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Twisted Spleen: Causes, Symptoms, & How To Treat This Serious Issue

A twisted spleen is a rare disorder that we see more commonly in certain large dog breeds. When a pup's spleen twists itself in knots, it can quickly become a dangerous and life-threatening health issue. Learn more about splenic torsion and its common causes and symptoms. 

Have you ever heard the expression of tying your stomach in knots?

We wonder if it has its roots in the twisted spleen condition, in which a doggo's spleen wraps around surrounding blood vessels, cutting off their flow. It's a severe and excruciating canine health issue that can potentially be fatal if left untreated. 

The twisted spleen in dogs, or splenic torsion, isn't as common as other puppy conditions. Still, it happens often enough, especially among certain breeds that are more susceptible to the problem. 

The trick to dealing with a dog's twisted spleen is to move with speed, as every second will count. 

Find out more about the common causes and dog twisted spleen symptoms, so you know what to do if or when the time comes that your pup develops a spleen function issue.

What is a Twisted Spleen in Dogs?

First things first: what even is a spleen? This rarely talked about organ performs a few essential functions in both human and puppy bodies. 

A dog's spleen is a long, tongue-shaped organ that sits on the left side of the abdomen, close to the stomach. 

What does the spleen do?

A dog's spleen filters and destroys aged, non-functioning, and unneeded red blood cells in the dog's body and acts as a reservoir or storage unit for a pup's blood.

The primary role of a spleen, besides moderating blood cells, is to help support immune functions and fight bacterial and viral infections. 

Splenic Torsion: Twisted Spleen in Dogs

Rarely, a dog's spleen will twist around itself, either alone or in conjunction with Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, GDV syndrome, in which a dog's stomach also enlarges and turns. 

Twisted spleens often happen quickly, but can occur more slowly over time. 

While the condition falls on the rarer side of the spectrum, we most often see it happen to large-breed dogs with deep barrel chests. German Shepherd, Standard Poodle, Great Dane, and Labrador twisted spleen seems to happen more often than with small breeds, whose chest organs may have less room to move out of place. 

The dog's spleen will wrap around the blood vessels close by, which cuts off blood circulation and makes the area painfully swollen.

It's an emergency situation that requires immediate vet assessment, so if you suspect your pup's spleen is twisted, drive them straight to the vet clinic!

Symptoms of Twisted Spleen in Dogs

The symptoms of twisted spleen are quite vague and can point to several other health issues, too. It's essential to check closely for any signs and go with your gut – you'll never regret taking your dog to the vet for what ends up being a minor issue. 

Here are the most common symptoms of splenic torsion in our pups:

  • Loss and gain of appetite intermittently
  • Vomiting and weight loss
  • Red or brown urine
  • Abdominal pain or an abdominal mass you can feel
  • Pale gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Physical weakness, collapse, and loss of energy
  • Abdominal swelling or distension

The Main Cause of Dogs' Twisted Spleen

Unfortunately, we don't fully understand why splenic torsion happens in our pups' tummies. 

We know that large breeds are at a more considerable risk, which tells us a dog's size is a risk factor, but researchers and veterinary scientists don't understand much beyond that. 

  • The twisted spleen occurs more often during activities, so movement seems to make twisting more likely.
  • Gastric dilatation and twisted spleen disorders often go hand-in-hand – gastric dilatation, a twisted stomach, may displace the spleen into an awkward position. 
  • Rolling and vomiting may also contribute to a higher risk of the twisted spleen in our dogs, along with nervousness and anxiety.
  • Again, the stomach quite literally gets twisted into knots because of stress!

Steps to a Twisted Spleen Diagnosis

One thing is very clear - a twisted spleen is not a condition to mess around with. A quick visit to the vet clinic is necessary to ensure it gets treated before it becomes life-threatening. 

Be sure to have a complete list and timeline of your pet's symptoms, along with your dog's health history and any past conditions that may be essential factors.

  • First, a vet will perform a complete physical exam on your pup, including a blood chemical test, blood count, urinalysis, and electrolyte panel.
  • A dog's twisted spleen won't be able to process and remove red blood cells, so blood tests give a pretty good indication of what's going on inside your doggo. 
  • Sometimes, splenic torsion causes anemia and pale gums, which can be tested quite easily and seen in bloodwork.
  • Your vet may then do chest x-rays or an abdominal ultrasound to check for masses and see the enlarged spleen positioning, other internal organs, and any out of place fluid floating around the abdomen. 

Treating A Dog's Twisted Spleen

Usually, a vet treats canine twisted spleen with surgery to remove the enlarged spleen – luckily, our dogs can easily survive without a spleen and live a perfectly healthy life. 

The stomach needs to be surgically affixed after spleen removal to ensure it doesn't flip, which is a common recurrence. 

The dog may need hospitalization after surgery for care and extra monitoring of blood pressure, heart rate, other vitals, and the wound itself. 

Vets use fluid therapy for severe twisted spleen cases that put the dog into shock to help stabilize and re-balance their entire bodily system. 

Final Note: Splenectomy Recovery At Home

It's a happy day when you get to take your pup home after their spleen removal surgery, but you're not out of the woods quite yet!

  • Post-surgery, dogs require plenty of home care, a peaceful, quiet place to recover, and daily inspection of the incision to ensure everything is on track. 
  • Our sweet little ones hate to miss out on the action and may try to become active a little sooner than they should. Don't be afraid to use puppy gates, encourage rest as much as possible, and place a bed ramp for dogs in a few key places your dog may try to jump onto: his favorite couch, a bed, or even to get in and out of the car safely. 
  • If your dog no longer has a spleen, you'll want to keep something in mind for the future: a spleen-less pup tends to have a lower immune function and a higher risk of general infection, so it's best to get your doggo on a supplementation plan to keep their immune system in top fighting shape!

1 Response

Liz Sherman

Liz Sherman

July 21, 2021

Thank you for this article. It has helped to shed some light on why we suddenly lost our 7 year old Doberman yesterday due to her spleen wrapping around her stomach and cutting off the blood flow to the stomach. It all happened within a 12 hour span, with surgery confirming what had occurred. Perhaps physical activity at a playday in high heat played a role.

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