Splenic Torsion in Dogs
The spleen exists as a filter to destroy excess red blood cells, and as a reservoir for blood. It is a main support to the immune system. Splenic torsion, or twisting of the spleen, may occur by itself, or in association with gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) syndrome, when a dog’s air-filled stomach expands and twists on itself. It can occur suddenly, or it can gradually twist over a period of time.
Dogs are rarely affected by an abnormality such as splenic torsion. When it does occur, however, it most commonly seen in large-breed, deep-chested dogs, like German shepherds, standard poodles, and great Danes.
Symptoms and Types
- Intermittent lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Red to brown colored urine
- Abdominal pain
- Pale gums
- Increased heart rate
- Abdominal mass that can be felt
- Appearance of genetic relation: large-breed and deep-chested dogs are most commonly affected
- Prior gastric dilatation, and volvulus (abnormal expansion, and twisting of the intestinal or gastric organs)
- Excessive exercise, rolling, and retching may contribute
- Nervousness and anxiety have been associated with an increased risk of GDV
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on the patient, including a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition.
A coagulation test may show prolonged bleeding times, which would indicate a disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (clotting within multiple veins throughout the system), a serious end-stage disease of the cardiovascular system.
Abdominal x-ray images may reflect a mass, and/or an abnormally located spleen. An abdominal ultrasound may be used for a more sensitive imaging of the spleen. Your veterinarian may also want to use an electrocardiogram to trace blood flow, a blockage in the flow may show as arrhythmias of the heart.
Dogs with GDV should be considered a surgical emergency. After fluid therapy and medical treatment, a surgery to remove the spleen (splenectomy) should be performed. At this time, the stomach will need to be surgically affixed, or it may flip again at a later date. A splenic sample should be submitted for histopathologic examination (laboratory study of abnormal tissue). Fluid support and cardiovascular monitoring will be provided after splenectomy.
Living and Management
Your veterinarian will schedule follow-up appointments to monitor your dog’s progress. Post-surgery infection is a serious issue of concern. You will need to monitor the surgical site for cleanliness. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for proper methods of cleaning a post-surgery wound. If you observe any redness, swelling, itching, or oozing at the site, you will need to contact your veterinarian. Because the spleen plays a role in the immune system, there is some concern that the absence of the spleen may place an animal at an increased risk of infection. You may wish to talk with your veterinarian about ways to strengthen your dog’s immune system, or to protect it from injury and illness.
If your dog shows symptoms of GDV again, call your veterinarian immediately for advisement.
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