It was a real shock the day I found out that our dog had a growth on his spleen. It was the last thing we were expecting to hear when we went to the vet clinic! Please note I am not medically or veterinary trained, I am just recounting our experience with our dog.
Our Dog Had A Growth On His Spleen
This is a long post so I have broken it down into headings and you can use the links below to go the parts you are particularly interested in.
- About Ringo
- Ringo had problems breathing
- Initial visit to the veterinary clinic
- The shock that our dog had a growth on his spleen
- Coping with the diagnosis
- Implications for growth on spleen for dogs
- Planning how to cope
- The day of the splenectomy surgery
- Picking up Ringo post-surgery
- Nursing Ringo at home
- The biopsy results
Ringo is a six year old mongrel rescue dog. He lives with us with his brother Spud. I wrote a story about how they came to live with us when they were three months old.
Apart from all the health issues the puppies came with from abandonment and neglect, Ringo has been a reasonably healthy dog. He had a cyst on his side once that resolved itself by bursting. He has a tiny growth the size of a pea on his ear that he has had since he was about six months old. The Vet is watching to see if that does anything but is not worried about it. He also has to have his anal glands drained every month to six weeks. A job I do having been shown how to do it by the vet. The joys of dog ownership!
Ringo Had Problems Breathing
It was a surprise, therefore, to lay in bed one night and hear he had a strange breathing pattern. I got out of bed to check him and he was breathing very fast. This was not panting, just breathing fast. We had just finished a long succession of days with 40C temperatures so we thought it was the heat. He breathed strangely for a couple of hours but otherwise didn’t seem to be in any distress. I was just thinking we might have to bundle him into the car for a visit to the emergency vet when he gave a big sigh and went to sleep and his breathing returned to normal.
Initial Visit To The Veterinary Clinic
We didn’t want to take any chances so the next morning we put him in the car to go to the vet. It had to be a family outing of course as the boys won’t do anything separately! Barnet Boy kept Spud occupied while I took Ringo into the vets.
It was a long wait as it was very busy. After an hour I was looking at Ringo and thinking he looks perfectly healthy to me, we could just go home! But thank goodness I didn’t. Half an hour later and we were in.
Tests Were Done
The vet nodded that the breathing could just have been down to the heat and the fact that he had a walk before bed while it was cooler. But he wanted to do some tests to be on the safe side. A basic set of bloods was taken and another vet came in to an ultrasound exploration of his abdomen. That is when there was a shock.
The Shock That Our Dog Had A Growth On His Spleen
There was nothing obvious in his abdomen that would suggest a problem with his breathing. But then the vet went quiet, took some measurements and told me that our dog had a growth on his spleen. The vet was chatting away that it was just as well they found this early, if it had burst and caused bleeding Ringo could have died very quickly. But I was so shocked I found it hard to take it all in!
They did more comprehensive blood tests and said they needed to do an x-ray because Ringo needed surgery to remove his spleen so they needed to do a thorough examination beforehand. I have since learned they were checking to see if the growth had metastasized into the lungs. I managed to quickly telephone BB and tell him the news – he was stunned. He sounded how I felt!
Some Good Test Results
The x-ray showed no major problems but did show Ringo had chronic bronchitis. Not enough to require treatment but noted.
The blood tests all came back absolutely fine so the vet declared him fit for surgery and gave us a date.
Coping With The Diagnosis
We went home in stunned silence. I rang my Mum to tell her that our dog has a growth on his spleen (as you do) and she was as horrified as us. She chats to him each day on our video calls. It really took some processing.
The days until the operation actually passed quite quickly. We had got some information from the vet about what would be done, what to expect and how to manage Ringo at home. But we turned to the internet for more information. This is where my background as a researcher really comes to the fore. I know how to check for valid sites that give accurate and reliable information that I can verify with other sources.
Reading about benign and malignant tumors on a dog spleen made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I kept looking at this ‘healthy’ dog, bounding around our living room and barking at the post lady. And thinking how can this be happening to him?
Implications of Growth on Spleen for Dogs
The spleen sits in the abdomen and I was surprised at how large it actually is. Silly really, in my head it was a small organ, as I have read several times you can live without it. In fact, a dog can have its spleen removed with little or no impact on the quality of life or how long they live for. The spleen does have an important function in the body including supporting the body’s immunity so post splenectomy a dog has to be a little bit more protected from potential sources of infection. Of course, the ‘growth’ or tumor is another issue. But the spleen is quite large and deep seated in the body. So removal is a big surgery.
Benign or Malignant?
My heart sank when I read that two thirds of growths on a dog’s spleen turn out to be malignant. Then my positive side kicked in and I thought we have a good chance it will be benign.
My reading also revealed why the vet was so relieved we had found it before it caused any problems. The growth, or tumor, could grow really quite large over time and give no symptoms at all. Until it impinges on the stomach causing loss of appetite and/or bladder causing potentially incontinence.
Then, as the vet suggested, the tumor can rupture and cause bleeding into the abdomen. The dog would get sick very suddenly and could even die suddenly. That made me feel a bit better, Ringo’s growth, whatever it is, was caught really early so that won’t happen.
It is better to go for spleen removal (a splenectomy) because the risk of damage to the spleen during surgery to remove the growth could cause major bleeding and possibly death.
If the growth is benign then a dog will go back to normal life after the splenectomy. If it is malignant that is a whole other ball game and depends if it has metastasized. The prognosis for dogs with a malignant diagnosis is not good. Chemotherapy is an option which may buy a few months.
Planning How To Cope
Barnet Boy and I had a lot to discuss. The first thing was an initial discussion in case the growth was an aggressive malignancy. We both gave a resounding ‘no’ to chemotherapy and agreed to just let the little lad enjoy the months he has left without further intervention. But then we switched our focus on to a positive outcome.
After that, we looked at how we would plan for his care when he came home from surgery. It is a big operation and he would have a large incision on his abdomen that would have to be cared for. He would also be wearing an Elizabethan Collar or ‘cone of shame’.
Making Arrangements In The House
We live upstairs in our house with the bedrooms downstairs. In order to take the dogs out for walks they have to go up and down a steep flight of stairs. Then to go to bed they do the same using the internal staircase. Ringo had to avoid stairs as much as possible after surgery. He weight 13kgs so carrying him up and down the stairs was not an option. We decided to keep him in the bedroom for the first few days, just three steps to get out into the flat garden. We would also keep his interaction with his brother to a minimum; just enough to keep them happy. This meant we can also keep him quiet. BB and I agreed we would split duties on sitting with him.
That was the planning sorted, now we just needed the surgery to take place.
The Day Before The Splenectomy Surgery
On Ringo’s last day of normality for a while we decided to make it a good one. The first thing I did was told him that, today, he could do whatever he wanted! Treats etc were bountiful until the early evening when he had his last meal before the surgery. He had a great night’s sleep, Barnet Boy and me, not so much.
The Day Of The Splenectomy Surgery
It seemed a long hour in the morning before I could take Ringo to the clinic for his surgery. Both the dogs were not fed and the bowl of water was lifted after an initial drink. We couldn’t feed one without the other so Spud didn’t eat in support (not quite how he saw it). I ate my breakfast in a different room away from the dogs because I felt guilty eating!
BB took the boys on a nice long walk and then I was waiting with the car to take Ringo. We swapped his usual harness for a collar with his name on. BB kissed him and then Ringo went in the back of the car and off I went.
Admission At The Clinic
We had a 45 minute wait at the clinic before being taken in to do the paperwork. We went through medical conditions, weight and I handed over the results from the tests that were done two weeks ago (when the problem was first discovered). The chief vet who would be doing the surgery popped in to say hello and confirm the operation he was doing. I then kissed Ringo and left quickly as I was a bit tearful.
Ringo’s surgery was set for 3.30pm so it was a long day! Spud was very quiet, totally perplexed when I walked in the door without his brother. He was a bit mopey all day though he had usual moments of excitement (hey, this is Spud!). The post lady was not spared the usual attention.
Waiting For The Phone Call
The vet was going to call when the surgery was over and the time dragged. 5pm and nothing, 6pm and nothing. Finally at 6.30pm we got the call to say the surgery had gone well but Ringo needed some additional support for a while so they were going to keep him for a further 24 hours. The vet also said it was urgent that Spud got tested and that we should bring him with us when we go to pick up Ringo.
It was a strange evening and night without Ringo. Just Spud in the bedroom. It was surprisingly peaceful as there was no squabbling over who wanted to sleep in which dog bed.
Picking Up Ringo Post Surgery
Spud woke up quite depressed and carried on that way for a large part of the morning. He was clearly missing his brother. Let me stress, these dogs have never been apart from each other which is why we took the two puppies in the first place. They are inseparable!
I rang for an update on how Ringo was overnight and the vet said he was ‘reasonably well’. He would tell me more when we picked him up in the afternoon. At least he was well enough to come home!
Another long day, or so it seemed, until it was time to go and get Ringo and get Spud tested. To be honest, now that Ringo’s op was over my anxiety had switched to hoping Spud’s test results were negative. It is bad enough to say our dog had a growth on his spleen without both of them having the same problem.
Arriving at the vets we were warmly greeted and there was no queue. First, a vet specializing in ultrasound conducted a thorough exam of Spud while we held him (and our breath). She took a very long time and we were convinced she had found something! I asked her and she told me to have patience. She asked various questions about when he last emptied his bladder when and what he last ate etc. Eventually she looked up and said he was all clear. You could have heard the collective sigh of relief from BB and me about a mile away I think.
A Gruesome Photograph
The vet who operated on Ringo came to see me and showed me a photograph of what he had removed. It really brought home to me that our dog had a growth on his spleen! I still somehow hoped it would all turn out not to be real. I hasten to add he thrust this photograph under my nose before I had time to think about it and get squeamish! There sat the spleen on a tray with an enormous great lump growing out of it. The tumor was large, red and angry looking. It was amazing to think that had been growing inside our boy. We had to wait ten days for the results of the biopsy.
Nursing Ringo at home
We were sent home with various medication to give Ringo including pain killers and antibiotics. Strict rest, no climbing stairs, no jumping up and no climbing on furniture. Interactions with his brother had to be kept to a minimum for a few days so that Spud doesn’t lick his wound or get too boisterous for him.
So that meant BB and Spud staying upstairs in the living room and sleeping in the spare bedroom. Ringo and me living and sleeping in our usual bedroom. Luckily it has lots of space and a sofa. Ringo didn’t need his cone during the day as he was on a short leash and every time he went to lick his wound I say ‘leave it’ and he did. Thank goodness for training! At night, when I couldn’t supervise his every move, he wore the cone of shame to stop him licking his incision.
Reintroducing To The House
After a few days Ringo was well enough to reintroduce back into the household. We took stairs very slowly and kept him on his long leash so we had some control. We never left him alone in case he licked his wound. The dogs didn’t quite behave how we expected when we reintroduced them. They had missed each and whined. But when we let them say hello they actually got quite beefy and nasty with each other, bared teeth the lot. I am sure a dog behaviorist could explain that to us. After a few minutes they settled down. But we half got the feeling Spud was jealous of all the attention Ringo was getting. And Ringo felt vulnerable as he was on a leash and Spud wasn’t.
By day four, Ringo was really back to normal as far as he was concerned. For us of course we still had another ten days to go of controlling his movement, medication etc. His incision had gone from quite red and puffy to looking pretty good, with a clear view of the metal staples. When he first came home you couldn’t see the metal staples at all.
On day five we stopped insisting on the leash while he was indoors, just putting it on at certain times when it was difficult for us to monitor him. Like when we were eating! I could trap the leash under my leg and have him next to me. But he was so much better and really appreciated that little bit of extra freedom. We still maintained a close watch to ensure no licking of the incision site and no jumping up on the future – not to mention scrapping with his brother!
Back To The Vet For Staple Removal
The morning I was due to take Ringo for staple removal I noticed that the wound was suddenly red and slight oozing. I couldn’t believe it because his recovery had all gone so well! I thought it was an infection but was relieved to find that was not the case. The vet said his body was healing and trying to ‘assimilate’ the metal staples which were causing an irritation. Another four days wearing the cone and with me cleaning it night and morning and we would be good to go.
Phew! Now we were just waiting for the biopsy results.
The Biopsy Results
It was the longest two weeks ever waiting for the biopsy results. And the results were not good. Ringo was diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of cancer. Further tests were required to get a more detailed analysis of the type of lymphoma but the vet recommended we start chemotherapy right away rather than wait for the results.
Barnet Boy and I had agreed previously we would not put Ringo through chemo. But our vet said that we would be foolish not to try given the diagnosis. Lymphoma responds well to chemo and he assured me that dogs don’t have the same side effects from the treatment that humans do. He didn’t want to wait for the test result as he said that gave the lymphoma another two weeks to spread even further. He also said that if Ringo had a bad reaction to the first chemo treatment then we would not proceed further. On that basis we agreed to go ahead. It was a tough call to make.
So our dog had a growth on his spleen and now we had to face chemotherapy. The subject of a separate blog.
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!