As dog owners, we want to keep our four-legged family members healthy. On rare occasions, your pet may develop a serious condition such as splenic torsion, an abnormality in dogs that must be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. Understanding this condition will help lead to proper care and treatment.
The spleen is an organ found in humans and other animals, including dogs. Its main function is to filter blood to remove old or damaged red blood cells and to store extra blood. The spleen is attached to the stomach by ligaments and has a rich vascular supply, from the splenic artery and vein. The artery is at high pressure, thick-walled and pumps blood into the spleen. The vein is at low pressure, thin-walled and removes blood from the spleen.
According to Dr. Daniel A. Degner, veterinary surgeon, splenic torsion is a rare condition where the spleen twists itself around those blood vessels. In addition, if the stomach dilates or bloats, it pulls the attached spleen into an unusual position, tightening around and collapsing the thin-walled vein. The thick-walled artery continues to pump blood into the spleen, but without the vein to remove the blood, the spleen becomes very large and painful. This condition primarily affects large-chested breeds of dogs like German shepherds and great Danes.
Splenic torsion can be acute or chronic. The acute form is caused by complete occlusion of venous blood flow and causes immediate symptoms such as a distended, painful abdomen, rapid heartbeat, quick pulse, pale gums and possibly cardiovascular collapse or shock. The chronic form is caused by incomplete or partial blockage of blood flow and may start with persistent abdominal discomfort, an enlarged spleen that you can feel, vomiting, lethargy, depression, lack of appetite, weakness, diarrhea and red- to brown-colored urine.
A veterinarian can diagnose splenic torsion based on physical findings, laboratory tests, x-rays and ultrasounds. A physical exam will reveal the enlarged spleen upon palpating the abdomen. Laboratory tests include a complete blood count, electrolyte and chemical profile, urinalysis and coagulation test. According to Degner, affected dogs will show anemia, decreased hemoglobin concentration, an elevated white blood cell count, possibly a low platelet count, elevated liver enzymes, reduced ability to form blood clots and hemoglobin in the urine. X-rays will show an enlarged, displaced spleen that may be in a C-shape and possibly free-floating blood in the abdomen. Ultrasounds will confirm an enlarged spleen and show loss of venous blood flow.
Initially, the veterinarian will stabilize the canine patient with IV fluid therapy and any necessary antibiotics or blood transfusions. Then the veterinarian will most likely perform a surgical removal of the spleen. Humans and animals can live a normal, healthy life without a spleen, but according to PetMD, because the spleen is involved in the immune system, it is possible the dog will be left with an increased risk of infection.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Sarah Quinlan has experience writing for various websites on science, biology, veterinary science, health and medicine. For over seven years she has worked as a scientist in various biological fields where she has written and contributed to multiple manuscripts that have been published in scientific journals. Quinlan holds a bachelor's degree in zoology and a master's degree in forensic biology/chemistry.