We learned about normal spleens and what they do 2 weeks ago, but what happens when things go awry in the spleen? Remember that the spleen helps to filter the blood. Sometimes it does this too aggressively. Infectious agents or cancer cells can be removed so vigorously that pets become anemic. Sometimes the spleen will even attack normal red cells and platelets. This is called autoimmune disease and can be fatal. When the spleen is over-aggressively attacking red cells, the pet can become icteric or jaundiced, which means its skin turns a yellow color. The anemia will cause weakness and lethargy. If platelets are being attacked, blood will not clot properly. Red cell or platelet loss can lead to death in severe cases. Treatment depends on the cause, but includes immunosuppressive medications, blood transfusions and sometimes removal of the spleen.
Tumors of the spleen are relatively common. Cats may develop lymphoma of the spleen or a type of cancer called a mast cell tumor. Both tend to cause vague signs in cats and are often fatal. Dogs can develop a tumor called hemangiosarcoma. This cancer tends to bleed, often quite dramatically as the first sign of its existence. Dogs can also develop benign hematomas in the spleen which can be cured by surgical removal. Luckily the spleen is not a necessary organ for most pets.
Even vague signs of illness can be indicators of serious disease. At Animal Care Clinic we emphasize prevention and early detection of disease.
by Bonnie Markoff, DVM, ABVP