Tumors and Surgical Conditions of the Spleen
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Article Written by Dr. Daniel A. Degner, Board-certified Veterinary Surgeon (DACVS)

Animal Surgical Center of Michigan

5045 Miller Road

Flint, MI 48507


Phone: 810-671-0088

Key Points

Two-thirds of all splenic tumors are maligant and the remainder are benign

Of the malignant tumors, about two-thirds of them are hemangiosarcoma

About 70% of the dogs that have internal bleeding due to a ruptured splenic tumor have hemangiosarcoma.

Prognosis with dogs that have hemangiosarcoma is highly variable - some dogs live for about 1 year yet others for only a few weeks

Anatomy and Physiology

  • The spleen is attached to the stomach by the gastrosplenic ligament and its blood supply
  • The spleen has a tremendous blood supply and is a reservoir for red blood cells
  • The spleen is a filter which cleanses the blood by removing old red blood cells
  • Dogs and cats can function normally without a spleen as the liver will take over its function


Diseases of the spleen

  • Tumors
    • Breeds most commonly affected
      • Golden retrievers
      • German shepherds
    • About two thirds of the masses found on the spleen are malignant; of the malignant tumor types, two thirds of these are hemangiosarcoma; the bottom line is that about 45% of all splenic masses are hemangiosarcoma, which carries a very guarded prognosis
    • Benign: fibroma, leiomyoma, and others
    • Malignant: hemangiosarcoma (most common), lymphosarcoma, mast cell tumor, leiomyosarcoma, and many more
    • Hemangiosarcoma is the most common tumor and frequently results in rupture of the spleen. Internal bleeding occurs and shock usually results. Hemangiosarcoma is a malignant tumor that usually spreads to the liver, lungs, brain, spinal cord, skin, muscle, and fat beneath the skin. Usually at the time of diagnosis of this tumor malignant cells have spread to other internal organs, thus with time the pet will most likely die of recurrent cancer.
  • Splenic torsion
    • In this condition the spleen twists along the axis of the blood supply
    • The vein which drains the blood is completely occluded, but the artery continues to pump blood into the spleen
    • The spleen becomes very large due to engorgement with blood
    • Eventually blood clots develop in the  blood vessels and the spleen dies off (called necrosis)
    • This condition is very painful and makes the patient very ill


Clinical signs of diseases of the spleen

  • Pale gums – due to bleeding into the abdomen from a ruptured tumor
  • Distention of the abdomen
  • Hard mass sometimes can be felt in the abdomen
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • With chronic splenic torsion, the urine may develop a dark red-brown (Port wine urine) color due to break down of red blood cells and excretion of hemoglobin


Diagnostic tests

  • Complete blood cell count
  • Chemistry profile/urinalysis
  • Chest radiographs (x-rays) to check for spread of cancer
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen to evaluate the spleen, liver, and other abdominal organs



  • Many patients that have splenic tumors or splenic torsion show signs of shock (pale gums, low blood pressure) and need to be stabilized by having intravenous fluids given and sometimes a blood transfusion
  • The heart is monitored for abnormal rhythm



  • Abdominal exploratory is performed to examine the internal organs
  • If hemorrhage has occurred prior to the operation, the free blood is removed and the abdominal cavity rinsed with saline
  • The spleen is removed
  • If cancer is a concern the liver and spleen are biopsied
  • Below is a photo of a spleen that has a hemangiosarcoma tumor




  • Fluid therapy
  • Blood pressure, heart rate, gum color are monitored
  • Continuous ECG is used to monitor the heart
  • About 60% of the dogs undergoing splenectomy will have abnormal heart heats or arrhythmias
  • Arrhythmias can be fatal, therefore treatment is sometimes needed



  • Surgery can be curative if a benign disease is present
  • Hemangiosarcoma, the most common type of tumor of the spleen is highly malignant
  • Most dogs with this disease have microscopic spread of the tumor to the lungs, liver, heart or other regions of the body
  • Chemotherapy (5 treatments of Adriamycin 30mg/M2) and surgery yield a median survival from 90 to 280 days
  • Prognosis for splenic torsion is excellent, providing that no complications such as DIC develop


Potential complications

  • Anesthetic death
  • Infection
  • Arrhythmias of the heart
  • Instant death due to arrhythmias
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) – abnormal clotting occurs and pet usually dies
  • Internal bleeding
  • Hemobartonella infection – parasitic infection of the blood, which is normally cleared by the spleen
  • In our experience, most dogs that have the spleen removed survive; we attribute this to with the aggressive intensive monitoring and treatment provided at our hospital


  1. Aronsohn MG et al. Prognosis for nontraumatic hemoperitoneum in the dog: a retrospective analysis of 60 cases (2003-2006). J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 2009 45(2):72-77.
  2. Hammond TN et al. Prevalence of hemangiosarcoma in anemic dogs with a splenic mass and hemoperitoneum requiring a transfusion: 71 cases (2003-2005). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2009 Feb 13;232(4):553-8.  

Frequently Asked Questions After Surgery

When should my dog have the first bowel movement after surgery?

  • Many dogs will not have a bowel movement for the first 4 to 5 days after surgery
  • Reasons that a dog will not have regular bowel movements after surgery include:
    • The dog has been fasted prior to surgery
    • Dogs do not eat well during the hospital stay
    • They frequently do not eat well when they go home
    • They are fed highly digestible food that produces little stool
    • Pain medication that contain narcotics (such as morphine, fentanyl patches, and tramadol) can be constipating
  • If a pet does not have a bowel movement on the 5th day of being home, a stool softener such as metamucil can be fed
    • Dose of metamucil is 1 tsp per 25 Kg mixed in with each meal (canned dog food); feed immediately after mixing, as the metamucil will gel the food and may make it less palatable

My pet had surgery and will not eat.  What can be done?

  • Dogs
    • Most pets will not eat their regular dog food after surgery, especially if it is kibble.
    • Offer a cooked diet having a 1:1 ratio of a protein source and carbohydrate source.  The protein source can be any meat (example: chicken breast, turkey breast, lean hamburger) that is low in fat and should be cooked (drain off all fat after the meat has been cooked).   The carbohydrate can be pasta, potato or white rice.
    • Try canned dog food; to enhance the flavor sprinkle a very small amount of garlic powder or chicken or beef broth (Chicken-in-a- MugTM or Beef-in-a-MugTM products)
    • Try Gerber strained meats for babies such as the chicken, beef, turkey, or veal
    • Try Hill's A/D diet available at most veterinary hospitals
    • Hand feeding: place a small amount of food in the mouth so that your dog gets the flavor
    • Warm the food slightly in a microwave, as the food will be more aromatic; stir the food before feeding and test the temperature on the bottom side of your wrist; it should only be luke warm.
    • Remember that most pets will not eat the first day or two after they get home from surgery
  • Cats
    • Offer smelly foods that contain fish such as tuna or smelly cat foods
    • Try Gerber strained meats for babies such as the chicken, beef, turkey or veal
    • Hand feeding:  with your finger place a small amount of food on the roof of your cat's mouth; use a syringe to get soft food into the mouth
    • Warm the food slightly in a microwave as the food will be more aromatic; remember to stir the food before feeding and test the temperature; it should be only luke-warm
    • Some cats will only eat dry food, try kibble if your cat normally has been fed that food
    • Petting and stroking your cat frequently will help to stimulate appetite
    • Remember that most pets will not eat the first day or two after they get home from surgery
    • Appetite stimulants such as cyproheptadine may be helpful
    • If your cat refuses to eat anything for 7 days a stomach tube or nasogastric tube should be placed to provide nutrition so that a serious liver problem (hepatic lipidosis) does not develop

My pet is vomiting.  What can be done?

  • The first thing for you to discern is whether your pet is vomiting or regurgitating.  Both will result in fluid or food being brought up.  Vomiting always will have heaving or retching of the abdomen prior to expulsion of the vomitus.  Regurgitation is not associated with heaving and the pet usually just opens the mouth and fluid or food will be expelled.  Usually the regurgited material will be clear or brown colored fluid. 
  • Next is to identify the cause of the vomiting or regurgitation.
  • Causes and treatment of vomiting after surgery
    • When some pets return home after a stay in the hospital they may drink excessive amounts of water at one time and then vomit; if this appears to be the case, the water should be limited to frequent smaller amounts.
    • Medications such as antibiotics, narcotics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication commonly cause vomiting after surgery.  In order to see which medication is causing the problem, the administration of each drug should be separated 2 hours apart.  Usually the pet will vomit or appear nauseated (drooling and sick look) within 1 hour of administration of the medication that they are sensitive to.  The antibiotic in some cases may be changed to a different one, or may be discontinued. 
    • Stomach upset from anesthesia is a potential cause of vomiting and will pass within a couple of days. 
    • An uncommon cause of vomiting after surgery is internal organ failure.  Blood testing will confirm this problem. For this reason vomiting should not be ignored if it persists for more than 24 hours.
    • If your pet had surgery of the bowels or stomach, vomiting is always a concern, as it may indicate that infection of the abdominal cavity, called peritonitis, is present.  Do not ignore this sign.
    • Symptomatic treatment of vomiting involves withholding food for 12 to 24 hours, then introducing small amounts of bland food such as rice and lean cooked hamburger, if your pet does not vomit after that then gradually wean him/her back onto the regular diet after 3 days.  In order to decrease the acidity of the stomach, Pepcid AC 0.5 mg/kg can be given by mouth twice daily for 5 days.  Metoclopramide and Cerenia are good anti-vomiting medications for dogs and cats.  You should always consult a veterinary healthcare professional before administering medication.
  • Causes and treatment of regurgitation after surgery
    • The most common cause of regurgitation is reflux of acid from the stomach into the esophagus while your pet is under anesthesia.  Acidic fluid from the stomach can cause a chemical burn of the esophagus and result in a bad case of heart burn, called esophagitis.  This results in poor motility of the esophagus, therefore water and food will accumulate in this structure.  In most cases, esphagitis is self-eliminating and will resolve within two or three days. 
    • If the esophagitis is severe the esophagus may develop one or more strictures.  A stricture is a narrowing or stenosis of the esophagus and does not allow passage of food down the esophagus, in regurgitation that lasts longer than one week.  This problem should be brought to the attention of your pet's doctor within the first two weeks so that it can be treated by ballooning the stricture (minimally invasive procedure, as it is done with the aide of an endoscope).  If an esophageal stricture is chronic surgery is needed.
    • Symptomatic treatment of regurgitation caused by esophagitis includes feeding bland food, and administering a coating agent (sucralfate) and an acid blocker (omeprazole or other).  Consult a veterinary health care professional if the regurgitation continues for more than a couple of days.

How do I know that my dog is in pain following surgery?

  • Signs of pain include
    • crying
    • biting if you get near the surgical site
    • grimacing (lips are pulled back and the the dog looks anxious)
    • tragic facial expression
    • panting
    • restlessness and unable to sleep; pacing
    • if abdominal surgery was done the pet will not lie down on the incision, or will continually sit up in spite of appearing very tired
    • the worst pain will be for the first 2 to 3 days after surgery

What can I do to control my dog's pain?

  • Narcotic medications that control pain: tramadol, butorphanol, Duragesic (fentanyl patch)
  • Anti-inflammatories used to control pain: Deramaxx, Rimadyl, Previcox, or Etogesic
  • If an orthopedic surgery has been done cold packing the surgical site may be helpful
    • A cold pack may be a pack of frozen peas, crushed ice in a Ziploc bag, or a cold gel pack; place a thin barrier between the skin and the cold pack.  An alternative to a cold pack is to freeze water in a styrofoam cup; after frozen cut the bottom of the styrofoam cup out. Cool the surgical site around the incision by rubbing the exposed ice directly on the skin in a circular pattern.  Cooling the surgical site helps to numb the area.

How do I know that my cat is in pain following surgery?

  • Pain is more difficult to assess in cats versus dogs, as signs can be more subtle and they usually do not vocalize when in pain
  • Signs of pain in a cat include the following:
    • biting if you get near the surgical site
    • growling or deep cry
    • not wanting to eat
    • hiding and not wanting to be near owner (remember that this could also be caused by the cat just being upset about leaving home and coming back)

What can be done for pain at home for my cat?

  • Pain medication such as buprenorphine or a Duragesic (fentanyl) patch
  • Tylenol will kill a cat as they lack abundant glutathione enzyme in the liver
  • Anti-inflammatories can be used, but the dose is much less than dogs

Is it okay for my pet to lick the incision?

  • If a dog licks the incision, the healing process may be delayed.
  • Licking can remove stitches and cause the incision to open
  • Licking can become a severe habit that is difficult to break
  • Licking can cause infection as the mouth has many bacteria
  • Dogs will frequently lick the incision when the owner is not watching such as at night time; if the skin looks red or excoriated the most common cause is from licking.
  • To stop your pet from licking the following can be tried:
    • Elizabethan collar can be placed on the neck; this will not help stop your pet from scratching at the region
    • Cervical collar (bite not collar) is a less awkward device and can be effective at stopping a pet from licking the surgical site
    • A tee shirt can be used to cover an incision on the chest or front part of the abdomen; gather the waist of the shirt up over the dog's back and wrap an elastic band around this part of the shirt.
    • A bandage or sock can be used to cover an incision on a limb; fasten the top of the sock to the dog's limb with tape.
    • Bitter apple can be applied around the incision; many dogs will continue to lick  after application of this topical
    • Bitter Apple and Liquid HeetTM (obtain this from a drugstore...it is used for sore muscles) mixed in a 2:1 ratio can be applied around the skin incision
    • Antipsychotic medication in some cases is needed

Board-certification by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons

What does it mean?

  • Four years of advanced training in surgery beyond the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree

  • Experience in the development of new surgical treatments

  • Rigorous examination by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons to ensure competency in advanced surgical techniques

  • Assurance that a veterinarian is a surgical specialist

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