Splenectomy (Surgical
Removal of the Spleen)
in Dogs

Why do dogs need to have their spleens removed?

It is common for some older dogs to collapse because of a hemoabdomen (Blood in the abdomen). The most common reason for older dog to have hemoabdomen is a splenic tumor.  The only way to stop the bleeding is to remove the spleen and with it, the tumor.

In rare instances, splenectomies are indicated secondary to splenic trauma (such as a hit by car accident). 

How is a hemoabdomen diagnosed?

The patient will typically present with signs of weakness or acute collapse.  The gums may be pale in color.  The abdomen may be distended and a palpable fluid wave is usually present.  To confirm the blood in the abdomen, an abdomenocentesis (a small needle is placed in abdomen to withdraw fluid) is performed.

How do you know if the spleen should be removed?

Confirming blood in the abdomen is really only half the information you need.  You have to find out where the blood is coming from.  This can usually be answered with abdominal ultrasound.  The most common regions to have a bleeding abdominal mass are spleen and liver.

What if abdominal ultrasound is unavailable?

If abdominal ultrasound is unavailable, it is acceptable practice to perform an abdominal exploratory.  This procedure will allow the Veterinarian to see what is bleeding and surgically correct the problem….assuming it is correctable.

The reason to do the ultrasound is basically to determine if the tumor is isolated to the spleen or looks like it has spread to the liver (which carries a very poor prognosis).  If there are tumors on both spleen and liver, these pets clearly have malignancy and surgical intervention will not solve their crisis.  For the same reason, Veterinarians will do chest x-rays to determine if the cancer has spread to the lungs (if it has it carries a very poor prognosis). If either of these are true, then many owners may elect to keep their dog comfortable as long as possible then euthanize.  It the liver and lungs look good, the Veterinarian will often recommend surgical intervention.

What issues are risks associated with splenectomy?

Acute hemorrhage during the surgical procedure is always a concern.  Most Veterinarians will be prepared to administer blood transfusions.
Hypovolemic shock can occur during the removal of the organ.  Most Veterinarians will prepare with fluid loads.
Arrhythmias can be a serious complication due to the hemoabdomen.  Typical arrhythmia seen is a ventricular premature contraction which can lead to run of ventricular tachycardia and even death.  This can be controlled with medication so long as it is identified by the Veterinarian and treated accordingly.
Standard anesthetic risks exist with all surgical procedures.  These risks are greater in patients who are compromised at the time of surgery.

What types of tumors are found on the spleen?

Both malignant and benign tumors occur on the spleen; however, the most common tumor is cancerous and malignant (hemangiosarcoma).  Many owners will go forward with the surgery regardless of the fact that most tumors are malignant.  A final determination of the type of tumor cannot be made until the mass is viewed by the pathologist. Pathology reports on surgically removed tumors usually require 3-5 days for results.

Winrock Animal Clinic
Where pets are family!
Above:  See the Spleen with a Round Splenic Mass is being removed from the abdomen.
Above:  Looking at the other side of the mass reveals that the mass had ruptured (allowing bleeding into the abdomen).
Right:  Continuous ECG Monitoring both before and after surgery is recommended.
Left:  The Spleen is examined and samples are taken and placed into biopsy jars to be sent for review by a Pathologist.
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