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What is Twisted Spleen?

A twisted spleen in cats is known to the veterinary world as splenic torsion. In short, splenic torsion is the condition in which the blood vessels are twisted around by the weight of the filtration organ. A twisted spleen is always an emergency, as permanent damage or even death can occur very quickly in this situation. Splenic torsion can mimic the symptoms of other medical conditions, which is why you should seek the care of a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis.

The spleen in a large filter, removing impurities such as infection, parasites, and damaged red cells from the blood. This specialized filter is attached to the cat’s stomach by ligaments and a chain of blood vessels that keep the organ flush with life-supplying blood. When the spleen twists or rotates, the blood vessels become cut off like a kink in a garden hose and the blood cannot drain from the organ. The spleen enlarges significantly, causing a great deal of pain to the feline.

Symptoms of Twisted Spleen in Cats

A twisted spleen in cats has two types; chronic and acute splenic torsion. Although both types are caused by a rotated spleen, the clinical symptoms are greatly different. 

Chronic Splenic Torsion

  • Dark red urine (caused by the red blood cell breakdown) 
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy 
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting intermittently 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Spleen enlargement 

Acute Splenic Torsion 

  • Weak pulse
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • Pale gums
  • Abdominal pain
  • Distention of the abdomen 

Causes of Twisted Spleen in Cats

The cause of twisted spleen in cats is still unknown, but veterinary experts do know that the spleen rotates, partially or completely cutting off its blood vessels. Since the spleen is connected to the stomach, the stomach may also rotate causing a condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus which is commonly caused by bloat. The weight of the enlarged organ is believed to cause the rotation and in turn cause the spleen to twist. Splenic torsion is rarely seen in cats, but veterinarians believe breeding females might be at a greater risk in developing the condition. Pregnancy stretches the abdomen and when the queen gives birth, there is now extra space for organs to move. 

Diagnosis of Twisted Spleen in Cats

A twisted spleen in cats can be diagnosed through a physical examination, blood work, a urine examination, x-rays, and ultrasounds. Since the spleen is a filtration organ of the blood, a complete blood cell count may show signs of anemia and leukocytosis (high white blood cell count). A chemistry profile may also be taken, showing elevated signs of the liver enzyme bilirubin to diagnose the spleen has become compromised. If your cat has been urinating blood or a dark colored substance, it is important to inform the veterinarian so he can perform a urinalysis.

Ultrasounds and abdominal radiographs have proven to be most useful in the diagnosis of twisted spleen in cats. Through an x-ray, the veterinarian can visualize the displaced spleen and an ultrasounds can help to assess which additional problems are present as the feline moves.

Treatment of Twisted Spleen in Cats

The treatment of a twisted spleen in cats is always surgery, but the proper surgical method can differentiate from veterinarian to veterinarian. One veterinarian may choose to untwist the spleen and allow the organ to return to normal size, if not severely damaged. However, there is no secure way to permanently prevent the spleen from twisting again, so many veterinarians choose the remove the organ completely. 

In any case, your feline will be stabilized with blood and fluid therapy prior to surgery (if needed). Your veterinarian will perform the discussed surgical procedure and may hospitalize your feline for a few days afterward to safely monitor her vital signs. Once the cat is stabilized, she will be allowed to return home with you. The prognosis for a twisted spleen in cats is very good if the feline received medical care immediately. The longer the twisted spleen is left untreated, the greater the chance of permanent damage. 

Recovery of Twisted Spleen in Cats

After a surgery and a couple of days in the hospital, the veterinarian will allow your cat to return home, but she will still need a couple weeks of recovery time. Have a quiet, safe, comfortable place for your cat to rest and recover in the home. Check her incision site twice a day to ensure it is clean and that the stitches did not come loose, and to see if bleeding is present. The more your cat moves, the greater the chances of incision bleeding, so a small recovery area is best. The veterinarian is likely to send you home with an Elizabethan collar to prevent her from licking and infecting the incision site. Pain medication and antibiotics may be sent home with you, so make sure your feline is given her medication as directed. Finally, the veterinarian will request check-ups to follow up on your cat’s recovery process, and her recovery plan may be altered depending on how quickly she is healing.