Caring for a Dog After Spleen Removal
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Often we consider a spleen a non-vital organ. Maybe we haven't heard of dogs having a splenectomy (spleen removal), but know it is possible for humans to live well after having the organ removed. However, although a dog can survive after spleen removal, this does not mean they can live the same as before. There are some important considerations we need to make when caring for a dog after spleen removal. Although these considerations should be relayed by a veterinarian before and after surgery, AnimalWised explains what care dogs without spleens require.
Why does a dog need spleen removal?
There are different causes which can lead to a dog needing a splenectomy, the scientific term for spleen removal. To help understand why this will happen, we also need to know what the spleen in dogs is for. The spleen is located next to the dog's stomach and is an important part of their immune response. The reason for this is because it can filter harmful substances which needs to be eliminated and functions as a reserve of red blood cells and platelets.
When the spleen is damaged or affected by disease, it can become enlarged. The reasons for an enlarged spleen include:
- Tumors, both benign and malignant (the latter often in the form of fast-growing hemangiosarcoma).
- Traumatic injuries such as falls from a great height, being kicked or traffic collisions.
- Infectious, metabolic or autoimmune diseases, e.g. hepatitis.
- Splenic torsion, a phenomenon that occurs alongside gastric torsion/dilation of the stomach.
In cases when treatment options are limited, removal of the spleen might be the best option. Veterinarians when considering this type of surgical intervention may remove all or only part of the spleen. This will depend on the extent of the underlying cause and whether it affects the enture spleen or only the perimeter tissue.
Can a dog survive without a spleen?
After a spleen removal in dogs, remaining parts of the immune system should compensate for tis loss. This is the reason it is not considered a vital organ. These other parts include the lymph nodes and liver, but if there is also damage to these areas, their immune system will be more affected. This means that, although the dog can survive without a spleen, it does provide certain consequences for their overall health.
Pre- and postoperative care for dog spleen removal
There are some cases of emergency splenectomy. These can occur when the swelling of the organ might cause rupture or when the symptoms have been neglected to the point they become life-threatening. However, in the most cases of canine spleen removal, the surgery will be scheduled in advance. In these cases, we should ensure the dog is as healthy as possible and keep vaccination/deworming schedules up to date.
In any case, the dog will need to be stabilized before going into the operating room. Only when the removal of the spleen is urgent, such as when it is bleeding profusely, will surgery take place immediately. For schedules procedures, antibiotics are usually administered as a means of infection prevention. Although a relatively straightforward procedure, splenectomy surgeries can provide possible risks, including:
- Issues derived from being placed under a general anaesthetic.
- Infections, both internal and in the incision wound.
- Damage to adjacent organs, as sometimes organs near the spleen can be injured during its extraction.
- Hemorrhage since bleeding can occur during or after surgery. The development of clots is also a possibility after surgery. These clots, also known as thrombi and will have more or less serious consequences depending on where they are located.
- Drug reactions, if our dog is allergic to any of the drugs administered.
- Heart rhythm irregularities.
In terms of immediate postoperative care, as with any type of incision surgery, the incision site needs to be protected. Usually this requires an e-collar to prevent the dog frock scratching or licking their stitches. Postoperative treatment often also requires antibiotic treatment to reduce the risk of infection. They will also be administered analgesics to manage the pain, especially in the first few days after surgery.
About a week after the procedure, the veterinarian will remove the stitches or staples from the wound. They will then check the dog's recovery for signs of infection or any other possible surgical complications. Of course, if we observe any worrying signs at home, we will need to contact the veterinary clinic immediately.
If your dog needs to take medication after their splenectomy, take a look at our article on how to get your dog to take pills after surgery.
Diet for a dog after spleen removal
When caring for a dog after spleen removal, we need to take into account the possible risks posed by a now lowered immune system. Although the spleen is not a vital organ, they will now be missing an important reserve of red blood cells and platelets. For this reason, they are considered immunocompromised. If they were to be infected by a virus, bacteria or fungus, or be affected by certain pathologies, they will be less able to protect themselves.
In terms of feeding, unless the veterinarian determines otherwise, the dog will need to eat the same type of food an otherwise healthy dog will require. However, we need to pay extra attention to their nutrition. Since they are immunosuppressed, we need to do everything we can to help their immune system.
The most important thing is to ensure we provide the right type of food. All dogs should have quality food. However, this is especially important after spleen removal. Too much starch can harm a dog's immune system, so we need to ensure the feed we buy is low-starch and grain-free. While we can feed a dog without a spleen dry feed, it is best we give them at least some wet food. This not only improves quality, but also helps to keep them hydrated.
Finally, we can introduce carrots a couple of times a week as a snack for dogs. There are some fruits and vegetables which are beneficial for dogs in certain amounts. Carrots are particularly good because they help to boost their immune system, are high in vitamin A and beta-carotene, and are also good for their teeth. They are also sometimes used in soft diets for dogs with constipation.
Recommendations for caring for a dog without a spleen
First of all, we must point our that our dog can be able to lead a normal life without a spleen. For them to do so, we need to ensure we take the correct precautions. In terms of caring for a dog after spleen removal, we need to do more than ensure they have the right diet. The following recommendations are the basic care needs of dogs without a spleen:
- The first thing is to offer our dog a calm and safe environment.
- Scrupulously follow the dog's vaccination and deworming schedule in order to minimize the risks of contracting diseases.
- In line with the previous point, it is advisable to avoid contact with sick and unknown dogs of which we do not know their state of health, vaccinations and deworming. This means we need to be careful when outside walking our dog, but we also need to ensure their social needs are met. This can be resolved by joining up with friends who have dogs you know aren't contagious.
- Take them to a veterinarian for a complete review, including laboratory tests and ultrasound, at least once a year. This will be to try to detect and treat any incipient disorder before it worsens.
- Although these measures will help to maintain the quality of life of our dog, avoiding stressing its immune system, sometimes it may be necessary to prescribe medications that stimulate their immune defenses. If this is the case, we will need to follow the recommendations of our veterinarian.
- Finally, the need to use vitamins to complete a balanced diet can be assessed. As always, following the advice of our veterinarian is the only course of action.
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