The spleen is an oblong-shaped organ located below the stomach. The role of the spleen, part of the lymphatic system connected through the circulatory system, is to clean up red blood cells.
Most spleens are removed due to tumor growth. These tumors can be benign (hematomas, hemangiomas) or malignant (hemangiosarcomas). Eventually these splenic tumors can rupture and cause the spleen to bleed. The resulting blood loss can be life-threatening. Symptoms of a ruptured spleen include:
• Sudden weakness or collapse
• Sudden lethargy
• Pale gums
• Loss of appetite
• Enlarged abdomen
While the bleed can stop on its own—it will certainly happen again.
The spleen should be removed as soon as a bleed is diagnosed and the patient is stable enough for surgery. If the bleed has resulted in significant blood loss—a transfusion may be necessary. Like people, dogs can live without their spleen.
If the tumor is benign surgery will be curative. If the tumor is malignant surgery should be followed by a consultation with an oncologist.
There is no definitive way to determine if your dog will have a splenic tumor or bleed but a physical examination by your veterinarian (annually for dogs under five years old or every six months for dogs older than five) may be able to detect masses in the abdomen that require further diagnostics.
Golden Retrievers are at the greatest risk for developing hemangiosarcoma. The Golden Retriever Club of America found that the chances for developing hemangiosarcoma in a lifetime is as high as one in five. Splenic tumors can affect any breed including mixed breeds, but German Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Danes, Dobermans, and Boxers are at higher risk of developing splenic tumors. It’s estimated that hemangiosarcoma accounts for 5% to 7% of all tumors found in dogs.
Bloat and traumatic rupture of the spleen, such as being hit by a car or kicked by a horse, require removal of the spleen. Cats are rarely affected by splenic tumors.