Medical problems in dogs are something that vets have gotten better at treating over time. We all love our pets and their health is paramount to the longevity of their life, so when health problems occur, it can be quite stressful for the family - especially while waiting for a diagnosis to be made. Dogs, like humans, can have a variety of ailments, but because dogs cannot speak, we have to look at other things that dogs may do to communicate their well-being.
Medical conditions in dogs are not always easy to diagnose because the symptoms of a particular ailment can be similar in nature to many other illnesses. Take, for instance, the spleen. This is an organ that can have problems, particularly in older dogs; however, this is not exclusive to only the seniors. Diagnosing issues related to the spleen have gotten better as medicine has advanced, but let’s take a look at whether a dog can live without a spleen.
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Signs Dogs Can Live Without a Spleen
When trying to diagnose a spleen-related issue in your dog, there are a few symptoms that you can look out for.
Tiredness: If your dog has become more tired or restless, this can indicate an issue.
Swollen Abdomen: The abdomen is located in the rear hind of a dog. If this area seems swollen or larger than usual, this can indicate a medical issue.
Anemia: If a dog shows any signs of anemia, this could be a potential problem. Signs of anemia include the gums and eyelids appearing to be very white.
Loss of Appetite: Monitoring a loss of appetite over a few days will give you an indication if something is wrong. Like humans, dogs can have off days from food, but if this is prolonged, it may be worth visiting your vet.
The above are general spleen-related symptoms. In the case of a ruptured spleen, there are other symptoms that you need to be aware of.
Shock: Signs of hypovolemic shock include severe weakness and lethargy, rising heartbeat, very low blood pressure, and pallid or bluish color to their gums, eyelids, and lips.
Weakness: This could also be a sign of a ruptured spleen. Weakness and lethargy are also signs of shock, which is a medical emergency.
Collapse: If your dog suddenly collapses, it may be a sign of a severely bleeding spleen.
If spleen-related issues in your dog are diagnosed early, you can have the spleen removed (known as a splenectomy) - and as long as there are no complications and it is caught in time, your dog should be able to live a comfortable life, spleen-free.
- Lack of focus
- Swollen Abdomen
- Tiredness or lethargy
- Loss of appetite
History Behind Dogs Living without a Spleen
Many people have heard of a spleen but are not sure what it actually is. A spleen is like a blood reservoir, and its role is to aid red blood cell production. The spleen is also there to filter and remove old blood cells, and it is an integral part of the immune system when fighting infections.
The spleen is situated near the stomach and is located on the abdomen, on the left. In regards to its size, this depends on your dog. However, the rule of thumb is that the spleen is not as big as the liver, but is larger than the kidneys. Many journals and practitioners describe it as ‘slipper-shaped,’ so it is easy to spot. As this is an organ for storing blood, it is also easy to distinguish from the other organs due to its color.
In the past, spleen problems were difficult to diagnose and often fatalities occurred, simply due to the lack of knowledge of this organ. So, historically, dogs were not able to live without a spleen, purely because the medical advances weren't available - particularly for dogs. However, modern medicine has enabled dogs to have a better life expectancy after a spleen removal.
Science Behind Dogs Living without a Spleen
The diagnosis that a vet has to deliver to determine if a spleen has to be removed is based on a blood test and a physical examination of the abdomen. If the blood test and the physical examination are not enough, then an x-ray or an ultrasound will need to be conducted to confirm, before surgery is suggested.
These types of tests will, in most cases, either confirm or eliminate spleen-related problems and, therefore, enable the vet to be able to offer the best course of action. Where possible, vets will often try to save the spleen, but if the spleen problems are too severe, they will perform the removal procedure. The procedure is fairly simple and will be done under an anesthetic, but in most cases, your dog should only need to stay overnight (although rest will be needed afterward).
Training a Dog to Live without a Spleen
Once a diagnosis of a spleen problem has been confirmed and your vet has performed a splenectomy, your dog and their body will have to learn how to live without this organ and it can take over a month for a dog to heal. Your dog will be provided with painkillers to ease any pain and these can be given to your dog at home.
Your dog will also be given an e-collar or pet cone, as this will stop them from pulling out any stitches which have been put around their abdomen. As the size of the incision is quite large, you will need to reduce how much exercise your dog does and keep an eye on your dog in general too.
Your dog may also be given antibiotics to make sure that they do not pick up any infections, and probably will need iron supplements that can help their body to recover from any of the blood that has been lost. As part of the recovery process, your dog will need to learn to relax and allow time for recovery. You need to make sure that your dog:
Does not run or jump
Does not climb the stairs
Avoids playing with other pets
In a situation where your dog has to be left alone, if possible, they need to be kept in a cage or another small area that is safe and warm for them to be in while alone. This is something that is essential throughout their recovery period.
Safety Tips for Dogs Living without a Spleen:
In the short-term, recovery is the most important and can negate long-term issues, so follow veterinary advice as much as you can during the recovery process.
It's also important to remember that dogs in pain can become protective or show signs of aggression, particularly when approached, so never leave unwell dogs and children unattended. Plus, make sure you read the body language correctly to avoid any outbursts.
Stitches are the main safety precaution whereby they need to be kept clean, dry, and avoid your dog scratching at them