Functions of the spleen, hematoma and removal (splenectomy) in dogs

Spleen: An important but not vital organ

The spleen is a very useful organ in both dogs and humans. Although it has important functions, it is not essential for survival. The recommended treatment for certain disorders is splenectomy. In dogs, one of these disorders may be the presence of a hematoma in the spleen. A hematoma is a swelling filled with blood that can be either in liquid or clotted form.

One of the dogs in my family was diagnosed with a hematoma in his spleen and was treated with a splenectomy. In this article I will describe the experience of my dog ​​and also give information about the spleen and hematomas.

I am a science writer, a biology teacher and a longtime pet owner, but not a veterinarian. If your dog shows symptoms similar to those I am describing or has symptoms of ill health that do not go away quickly, be sure to consult a veterinarian. The veterinarian will offer specific advice and treatment for your dog’s specific situation.


Location of dog spleen

The dog’s spleen is located near the stomach on the left side of the abdomen (from the dog’s point of view). It is dark red in color and is an elongated organ that is often described as the tongue.

The size, shape and position of the spleen vary slightly in different dogs. The position of the spleen is also influenced by factors in its immediate environment, such as the fullness of the stomach.

Functions of the spleen

The functions of the spleen are related to the circulatory and immune systems. The organ is covered with a fibrous capsule and contains two contrasting types of tissue – red pulp and white pulp.

  • Red porridge makes red blood cells in the fetus. After birth, most of these cells are made in the blood brain in certain bones. In dogs, however, the spleen can increase red blood cell production if needed. Cells carry oxygen from the lungs to tissues and organs.
  • The spleen stores whole blood and acts as a reservoir in case the body needs extra blood. In this case, the spleen shrinks and pushes the blood into the circulatory system.
  • The spleen also stores red blood cells and platelets. Platelets are involved in the process of blood clotting that stops bleeding.
  • In addition, the spleen acts as a filter, removing old and damaged red blood cells from the blood. Saves nutrients from cells, such as iron, for recycling.
  • White pulp contains lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, and other types of cells belonging to the immune system. This system protects the body from infection.
  • White pulp also kills infectious microbes, including bacteria and viruses, and contributes to the immune system’s attack on these invaders.

Ultrasound examination of the dog’s abdomen

Possible causes of gossip hematoma in dogs

There are several possible causes of splenic hematoma (hematoma in the spleen) in dogs. These include trauma caused by a blow to the spleen, the presence of a bleeding disorder in the dog and the presence of a bleeding tumor in the spleen. The tumor may be a hemangioma that is benign (non-cancerous) or a hemangiosarcoma that is malignant (cancerous). Some older dogs develop a splenic hematoma for no apparent reason.

Based on his symptoms, physical examination, blood test, X-ray and ultrasound test, our veterinarian initially thought that the bleeding tumor was responsible for Ryan’s discomfort. The tumor could be either benign or malignant. We were extremely relieved when we were told that the problem was “only” a hematoma caused by a blunt force injury.

In retrospect, we thought that a heavy fall on his side while playing with another dog might have caused Ryan’s hematoma. It was important that he receive treatment. Dark trauma can sometimes be just as deadly as some cancers if not treated quickly. If the spleen ruptures, very dangerous internal bleeding can occur.

Possible symptoms of gossip hematoma

The symptoms listed below can be caused by conditions other than splenic hematoma. Make sure you see a veterinarian for a diagnosis if your dog develops any of the symptoms. The problem with the dog may be minor and easy to treat, but it can also be more serious and require immediate treatment.

Possible symptoms of splenic hematoma include:

  • lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach ache
  • Abdominal retention
  • Pale gums (due to blood loss)
  • Difficulty breathing (if the spleen is greatly enlarged)


Possible effects of blood loss in the abdomen

Blood loss from a splenic hematoma can be slow and intermittent, as Ryan experienced. In this case, sometimes the blood can be absorbed from the dog’s abdomen.

When Ryan first showed symptoms of deteriorating health, we decided it was time to see a veterinarian soon. Then his behavior returned to normal and he seemed to have recovered from everything that was wrong with him. A few days later, the symptoms reappeared and got worse, so this time we took him to the vet right away. The vet told us that Ryan’s symptoms corresponded to the times when his spleen was bleeding. When the bleeding stopped, he felt better.

There is a risk of a hematoma in the spleen bursting instead of leaking. The surgeon said Ryan’s spleen was close to rupture when he had a splenectomy, so we’re very glad he did the operation when he did. Heavy internal bleeding caused by a torn spleen can cause shock, a condition in which there is a rapid and dangerous drop in blood pressure.

Spleen removal or splenectomy

The recommended treatment for a spleen hematoma will depend on the condition of the dog. In some non-emergency situations, the veterinarian may try to treat the dog with compression bandages, venous fluids and close monitoring. Sometimes, however, the spleen needs to be removed. This is especially true in emergencies.

Unfortunately, as in Ryan’s case, it may not be possible to determine the exact cause of an enlarged and bleeding spleen in a dog before surgery or even during surgery. An examination of the spleen by a specialist is needed to determine if there are any cancer cells.

My family agreed with the vet’s suggestion that the spleen should be removed, although the swelling and bleeding may be due to a malignant tumor of the spleen that has already released cancer cells in other areas. Our goal was to give Ryan the longest life possible. We wanted to remove the spleen, as this was an immediate emergency, and then consider the next steps after making a definite diagnosis of the problem. We were diagnosed with a blunt force hematoma only after the spleen was removed and examined by a pathologist.

Blood vessels travel to and from the spleen, but a veterinarian who specializes in surgery can expertly turn them off and seal them during a splenectomy and minimize bleeding. A blood transfusion may be needed after the operation, but Ryan didn’t need one. Our veterinarian told us that another common problem immediately after splenectomy is cardiac arrhythmia, which should be treated immediately. Ryan has been closely monitored, but has never had this problem. In fact, the vet said he had recovered surprisingly well from the operation.


Laparoscopic splenectomy

Ryan’s spleen was removed by open surgery. This procedure makes a relatively large opening in the abdomen to reach the spleen and its blood vessels. The hole should then be closed with stitches or, in Ryan’s case, with staples. This is the most widely used technique for performing splenectomy in dogs.

A newer surgical technique called laparoscopic splenectomy involves making several small incisions in the abdomen, known as ports. Special surgical instruments are placed through each port. A camera allows the surgeon to see the inside of the abdomen.

Laparoscopic surgery is said to be minimally invasive and less traumatic to the body than conventional surgical techniques. However, not all surgeons have experience in performing this type of surgery. Part of a laparoscopic splenectomy in a dog is shown in the video below.

Laparoscopic surgery to remove a dog’s spleen

Post-surgical care and life without spleen

It is important that the dog does not puncture the incision and destroy the seams or staples, which is why Ryan wears a cone on two of the photos in this article. The cone is also called the Elizabethan collar or E-collar.

The veterinarian will probably recommend that the dog avoid climbing stairs for a while and often eat small meals instead of a few large ones. At first, the dog will not be able to walk, but will soon be allowed to walk short.

Other organs can take over the functions of the spleen after a splenectomy, so the dog can live very well without a spleen. For example, like the spleen, the liver breaks down old and damaged red blood cells and recycles some of their components. It increases this activity when the spleen is removed. Although people without a spleen generally live a normal life, we are more susceptible to certain infections after a splenectomy. However, according to veterinarians, this is not a big problem for dogs that do not have an organ.

Insurance or savings fund for emergencies

The cost of major veterinary surgery is very expensive. As cute and tempting as a puppy or dog, it is very important to think about the financial future before bringing the dog home. It would be a terrible situation not to be able to afford the treatment a pet needs to get rid of pain or survive.

Pet health insurance plans are available, but one should be aware of what the plan covers before registering for it. Another technique for preparing for emergencies is to set aside a certain amount of money from each payment period and place them in a separate savings account.

Pets can be dear friends and deserve the best we can give them. Assessing whether we can afford to take care of a pet and prepare for financial emergencies if we bring the pet into our family are important factors in pet ownership.


Update: In loving memory

Unfortunately, I have some sad news to share in this update of my article. Ryan’s diagnosis of a blunt force hematoma was wrong, even though it was made by a specialist. He actually has cancer. I’m glad Ryan’s spleen was removed, though. He returned to health and had a happy three months of life. Then his symptoms returned and we found that he had many tumors in his abdomen.

If your dog has been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, you should have a detailed discussion with your veterinarian about possible treatments and prognosis for your pet. It is important to find out and find out as much as you can about your dog’s specific condition.

My advice to anyone who has had a hematoma or tumor removed from their dog and has been told by a specialist that the swelling is benign is to enjoy the news and enjoy the renewed health of your pet. I would also suggest trying to give your dog the best possible life. If you’ve ever been in this situation, don’t wait to take your dog for that special walk you’ve been thinking about, or let the dog experience the fun activity you wanted to try. As is true for both dogs and humans, we never know what the future holds.