After nearly ten years taking care of dogs on a daily basis, we recently learned about an important health topic we should have known about! (If you’re squeamish, you may want to avoid a picture later in this post)…
Our dog Finnegan, a 10 year old Shar-Pei / Golden mix, had to have an urgent surgery to remove his spleen last week. We had been noticing for a couple of weeks that when he laid on his side, we could sometimes feel a little bit of swelling in his lower abdomen near his back legs. Sometimes it was more noticeable than other times, and we thought it might have just been a full tummy, but we decided to get him checked out by his vet.
When Fin’s vet felt his tummy (she also have to move him around a little to get to the right place to feel the swelling), she immediately knew he had some sort of tumor or swollen organ in his abdomen. She took x-rays right away and saw that he had a large tumor attached to his spleen. We scheduled surgery for the next day.
Our vet explained that it was fairly common for dogs to develop some kind of “Splenic Masses” when they get a little older, and these can fall into two categories: the benign growths are called hemangiomas, while the malignant ones are called hemangiosarcomas (cancerous). In either case, it’s very dangerous to not remove the spleen and growth right away, as they grow very quickly and can rupture, causing internal bleeding and death.
While it’s fairly common for dogs to develop these growths, it’s not nearly as likely that dog owners will notice the actual growth in time to have it removed safely. Often, cancer symptoms become evident before then, or the growth will burst or bleed internally, causing symptoms that lead to an emergency vet visit. When dog develop large internal tumors that go undetected, any sort of bump or fall can cause them to rupture.
The next day Finnegan had his spleen removed, as well as the growth attached to his spleen. The growth was very large and taut, and ready to burst. It was being fed by the blood vessels in the spleen, so all the large blood vessels had to be cut and sealed off.
Yeah, I know. Wow…
It turns out we had some warning signs a few weeks before the surgery, but didn’t know what to make of them. About a month before we noticed any swelling in his belly, Fin had an episode where he was walking across the living room and seemed to get a little woozy, like when you stand up too fast. A few steps later and we knew he was going to fall down, and we caught him. A couple of minutes later he seemed totally fine again. It worried us because it was such an unusual and unique event. We asked out vet about it, and did a blood workup (which came back normal) and a Valley Fever test (which came back positive). Because his red blood cells had regenerated to normal levels, it was chalked up to Valley Fever symptoms. In retrospect, the vet says it was more likely that a smaller blood vessel had burst causing low blood pressure, but had sealed itself off fairly quickly. At this point we were not noticing any swelling in his belly, so there was no way to know it was symptomatic of the tumor attached to his spleen.
Fin, it turns out, has been extremely lucky. Most of these tumors go undetected until it’s too late, and they burst. Dogs are rushed to the vet for emergency surgery, but that incident has a very low recovery rate. A tumor of this size amazed the vet staff, who said it could have burst at any minute. The surgery can be tricky, and recovery can sometimes be rough. Once the tumor and spleen are removed, they’re checked for cancer, and you have to wait a few days to get a definitive result back for benign or malignant. If it’s malignant, you can do chemo, but the life expectancy is still only a few months at best.
We are very, very lucky. We have an amazing vet for Finnegan, and he is a super tough dude. His surgery was on a Wednesday, he came home on a Thursday, and on Sunday we got a text from our vet about the lab results. She had sent three different sections to the lab, and each of them had come back CLEAN. That is, there were no malignant cells found in any of the tissues – no cancer. We took a long time to compose ourselves, because we knew the odds were not very good, and we had just beaten them. Fin was nearly out of the woods – we just had to keep him still while he healed and get his blood work checked (low blood counts or pale gums can mean there is some sort of post-operative internal bleeding).
We’re so thankful, and we’re so lucky. Good vets are hard to find, and we’ve had many vets over the years. If you live in the Tucson area we can’t recommend enough that you check out University Pet Clinic, where Dr. Adams, tech Chris B and the entire staff have been treating us like family for the last few years. We love them.
For more information on dog spleen issues, here’s a good general link. You can search for many others of course. Splenectomy / Splenic Masses