Spleen Functions, Hematoma, and Removal (Splenectomy) in Dogs - PetHelpful - By fellow animal lovers and experts
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Spleen Functions, Hematoma, and Removal (Splenectomy) in Dogs

Linda Crampton is a biology teacher, writer, and long-time pet owner. She currently has dogs, cats, and birds in her family.

Ryan, a six-year-old Leonberger, is recovering from a splenectomy or spleen removal in this photo. He's tired but happy.

Ryan, a six-year-old Leonberger, is recovering from a splenectomy or spleen removal in this photo. He's tired but happy.

The Spleen: An Important but Not a Vital Organ

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

One of the dogs in my family received a diagnosis of a hematoma in his spleen and was treated with a splenectomy. In this article, I'll describe my dog's experience and also provide information about the spleen and hematomas.

I'm a science writer, biology teacher, and long-time pet owner, but not a vet. If your dog is exhibiting similar symptoms to the ones that I describe or has any symptoms of ill health that don't disappear quickly, make sure that you consult a veterinarian. The vet will offer specific advice and treatment for your dog's particular situation.

Ryan paying intense attention

Ryan paying intense attention

Location of a Dog's Spleen

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

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

As in dogs, the human spleen is located on the left side of the abdomen near and partially behind the stomach, is covered with a capsule, and contains red pulp and white pulp.

As in dogs, the human spleen is located on the left side of the abdomen near and partially behind the stomach, is covered with a capsule, and contains red pulp and white pulp.

Functions of the Spleen

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

  • The red pulp makes red blood cells in the fetus. After birth, most of these cells are made in the blood marrow inside certain bones instead. In dogs, however, the spleen can increase its production of red blood cells if necessary. The cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the 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 contracts and pushes the blood into the circulatory system.
  • The spleen also stores red blood cells and platelets. Platelets are involved in the blood clotting process that stops bleeding.
  • In addition, the spleen acts as a filter, removing old and damaged red blood cells from the blood. It saves useful substances from the cells, such as iron, for recycling.
  • The white pulp contains lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, as well as other cell types belonging to the immune system. This system protects the body from infection.
  • The white pulp also destroys infectious microbes, including bacteria and viruses, and contributes to the immune system's attack against these invaders.

An Ultrasound Exploration of a Dog's Abdomen

Possible Causes of a Splenic Hematoma in Dogs

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

Based on his symptoms, a physical examination, a blood test, an X-ray, and an ultrasound test, our vet initially thought that a bleeding tumor was responsible for Ryan's discomfort. The tumor could have been either benign or malignant. We were extremely relieved when we were told that the problem was "only" a hematoma caused by blunt force trauma.

In retrospect, we thought that a heavy fall on his side while playing with another dog may have caused Ryan's hematoma. It was important that he received treatment. Blunt force trauma can sometimes be just as deadly as some types of cancer if it's not treated quickly. If the spleen ruptures, very dangerous internal bleeding may occur.

Another puppy picture of Ryan

Another puppy picture of Ryan

Possible Symptoms of a Splenic Hematoma

The symptoms listed below can be caused by conditions other than a splenic hematoma. Make sure that you see a vet for a diagnosis if your dog exhibits any of the symptoms. The dog's problem may be minor and easily cured, but it may also be more serious and require immediate treatment.

Possible symptoms of a splenic hematoma include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal distention
  • Pale gums (due to blood loss)
  • Difficulty breathing (if the spleen is greatly enlarged)
There's an interesting scent in the air!

There's an interesting scent in the air!

Possible Effects of Blood Loss in the Abdomen

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

When Ryan first exhibited symptoms of ill health, we thought that it was time to make a vet appointment soon. Then his behavior returned to normal, and it seemed that he had recovered from whatever was wrong with him. A few days later, the symptoms reappeared and were worse, so this time we took him to the vet immediately. 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 danger that a hematoma in the spleen could rupture instead of leak. The surgeon said that Ryan's spleen was close to rupturing when he had his splenectomy, so we are very glad that he had the surgery when he did. Severe internal bleeding caused by a ruptured spleen can cause shock, a condition in which there is a rapid and dangerous drop in blood pressure.

Ryan and Misha waiting for me to leave work

Ryan and Misha waiting for me to leave work

Removal of the Spleen, or Splenectomy

The recommended treatment for a splenic hematoma will depend on the dog's condition. In some non-emergency situations, a vet may try treating a dog with compression bandages, intravenous fluids, and careful monitoring. Sometimes the spleen needs to be removed, however. This is especially true in emergency situations.

Unfortunately, as in Ryan's case, it may not be possible to determine the definite 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 required to determine whether cancer cells are present.

My family agreed with the vet's suggestion that the spleen should be removed, even though the swelling and bleeding might have been due to a malignant tumor of the spleen that had already released cancer cells to other areas. Our goal was to give Ryan as long a life as possible. We wanted to get the spleen removed, since that was the immediate emergency, and then consider the next steps once we had a definite diagnosis for the problem. We received the diagnosis of a hematoma caused by blunt force only after the spleen had been removed and examined by a pathologist.

Blood vessels travel to and from the spleen, but a vet who specializes in surgery can expertly disconnect and seal these during a splenectomy and keep bleeding to a minimum. A blood transfusion may still be necessary after the surgery, but Ryan didn't need one. Our vet told us that another common problem immediately after a splenectomy is a heart arrhythmia, which needs to be treated straight away. Ryan was monitored carefully but never experienced this problem. In fact, the vet said that he recovered amazingly well from the surgery.

Waiting for me to leave the building

Waiting for me to leave the building

Laparoscopic Splenectomy

Ryan's spleen was removed in open surgery. In this procedure, a relatively large opening is made in the abdomen in order to reach the spleen and its blood vessels. The opening needs to be closed by stitches afterwards, or in Ryan's case, by staples. This is the most widely used technique for performing a splenectomy in dogs.

A newer surgical technique called a laparoscopic splenectomy involves making several tiny incisions in the abdomen, which are known as ports. Special surgical instruments are inserted through each port. A camera enables the surgeon to see the inside of the abdomen.

Laparoscopic surgery is said to be minimally invasive and is less traumatic for the body than conventional surgical techniques. Not all surgeons have experience in performing this type of surgery, however.

Post-Surgical Care and Living Without a Spleen

It's important that a dog doesn't nibble an incision site and destroy the stitches or staples, which is why Ryan is wearing a cone in two of the photos in this article. The cone is also referred to as an Elizabethan collar or an E-collar.

The vet will probably recommend that the dog avoids climbing stairs for a while and eats frequent small meals rather than a few large ones. The dog won't be allowed to go for walks at first, but will soon be allowed to go for short ones.

Other organs can take over the spleen's functions after a splenectomy, so a 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 in general humans without a spleen live a normal life, we are more susceptible to certain infections after a splenectomy. According to vets, however, this is not much of a problem in dogs lacking the organ.

It's important to save for pet emergencies. A piggy bank may work, but a savings account at a bank is probably a better idea.

It's important to save for pet emergencies. A piggy bank may work, but a savings account at a bank is probably a better idea.

Insurance or a Saving Fund for Pet Emergencies

The cost of major veterinary surgery is very expensive. As cute and tempting as a puppy or a dog may be, it's very important to consider the financial future before bringing the dog home. It would be a horrible situation to be unable to afford a treatment that a pet needs in order to be free of pain or to survive.

Pet medical insurance plans are available, but a person needs to be clear about what a plan covers before signing up for it. Another technique for preparing for pet emergencies is to set aside a specific amount of money from every pay period and place it in a separate savings account.

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

Ryan enjoyed his swim.

Ryan enjoyed his swim.

Update: In Loving Memory

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

If your dog is diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, you should have a detailed discussion with your vet about possible treatments and a prognosis for your pet. It's important to discover and understand as much as you can about your dog's specific condition.

My advice to anyone who has a hematoma or tumor removed from their dog and is told by a specialist that the swelling is benign is to delight in the news and enjoy their pet's renewed health. I would also suggest that they try to give their dog as good a life as possible. If you are ever in this situation, don't wait to take your dog on that special walk that you've been thinking about or to let your dog experience a fun activity that you've been meaning to try. As is true for both dogs and humans, we never know what the future will hold.

References

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: How did your vet determine that more tumors were present? My dog had her spleen removed this summer and a non-cancerous tumor was found in it. l am curious to know what symptoms your dog exhibited that made you go back to find other tumors.

Answer: About three months after his spleen was removed, Ryan exhibited nausea, lack of interest in food, weakness, and a swollen abdomen. At times he was giving little cries. The vet used ultrasound to find multiple tumours in his abdomen. Needle aspiration found blood in his abdominal cavity.

Question: I am so sorry to hear about Ryan. My 7 year old male GSD just got a splenectomy. How was Ryan's quality of life after the surgery?

Answer: Ryan's quality of life after the surgery was good until the true nature of his problem arose. As I say in the article, he seemed healthy and happy for three months after the surgery. He recovered from the operation well and seemed to return to normal until his multiple tumours created problems. His condition was complicated by the fact that he had cancer that had spread. The splenectomy was helpful for him, but because of his specific situation, it wasn't a long-term solution for his problem. I hope your dog recovers well.

© 2014 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 31, 2020:

That’s entirely up to you and your particular situation. All I can say is that veterinarians are generally highly trained and skilled individuals. I am guessing (but don’t know) that some conditions might be harder to diagnose, recognize, or treat in particular animals or in particular cases than in others. I hope your grandpup enjoys renewed health and a long life.

Barbara Knowles on August 31, 2020:

My Grandpup just had a Splenectomy, His parents got the results today that it was just a hematoma no cancer found. The vet did a biopsy On his liver also no cancer found. Since you found out three months later that it was cancer do I trust this diagnosis?

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 15, 2020:

It's good that you took your dog to the vet. I hope she recovers quickly.

Debra on April 15, 2020:

My dog is 11 yrs old and had a hematoma on her ear so she started not being able to walk so we took to the vet and they did surgery all she is doing is laying down and just started drinking water again

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 09, 2019:

I can't answer this, Jane. As I say in the article, I'm a pet owner but not a veterinarian. You need to contact your vet to ask him or her about your dog's situation. Best wishes to you and your dog.

Jane Speller on May 09, 2019:

My poodle cross has just undergone a splenectomy which revealed a benign tumour, Her recovery has been slow and she is showing low red cell count and vet has recommended a sample of bone marrow. What could this mean?

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 18, 2018:

Thank you for the comment, Anne. I am so sorry that you and your dog are experiencing this situation. I hope everything works out as well as possible and that you have a lot of time left with a dog who feels fine. Best wishes to you both.

Anne on November 17, 2018:

Thank you Linda, your article was very helpful. It is generous of you to share such a painful experience, you must miss Ryan very much. My precious Terrier underwent an emergency splenectomy 2 days ago, due to a large mass. Her condition last week was exactly how you described with Ryan, one day hiding under the table and obviously unwell, the next fine. Luckily my vet performed an ultrasound and discovered the unexpected mass which had caused the spleen to rupture. I now await test results of the tumour. Your article has informed me of what to expect, what questions to raise with the vet, and what symptoms to look out for especially in regards to metastasis. It is devastating, thank you for describing your journey.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 04, 2018:

Best wishes to you and your dog, Jennifer. I know the situation is very worrying, but I hope the outcome is good.

Jennifer Cummins on November 04, 2018:

Thank you so much for this article. My much loved Irish Terrier has been diagnosed with two tumours in his spleen. We are about to fix a date for a splenectomy and hopeful that it is non-malignant. Your article has been so informative and has helped me in this nightmare situation.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 28, 2014:

Thank you so much for the visit and the comment, thougtforce. I appreciate your kindness.

Christina Lornemark from Sweden on November 28, 2014:

I am so sorry to read about Ryan, and I know you miss him so much. Such a beautiful dog and I personally feel strongly for large breeds. This hub is very interesting and you explain everything so well. It is a very useful article.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 25, 2014:

Thank you very much, Margaret. I appreciate your visit and your kind comment a great deal.

Margaret Schindel from Massachusetts on November 25, 2014:

I'm so terribly sorry to hear about Ryan's misdiagnosis and recent passing. This is a wonderful article that will help save many other dogs' lives and, as such, is a beautiful tribute to your bel0ved Ryan.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 25, 2014:

Thank you so much for the kind comment, Martie. I appreciate it very much. Your last statement is very true. We were told that the pathologist analyzing Ryan's spleen was an expert at diagnosis, but it turns out that our vet was more accurate about Ryan's problem than the pathologist.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on November 25, 2014:

For some reason I have never done any research on the spleen, so I found this hub extremely interesting.

But oh, the unexpected sad news about Ryan pulled my tears. I am so sorry, Linda. So true, we will never know the future, and we have to accept the fact that doctors and vets don't have supreme knowledge and wisdom.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 25, 2014:

Hi, Peggy. Thank you very much for the comment and the pin! Yes, we were so relieved that Ryan didn't have cancer and that we got him to surgery on time. He's part of our family!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 25, 2014:

So glad that your Ryan is doing well and that the spleenectomy resolved his problem with no further treatment necessary such as would have happened had there been a diagnosis of cancer. He is a handsome boy! Pet insurance policies can certainly help defray expenses! Pinning to my dogs board.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 22, 2014:

Thank you very much for the comment, Thelma! Ryan's illness was a scary time for us, but luckily his experience had a happy ending. I hope your Sunday is lovely, too!

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on June 22, 2014:

I´m glad that Ryan is fine now. That must be a scary moment for you and your dog. I have never heard of this sickness. I hope it will not happen to my dog. Thanks for sharing this very well written and informative hub. Have a lovely sunday!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 18, 2014:

Thank you for the visit and the comment, Dianna. I'm glad that your sister is doing well without her spleen!

Dianna Mendez on June 18, 2014:

Your dogs are so adorable! My sister had her spleen removed years ago and she is doing quite well. I guess this proves your facts on this article. Thanks for the information which was quite interesting to read.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 14, 2014:

Thank you very much for the comment, Peg. I'm so sorry about Dolly. It's horrible when a pet has an illness that can't be treated. Dogs can be such wonderful family members.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on June 13, 2014:

Oh I'm so glad to hear that Ryan is doing okay. He is so cute! Your pictures of him are adorable and the explanation of the trouble he had was thorough and informative.

Our vet told us he sees about 3 cases a month involving spleen issues. In fact, our 14 year old Dolly was diagnosed with a tumor on her spleen that was inoperable. We were grateful that we'd had so many years to enjoy having her as part of our family, but it's never enough time.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 10, 2014:

Thank you very much, Mel. I appreciate your visit. Yes, I'm glad to say that Ryan is almost completely back to normal now and is happy again.

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on June 10, 2014:

So glad your pup is doing well. He looks like an amicable fellow. You are absolutely right that dogs deserve the best medical care available, which is why I don't have one, because I don't think I could dedicate the time or resources. Great hub!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 09, 2014:

Thanks, Deb. Yes, a pet is definitely a long term commitment. It we can afford the expenses, though, pets can be wonderful companions!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on June 09, 2014:

Glad to hear that Ryan is happy and well again. A et is a long term commitment, and I have had my share of expenses, too, in that regard. However, they are a part of our lives and must be well cared for.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 29, 2014:

I'm very glad that your dog's leg problems were solved, Audrey! It's so hard to see our pets in discomfort or pain. Thanks for the visit. I appreciate your comment.

Audrey Howitt from California on May 29, 2014:

So glad that Ryan is ok! Our dog had 2 leg surgeries before we got wise and bought pet insurance--She is a happy and healthy dog now and I am glad--Pups are wonderful!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 29, 2014:

Hi, Heidi. I'm sorry about your experience with cancer in one of your dogs. I've experienced the same heartbreak. I've also experienced receiving horrendous vet bills of thousands of dollars! Surgery - especially emergency surgery on a big dog - is very expensive. As you say, though, the investment is worth it for a believed pet! Thank you very much for the comment and all the votes.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on May 29, 2014:

You make excellent points about the investment that pets can be! After a $5K weekend vet bill for our first dog over 20 years ago, we've always gotten pet insurance for them. It's really helped with so many issues and cancer riders are available (which, unfortunately, I've had to use).

But the investment is so worth it. Your pictures of Ryan and Misha are just adorable! Voted up, useful, beautiful and interesting!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 29, 2014:

Thank you for the lovely comment, Cynthia! I appreciate your visit.

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on May 29, 2014:

As usual I am in awe at the depth of your knowledge Alicia. I hope Ryan has made a very speedy recovery and can look forward to many happy years with you and your family.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 28, 2014:

I'm glad that your dog is doing so well, Bill. I hope she stays healthy and lives for a long time. Thank you very much for the comment.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on May 28, 2014:

Hi Linda. So glad to hear that Ryan is okay and doing well. They are both beautiful. I was not aware of this potential issue with the spleen so this is good info to know. Our 12 year old shih tzu has not had any problems with her spleen but has had other issues over the years. At 12 she is in remarkably good condition and should have a long life ahead of her.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 28, 2014:

Hi, Liz. I'm glad that your dog recovered, too! Thank you very much for the visit and the comment.

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on May 28, 2014:

Thanks for posting this. My dog had an aural hematoma, but I never even thought of it for the spleen! I'm glad Ryan is okay. He is adorable!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 27, 2014:

Thank you very much for the comment, Flourish. We have three cats, but so far neither the cats nor Misha (the black lab) have had any major health problems. Ryan's been the unlucky one! I love the information about the sign in your vet's office.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 27, 2014:

Thank you, Rebecca. (I think that Ryan's a cutie, too! )

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 27, 2014:

Linda - Ryan is adorable, from his puppy photos to his adult photos. I didn't know much about spleen problems in dogs as I have cats with just about every other medical situation, so I learned something from reading his story. I home he has a long happy life. The photo of Ryan in a cone reminded me of a sign in my vet's office: "It's all fun and games 'til someone ends up in a cone."

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on May 27, 2014:

Thanks. Good info to know for dog owners. Ryan sure is a cutie!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 27, 2014:

Hi, Nell. Thanks for the comment, the vote and the share! I'm very relieved that Ryan is okay, too. It was a tense time when we were waiting for the test results.

Nell Rose from England on May 27, 2014:

Hi Alicia, I am so glad that your dog is fine now, what a nightmare! but its something I would never have thought of, so this is really useful for those dog owners who may find something is wrong but not sure exactly what, the best thing is to take them straight to the vets as you said, that must have been a scary moment there, but I am glad he is okay now, voted up and shared! nell

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 27, 2014:

Thank you very much, Bill. I appreciate your kind comment!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 27, 2014:

The dogs were adorable and the information right on! Great article and very interesting.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 27, 2014:

Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, DDE!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 27, 2014:

Hi AliciaC what an interesting hub!

I so enjoyed reading and learning about the spleen. The dog has to go to through so many changes and symptoms. You kept me reading on and so contently. A well-planned and informed hub.Voted up!