor bleeds by sealing them off with a blood clot. In a few days, the blood gets reabsorbed by the body and the dog is back to normal.

Problems get more serious when the bleeds affect blood vessels that are larger. In these cases, the bleeding occurs faster and the body is no longer capable of forming a clot to keep the bleeding under control. These bleeding episodes unfortunately become more frequent and severe over time as the cancer advances.

On the other hand, there are cases where the dog may act normally, eating well, playing and feeling overall good, until one day, suddenly and without warning, their spleen ruptures and they succumb from acute collapse as they're bleeding into their abdomen. For this reason, spleen cancer in dogs is often referred to as "the silent killer."

Death from Blood Loss

sleep elevated

As the blood loss increases, affected dogs grow weak, very light headed and may eventually pass in their sleep. The not so lucky ones may collapse and then get stressed when they are so weak they cannot move. Problems moving and difficulty breathing can be stressful consequences when a dog is losing blood.

When a significant amount of blood is lost, there is poor oxygen delivery to the dog's tissues and organs. Affected dogs become anemic and develop low blood pressure. When there is poor oxygenation, the dog's digestive system slows down and doesn't work properly. Affected dog may no longer feel hungry. However, when there is low oxygen, the body senses it as dehydration and affected dogs may continue to drink. Despite drinking though, the percentage or red cells continues to decrease.

On top of not eating, dogs with low oxygen levels may also have a high heart rate and this puts a strain on the heart triggering arrhythmias. Affected dogs may not be necessarily suffering per se, but may have a bad headache and may feel achy due to low oxygen levels, explains veterinarian Dr. Kara.

Labored breathing may be noticed as well as affected dogs breath faster to try to compensate. Extreme weakness may lead to a dog not being able to lift the head. Affected dogs may die from the effect of starvation, fatal arrhythmia or shock. Some dogs may fall into a semi-stuperous mental status due to the low oxygen levels. Affected dogs may struggle to breathe and vocalize when in such a mental status. Due to all these effects, many dog owners elect to have their dogs put down rather than to have to watch this decline at home.

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