Enlarged Spleen of the century

When a dog-owner calls and says that his dog is dribbling a little urine, you think of the usual suspects: weak bladder sphincter, bladder infection, bladder stones, neurological problems.  You do NOT think of an enlarged spleen.

Max Post-op Max (this is his post-surgery photo) is a Mastiff mix.  He's about 8 years old (a guess, as he was a stray originally), and usually weighs in the low 80's.  For several days, he had been dribbling a few drops of urine after he watered the shrubbery, even though he had a good stream when he let fly.  He had also leaked a puddle where he was lying down on a couple of occasions.

With that kind of history, I usually want a urine specimen first.  You usually need to culture the urine, so a voided sample is not good enough for that.  You just can't get an uncontaminated specimen when the dog pees in a cup.  What you need to do is a cystocentesis — you lay him down on his back, do a surgical prep on his tummy, use the ultrasound to locate his bladder and insert a sterile needle.  Then you withdraw some urine with a syringe and you're ready to do your culture and urinalysis.  The specimen is not contaminated, and you don't have to follow the dog around the yard with a cup.

We lay Max down and scanned his bladder, and found that it was being compressed by a large mass of tissue. Further scanning showed this to be the tail of his spleen.  An X-ray confirmed that his very large spleen was extending from his stomach all the way back to his bladder.  It was so big and heavy that the weight of the organ was compressing the bladder and causing Max to leak urine.  Sort of like a lady with an advanced pregnancy — when the baby is bouncing on your bladder, you can have an "accident".

Spleen diagram Even in a very large dog like Max, the normal size of the spleen would be about one and one-half times the size of my hand — ten inches long and 1/2 inch thick would be a big one.  This was just unreal.  [It's the long, curvy red spot in the diagram.]

Your first thought would be cancer, but the ultrasound scan showed no masses or changes in texture.  It just looked like a normal spleen… only huge.  And… why is that?   I sent out the usual panels of blood tests and they were all normal.

I spoke with an internist at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the University of Missouri and she said, "There is huge list of differential diagnoses."  So huge, apparently, that she just listed a few for me to get started with.  "Screen for tick-borne diseases". [We sent off the blood tests.]  

"It could just be twisted a little, or have a partial thrombus [blood clot] in the splenic vein." [Blood can get pumped in by the arteries, but can't get out as fast, so the spleen gets gradually bigger and bigger by being inflated with blood.] 

"You should still consider cancer.  Try aspirating the spleen." [Stick a needle in it and see what a syringe will suck up.] Since the spleen is structurally a big sponge full of blood, we'd probably just get blood cells, but she assured me it would be safe.  So I did.

"If you don't find anything on your tests, then you need to take a biopsy specimen.  Well, if you're going to do that, just take out the whole spleen." [You can live without it, if you have to.]

So, no tick-borne diseases.  The cytology report on my needle stick says "suspicious for lymphoma", but could just be some kind of inflammatory reaction.  With a needle aspirate, you're looking at individual cells and you don't see any kind of architecture.  It can be misleading.  And it was.

Next step:  exploratory surgery to remove the spleen.

Big Spleen His spleen was 28 inches long and weighed six and a half pounds.  It wasn't twisted.  It was a lot of work to get out.  This picture reminds me of people with their trophy fish.  In fact, I've seen plenty of trophy fish that weren't this big.  We sent several sections to the pathologist, and it's not cancerous. It's just "severely congested" (i.e. really overfilled with blood). 

It was so "over-inflated" with blood that wherever I bumped it with a finger it would break and start bleeding.  I didn't lose any blood from the major vessels as I tied them off, but the rest of it was bleeding like a cartoon character shot with a shotgun.  He was at no small  risk of the organ rupturing and having severe internal bleeding.

The good news is that his prognosis is good.  We still have to check a few things to look for reasons he might have had a blood clot in the first place, but no deal-breakers so far.  The first picture in the post shows him the day after surgery and he already felt better.  Nine days later he is recovering his energy level and seems to feel really good… and he's not wetting himself.



21 thoughts on “Enlarged Spleen of the century

  1. Janet says:

    wow, that is huge! Did you contact the Guinness Book of World Records? Poor thing, he must have been uncomfortable, to say the least.

  2. Bkr says:

    Just had my dogs spleen removed yesterday. He is a 6 year old German Shepherd. The spleen weighed 2 1/2 lbs and we thought that was big. Holy Cow. Poor Max. I hope he is still doing well. Thanks for the info.

  3. Doc says:

    Just the usual. No contact sports. Incision clean and dry. Watch for swelling, discoloration or oozing. Talk to your veterinarian about any concerns that you have. He/she is seeing your dog and is your best source of information.

  4. Michelle says:

    had my dogs spleen removed last Wednesday and it was almost 8lbs, the tumor on the spleen was very large, vet couldn’t believe she didn’t pass prior to the emergency surgery.

  5. Brenda says:

    Hi. My 10yr old Staffordshire Terrier just had his spleen removed today. Dr Winn weighed it in at 7lbs. Has a softball sized mass that went for biopsy. Next few days are going to be HARD, waiting for results 🙁

  6. Doc says:

    Hello, Brenda, I understand your concern. Many splenic masses are benign, but I have lost two dogs of my own to hemangiosarcoma. One had obvious spread when I removed the spleen, the other didn’t. Here’s hoping for the best.

  7. Wendy Tanaka says:

    Our 95 lb mix had a 3.1 kg slene removed here in Japan. He had a cancer marker in his blood test 4.3 and CT also revealed calcifications or spots on his lungs making them suspect hemangiosarcoma. We were told it was palliative surgery. I await the biopsy. I am using small blend of 50-50 diluted Sacred Frankincense, Frankincense, Helichrysum, Copaiba, Valerian and Lavender for palliative care. When his breathing is labored, he receives a gentle blend of eucalyptus. The oils are applied no more than once a day. He is eating and excreting normally. I am wondering if, once his antibiotics are done or before if I can give him one drop or two of CBD sublingually (toxicity is my concern, but look at chemo, gosh). I saw research where radiation with CBD on smart materials is being used, but the research was so preliminary as to be unhelpful.

    • Doc says:

      Hello, Wendy,
      I really don’t have any expertise in this type of alternative medicine.
      In regard to CBD oil, we are still waiting for good studies to document what is a safe dose, what is an effective dose, what it’s good for, and so forth.

      At present, it is totally unregulated, so we can’t even be sure that the bottles contain what they say they do. I don’t know about Japan, but in the USA, it’s sold in doctor’s offices, pharmacies, gas stations, and discount stores.

      When you get your biopsy results, your veterinarian should be able to give you more specific advice. Hemangiosarcomas are bad tumors. They spread rapidly in many patients, and take some really aggressive chemotherapy to get any results.

  8. Alison Jones says:

    My labradoodle who is just shy of her 13th bday had her 5.03 kg spleen removed today. She’s had the mass for a little over a year. At first we didn’t remove it because everyone expected it to be a hemangiosarcoma. Then COVID19 hit and we didn’t want her to go to surgery if we couldn’t be with her. However, 17 months later we knew she’d outlived the chance of hemangiosarcoma. Surgery today was a success. Her blood work and CXR were unremarkable; visual inspection of her intraabdomimal organs look good. We can’t wait to bring her home and celebrate her 13th bday on 7/28!

    • Doc says:

      Hello, Allison,
      THanks for sharing your story. Some of these big spleens are not cancerous, but they can still rupture, so it’s good that you got it out of there.

  9. Judy Brown Fletcher says:

    Well… that was a very long spleen, to be sure. But many a Greater Swiss has had much heavier ones removed! It seems we have quite a few non-cancerous spleens with hematomas. My late Bubba (survived spleen removal for several years) had one that weighed 12 pounds. But his was just so-so in the Swissy realm.

    • Doc says:

      “Well, that was big… bit I’ve seen BIGGER.” The first liar doesn’t have a chance when you start fish stories. I hope I don’t see any of your REALLY big spleens.

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