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What is Splenic Torsion?

This life-threatening condition can come on suddenly or develop more gradually.  But, in either case, the condition of the canine will deteriorate and will require emergent veterinary medical care and, potentially, a surgical procedure to save the life of the afflicted dog.  This condition seems to present in large and giant breeds of canine, whose deep chest conformation seems to predispose certain breeds (German Shepherds, Great Danes, English Bulldogs) to splenic torsion.

Splenic torsion in dogs can be defined as a twisted spleen, a  life-threatening condition in which blood flow is cut off, resulting in swelling and pain in the abdominal area.

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Symptoms of Splenic Torsion in Dogs

The symptoms of splenic torsion in dogs will vary depending on whether it is acute or chronic.  Here are some symptoms you might see (with the acute symptoms listed first):

  • Acute collapse with abdominal pain (seek emergency medical care immediately)
  • Abdominal pain (more intermittent if the condition is chronic)
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Weight los
  • Increased/excessive drinking and urination
  • Urine color changes, may look like port wine
  • Lethargy
  • Depression 


There are several types of splenic torsion in dogs:

  • Acute - A sudden attack in which the canine collapses in severe pain; this is an emergency situation requiring immediate veterinary medical attention
  • Chronic - More gradual and subtle in its development, presenting with more non-specific symptoms than the acute type
  • Primary -  More rare, it is the primary problem which does not emanate from gastric volvulus (an abnormal rotation of the stomach more than 180 degrees)
  • Secondary -  Caused by or in conjunction with gastric dilatation volvulus, twisting the spleen to create a blockage or obstruction of the flow of blood

Causes of Splenic Torsion in Dogs

While no known cause has been firmly defined, it is felt that the causes might include trauma, previous surgery, rolling, retching, and exercise as contributing factors. Here is a brief synopsis of what occurs in splenic torsion:

  • The spleen is a large efficient blood filter which removes aged, damaged or parasitic-ridden red blood cells from the bloodstream  
  • The spleen is attached to the stomach by ligaments and is fed by its splenic artery and veins
  • Splenic torsion is a condition in which the spleen has twisted around its own blood vessels  
  • The ligaments which hold the spleen to the stomach become stretched with an episode of stomach twisting as it takes the spleen with it as it twists or rotates
  • The now-stretched ligaments do not allow the spleen to return to its normal position,  closing off the thin-walled splenic veins, allowing them to collapse and occlude
  • Meanwhile, the splenic artery, having a higher blood pressure, is continuing to pump blood into the organ as designed
  • With the obstructed blood flow caused by the abnormal torsion or twist of the spleen, the blood keeps filling the spleen, causing it to enlarge and become painful

Diagnosis of Splenic Torsion in Dogs

Of course, if the acute attack presents, you will absolutely know to get emergent medical attention for your canine family member to save his life, but, in the event, your dog suffers from the more non-distinct symptoms associated with chronic splenic torsion, you may not realize that medical attention will still be required.  It is important to understand that these less acute symptoms can lead to irreparable damage to the digestive system and the acute attack that could be waiting just around the corner.  

Your veterinary professional will require a complete history from you which will include any of the symptoms you have noticed, their severity and duration, along with daily feeding regimen, elimination habits and your assessment of your pet’s behavior.  He will do a physical examination, either on a scheduled basis or an emergent one, and will order testing based upon his findings, clinical signs and symptoms.  He might need blood work or other fluid samples (urine and feces perhaps), other tissue samples, abdominal radiography (x-rays), abdominal ultrasound and possibly CT imaging to assess the size, position and condition of the spleen.  There are other conditions and diseases which can cause the spleen to become enlarged and the above testing will help your vet eliminate them to get to the root of the problem more quickly.

Treatment of Splenic Torsion in Dogs

In the event that your dog has collapsed from an acute splenic torsion event, your vet’s primary concern will be to stabilize his condition, utilizing aggressive intravenous fluids and intravenous antibiotic therapy.  If anemia is found (and it frequently is found), blood components will be administered via IV.  Once your canine family member’s condition has been stabilized, then recommendations and decisions can be made for possible surgical intervention to repair the problem. The surgical options can include but not limited to:

  • Splenectomy - Removal of the spleen in part or completely
  • Splenic repositioning
  • Partial pancreatectomy (removal of a part of the pancreas) if the left pancreatic limb is affected by the torsion
  • Prophylactic gastropexy - This procedure is done during surgery - it sews the stomach to the inside wall of the abdomen to hold it in a better/safer position to reduce repeat episodes in the future

Ongoing care of IV fluids, additional blood component administration and monitoring of heart rate changes should also be expected after an acute episode with surgery and for the chronic episodes in which surgery is recommended.

Recovery of Splenic Torsion in Dogs

Once you get your canine family member back home, expect that you will have to monitor him very closely.  Your vet will schedule a follow up appointment but, in the meantime, you will need to check the incision site daily for signs of inflammation, infection or anything unusual. Your dog will have to placed on restricted activity levels and may even need an E collar to prevent his self-injury to the surgical site.  Your vet will need to educate you on the signs and symptoms of pancreatitis and gastric dilatation volvulus so you can also be watchful for those complications.

The prognosis of your doggy family member’s splenic torsion episode will be dependent upon how severe it was, how quickly diagnosed with appropriate medical care administered to him and if the surgical options were pursued.  The prognosis is generally good if medical care is appropriate and timely.  There are some less than favorable issues which can arise before, during and after treatment if that treatment is not administered in an appropriate and timely manner.  Don’t be reluctant to get your beloved family pet to your vet if you note any of the above listed symptoms. Waiting could be fatal.

Splenic Torsion Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Big Bad
6 Years
Critical condition
0 found helpful
Critical condition

Has Symptoms

Poor gum color,cold,sudden collaps

Just this Monday my 6 year old very large greyhound suddenly collapsed with never showing any signs of any problems matter of fact he had ate his normal food just an hour before. I had put him and my other dog outside while I started dinner and it was a nice day. When I went to let them in instead of laying on the deck on their bed he was laying up against the fence across the yard. He would not come just laying like he does when sunning,I went out to get him he wouldn’t get up. I kinda forced him up and into the house where he immediately payed in the living room in distress
I quickly did a quick go over as his eyes where fixed but he knew me,his gum refill was bad and he had his tongue out. Having been a greyhound racer for 40 years I figured it was bloat as he is very large. Being after hours and my vet out of town I took him in somewhere for an emergency probably around an hour into it we had to carry him in at this point
After xrays ultra sound blood work they tried to tell me it was cancer a few minutes later he passed.
No way did I believe that as he never had a sick day, the next day I talked to vet rad the company the xrays were scanned too they think it was spleen torsion unfortunately big bad died before their findings
He went down so fast literally fine one minute gone the next
I was wondering as he was very tall and at times would counter surf thus the name big bad if certain foods lead to this condition? He would eat anything food.

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English Bulldog
4 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

hard stomach , dark red urine

My English bulldog got into a bag of dog food and ate until she couldn't eat any more.
After 2 days I noticed her stomach was still hard so I took her to the vet. The vet x-rayed her and thought she has pyometras. Low red blood and high white blood cells count
During surgery they found a severe twisted spleen and uterus was fine

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rot mix
11 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Medication Used

pain meds and gastitus meds

my 11 year old rotweiler mix had his torsioned spleen removed two days ago he is eating a little and drinking little he peed twice but no poop how long before he can or should

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Two days after surgery is still early, the surgery is painful and may cause some pain when Bentley thinks about defecating; I would give it another day or so, as long as he isn’t showing he needs to go but can’t. Keep an eye on him in the meantime, but if he also had gastric volvulus as well it may be a few days. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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