The symptoms of a ruptured spleen in dogs may appear abruptly, as it may happen when the rupture is caused by trauma, or their onset may take a slower, more gradual approach, as seen when caused by certain disease processes. Dog owners may therefore sometimes miss early signs of trouble which may cause delays in treatment, in a condition that may take a turn for the worse, where every second counts. Due to its insidious nature, a ruptured spleen caused by a malignant cancer in dogs, is often nicknamed as the "silent killer." Veterinarian Dr. Joanne Fernandez-Lopez discusses the symptoms and causes of a ruptured spleen in dogs, along with diagnosis, treatment complications and dog splenectomy costs.
Symptoms of a Ruptured Spleen in Dogs
Spleen ruptures in dogs may be spontaneous due to trauma from being hit by a car or from a penetrating wound. It may also be a very slow process were the owner notices symptoms of spleen rupture in dogs under the form of lethargy, inappetence, weakness and an abdomen that appears to be distended.
The distention is what we call hemoperitoneum or abdomen full of blood due to the spleen rupturing. When this is seen, it is extremely important to visit a veterinarian as soon as possible.
You may go to your pet’s regular practitioner during the day or to the nearest 24/7 veterinary emergency clinic at night. The reason you should never wait when this happens is because treatment requires time-sensitive tests to confirm our suspicion and quick surgery preparation. If done early, this surgery will improve your dog’s outcome.
Other potential causes for a ruptured spleen in dogs are a benign (hemangioma) or malignant mass (hemangiosarcoma [most common], leiomyosarcoma, myxosarcoma, mast cell tumor, lymphoma), splenic torsion or a GDV (Gastric-Dilation-Volvulus).
A GDV is when the stomach fills with air and twists on his own axis. The spleen is involved because it is connected to the stomach by vessels, which involves it in the torsion. Depending on how the spleen looks during surgery, the clinician might remove it if it is ruptured or not.
At the Vet's Office
In all of these potential causes of a ruptured spleen in dogs, the dog still requires immediate stabilization like restoring circulation with intravenous fluid therapy or even whole blood transfusion, pain medication and constant monitoring while tests like a CBC, chemistry panel, electrolytes, PCV/TS (packet cell volume and total solids) from peripheral blood and abdominal fluid, ECG (electrocardiogram), blood gas analysis, coagulation panel, abdominal x-rays or other imaging techniques are still running.
If the dog is unstable to go to surgery, the main goal is to start resuscitation, which focus on supporting tissue perfusion by restoring circulation volume (fluids therapy), maintaining oxygen carrying capacity (giving masked oxygen and making sure the PCV or packet cell volume is normal). If the packed cell volume is not normal, your dog will require one or several blood transfusions depending on his or her response.
There are times that the circulating volume or blood pressure cannot be stabilized. Meaning that if there continues to be an open bleeding vessel inside the abdomen, the veterinarian will need to perform emergency surgery to control the bleeding and remove the spleen.
If a mass was found in the spleen, your veterinarian will require the organ to be submitted for histopathology. A veterinary clinical pathologist will take samples of the mass and prepare small slides so cells can be examined under the microscope.
The purpose of performing this crucial test is to identify what type of tumor it is and if any further treatment like chemotherapy will be required. There are some types of benign masses in which surgical removal is enough and no further treatment is required.
Some clients decide not to submit this test since they would like to have their dog not go through chemotherapy or due to financial concerns. However, once the organ is discarded, it is gone. I suggest submitting it to know more information regarding life expectancy or any further supportive therapy options that your veterinarian can offer after full recovery from surgery.
After Care of Ruptured Spleen in Dogs
One of the most important steps after surgery for a ruptured spleen in dogs is the aftercare. Close monitoring after surgery is crucial. Frequent assessment of their vitals and perfusion parameters is necessary to determine if there continues to be blood loss or to determine if circulation has stabilized.
The veterinarian will take multiple readings of PVC/TS every 2-4 hours, ECG to assess cardiac arrhythmias, temperature recheck, assess pain level and modify the treatment plan according to changes seen by the veterinarian on staff.
The time that your dog will be hospitalized depends on his or her response to the aftercare. The veterinarian will re-introduce food slowly the next day and re-assess. If vitals continue to be stable, no new symptoms develop and he or she shows great appetite, the veterinarian will switch intravenous medications to oral medications so you can continue care at home.
There will be rechecks for full physical examination, vitals and PCV/TS recheck within the week. Suture removal will be in 14 days.
Dog Spleen Removal Surgery Complications
Anesthetic risks: Patients who present with a history of trauma and hemoperitoneum (blood in the abdomen) may be at increased risk of anesthetic complications. Many anesthetics can cause decrease in blood pressure and poor tissue perfusion. This is why stabilization is essential prior surgery.
Incisional Complications: The risk of incision site infection and inflammation has been documented to be less than 6%. However, bruising and bleeding from the incision may be present in patients with low platelets or coagulation problems (exposure to rodendocite, etc). This will require additional therapy like multiple blood transfusions and/or vitamin K1.
Hemorrhage: Any surgical procedure has this risk. The post-surgical monitoring of vitals and rest is crucial in successful recovery.
Dog Spleen Removal Costs
Dog owners may wonder what's the average cost to remove a spleen from a dog.Dog splenectomy costs along with the emergency stabilization, tests, and aftercare costs may run from $1,000 to 3,000 depending on how your dog recovers and the amount of days hospitalized.
Costs of dog spleen removal also vary if a general practitioner or board certified veterinarian is performing the surgery. If your dog's spleen was affected by cancer, you must also factor in additional dog chemotherapy costs.
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About the author
Dr. Joanne Fernandez-Lopez is an emergency veterinarian on staff in the Emergency and Critical Care Department at Florida veterinary Referral Center (FVRC).
Originally from Puerto Rico, Dr. Joanne Fernandez-Lopez graduated from North Carolina State University – College of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh, NC. Prior to joining FVRC, Dr. Fernandez-Lopez worked in small animal general practice and as a relief doctor in South East Florida. Her professional interests include dermatology, surgery, internal medicine, preventive medicine, reptile medicine and practice management.
In her free time, Dr. Fernandez-Lopez enjoys relaxing at the beach, paddle boarding, kayaking, and surfing. She has a small Tibetan spaniel mix named Carlitos.