This article was updated on December 14th, 2022
There can be nothing quite as devastating as finding out your dog has a spleen tumor. There are many questions that follow, including what can we do to treat, how long will your dog live, and when euthanasia is the best option.
There are many factors to take into account when deciding if euthanasia is the right choice for a dog with a spleen tumor. The most important consideration is a dog’s quality of life. If your pup is in pain or discomfort, struggles to move, and doesn’t find joy in the things they used to, euthanasia is often the best option. But wait, before you make the choice for euthanasia, let’s get into more of the details of spleen tumors and what can be done to help your dog.
What is a spleen tumor? What are the main types?
The spleen serves a couple of different roles. First of all, it’s a player in the immune system that produces white blood cells to fight off infection. It also serves to produce and store up to 1/5 of a dog’s red blood cells and platelets. Both of these duties make tumors in in this area a cause for bleeding concern.
Fortunately, the diagnosis of a spleen tumor doesn’t always mean the worst. There are several types of tumors that can grow on the spleen, some that are malignant (bad), and some that are benign (not so bad).
- Malignant, or cancerous, tumors of the spleen include hemangiosarcomas, lymphoma, histiocytic sarcoma, mast cell tumors and leukemia, among others. These tumors are not only capable of causing significant internal bleeding, they can also spread to other areas of the body.
- Benign spleen tumors include hemomas and nodular hyperplasia. These lumps and bumps are basically clotted blood and won’t spread to other organs. However, removal is still important to prevent unwanted or sudden bleeding. Dogs can also get splenic abscesses which can cause lumps and bumps that should be removed.
Dogs with spleen tumors may show mild and non-specific signs of lethargy, decrease appetite, weight loss, weakness, and a larger abdomen; or they may show up with sudden signs of collapse, pale gums and cold legs if the tumor starts to bleed.
How are Spleen Tumors Treated in Dogs?
No matter if a spleen tumor is benign or malignant, the best option is removal. Even though the spleen plays double duty as an organ of the immune system and red blood cell storage, it is considered nonvital and can be removed with few lasting effects. The entire spleen is most often removed along with the tumor just to ensure that the entire mass is taken care of and to completely remove the possibility of a sudden rupture and bleeding.
- Removing the spleen can be curative for benign tumors since these don’t spread and removal makes the chance of rupture and hemorrhage zero.
- Removal can also increase the life expectancy of dogs with malignant tumors by a couple of months even without further treatment. Chemotherapy is often recommended following spleen removal to further target cancer cells that may have already spread. These treatments together can further increase a dog’s life expectancy.
Of course, there are potential complications of splenic surgery, including issues handling the anesthesia and bleeding, but these risks are lower than not going through with surgery. These complications can be reduced by doing pre-operative blood work and a thorough exam.
What is the Life Expectancy and Survival Rate of Spleen Tumors in Dogs?
An important factor to take into account in your decision to euthanize your dog with a spleen tumor is life expectancy: how long will a dog live with a spleen tumor? The answer to this is going to depend on the type of tumor, severity, and treatment. For example, there’s a big difference in survival between a malignant tumor that’s already spread and a benign splenic tumor. Here are some general guidelines for the life expectancy of dogs with spleen tumors.
1. Benign tumors: Without any treatment, dogs with benign spleen tumors can live many years with very few side effects. The big issue comes if these tumors rupture and start to bleed. Bleeding from a ruptured splenic tumor can be severe enough to warrant a blood transfusion or even cause death.
With surgical removal, dogs with benign spleen tumors can go on as if nothing happened. They can live a completely normal life without the worry of sudden hemorrhaging.
2. Malignant tumors: These types of masses are a different story all together and are where spleen tumors get their bad name. Without treatment, most dogs with a cancerous spleen tumor that hasn’t yet spread will die within 3-6 months due to the metastasis of the disease to the lungs and other organs.
With surgical removal alone, dogs live around an extra 2-3 months, and longer if caught early on. Removal is still recommended over not because of the reduced risk of the tumor rupturing and a dog dying suddenly from bleeding out.
With surgical removal and chemotherapy, dogs may live another 6-8 months, or a little longer if caught early.
When to Euthanize a Dog With a Spleen Tumor
There are few decisions harder than deciding when to euthanize your canine companion. Of course, we all want the best for them and not have them suffer. With this in mind, euthanasia is often elected when a pup’s quality of life starts to decline. This means when a dog stops eating and enjoying the things that they used to. It can also mean that they can’t be made comfortable anymore. Signs that it may be the right time to euthanize your dog with a spleen tumor include:
- Pain that can’t be controlled. Spleen tumors can enlarge to the point they press on other organs, causing pain. When this happens, pain can be managed for a while, but it’s possible that even the strongest pain meds won’t help. It’s important to remember that a painful dog is usually not a happy dog.
- Not enjoying the normal things. Dogs live for the little things in life, such as early morning walks and quiet moments with you. Dogs experiencing internal bleeding from a spleen tumor may show lethargy and weakness, causing them to lose interest in these things. This results in a much lower quality of life for your beloved pup, and medical solutions may no longer help.
- Not eating or drinking normally. Eating is also one of the little pleasures in your dog’s life, in addition to providing the nutrients needed for optimal health. Dogs with spleen tumors often end up losing appetite and weight, and may no longer be able to eat and drink normally.
- Assistance with everyday activities. Weakness and lethargy from spleen tumors can make it so a dog needs help doing the normal things in life, like going outside to the bathroom and climbing stairs. Needing help for these can put a strain on you and your dog.
- Anxiety or fear. We just can’t explain what is happening to our pups. Because of this, dogs may be confused or anxious about the things they are feeling in their body. Occasionally, this anxiety can be crippling to the point a dog is afraid to do anything. It can also change their personality.
Related post: take our quiz to help decide if you should put your dog to sleep.
If your dog is experiencing a combination of pain, loss of interest in eating, loss of interest in everyday pleasures, and difficulty in performing everyday essential activities, it might be time to euthanize your dog to spare further suffering. This is particularly true when your veterinarian mentions that medical solutions may no longer be able to improve your dog’s quality of life.
Deciding when to euthanize a dog with a spleen tumor doesn’t just involve your dog, you’ll also need to take your financial situation into account:
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
- Spleen tumor removal surgery typically costs around $2,500. If this is curative for a benign spleen tumor and you can afford it, great! However, for malignant tumors, you’ll need to weigh that cost against getting a few more months with your dog.
- Chemotherapy costs anywhere from a few hundred dollars for end-of-life care to a few thousand for a 2-3 month period. Again, this may buy you a few months more with your pup, but they may not be the best months as chemotherapy can cause nausea and other side effects.
Just remember that this isn’t a decision that you have to make on your own. Your veterinarian can help guide you through the process to ensure that you are comfortable with your choice. Most veterinarians will also offer various euthanasia options to make the experience as positive as possible. This may mean doing it at home versus in the clinic and having your other furry friends present. Talking about how and when to consider euthanasia should be an on-going conversation from the time of a spleen tumor diagnosis until the final decision is made.
Most people will tell you that they just knew when it was time to euthanize. This feeling is just from knowing their dogs and being able to sense their discomfort or unhappiness. For most dogs, that time comes when they no longer want to eat or do their favorite things. Many dogs live for treats and playtime and so when the time comes that they no longer want these things, most owners know that their quality of life is poor.
The idea of euthanasia is to prevent or end suffering. In the case of spleen tumors, that suffering can come on due to internal bleeding or multi organ dysfunction following the spreading of cancer. Either way is hard on a dog’s body and quality of life. When a dog gets in such poor health that they are no longer themselves, euthanasia is the right thing to do to end that suffering.
What Are the End Stages of Spleen Tumors in Dogs?
Again, the major risk of both benign and malignant spleen tumors in dogs is the possibility of rupturing and bleeding. This can happen at any time and vary from slow bleeds to rapid gushers. No one can predict when and if a spleen tumor is going to rupture so it’s hard to say when along the line a dog may be affected.
Rupturing and bleeding aside, malignant spleen tumors present the additional complication of spreading to other areas of the body. The lungs and liver are typically the first places most tumors spread, and with the introduction of this cancerous tissue, these organs can start to decrease in function.
Once a spleen tumor sets up shop in other organs, dogs start to get fairly ill and their quality of life starts to plummet.
What Are the Signs a Dog is Dying of a Spleen Tumor?
How a dog acts when dying from a spleen tumor is going to depend on which end-stage they reach first. This just means that a dog that is bleeding out from a splenic tumor rupture will show different signs than one with metastatic cancer.
That being said, dogs that are experiencing internal bleeding from a spleen tumor may show lethargy and weakness. Their gums may turn pale and their limbs cold. Some dogs may breathe rapidly or collapse.
When a dog has spreading spleen cancer, the signs may come on more gradually. There may be:
- Weight loss,
- Not eating,
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
- Dogs may have difficulty breathing or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
- Dogs may also be uncomfortable because of an enlarged spleen that puts pressure on other organs.
Is a spleen tumor painful for dogs?
Most of the time spleen tumors aren’t painful in dogs. Some dogs might not even show any signs until the tumor ruptures or it starts to spread to other areas of the body. However, some pain can come from large tumors that start to put pressure on other organs in the body. If the tumor ruptures and bleeds, it may cause some pain as well.
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.