Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bear vs the Splenic Tumor

This is a story about Bear - a sweet Labrador from Lighthouse Point, Florida - and his spleen!

This past February I received a call from a very lovely family - they were concerned about their dog (yellow lab) Chelsea who had bad arthritis.  They knew the time was coming soon when they had to say goodbye to Chelsea and they wanted to have everything prepared for when that day came.  The week that I was to help Chelsea.... the family cancelled 3 times.  Not an uncommon thing because I know how difficult this time was for them. 

But on March 9th 2012, I finally met Chelsea - she greeted me at the driveway and led me to her front door like she was bringing home a new friend.   I met her mom & dad and then my eyes laid upon Bear.  A big yellow lab that was also rescued by this wonderful family.

Bear didn't get up much and if he did - he sort of waddled.  What I noticed however was that Bear's abdomen (his belly) was REALLY round and big.  Bear's mom could tell I was looking at it and was slightly embarrassed saying that she 'knew he was getting fat'. :-)    She said his belly has been getting bigger for weeks.

(see pic to the right - his belly was so big his legs splayed out when he sat) 

However - this was not 'Bear just getting fat' and I had my suspicions about what it actually was.  But that night was about Chelsea.  As Chelsea started to get sleepy and I listened to some great stories about her life.... Bear kept his distance and laid on his bed. But his big ole' belly was still just making me nervous.

As delicately as I could - I encouraged Bear's mom to take him to the vet's office ASAP.  I knew she was upset already about Chelsea and I didn't want to make her panic about Bear as well.  But if it was what I thought - then we needed him at a vet's office soon.

Bear after surgery

Well - Bear's mom did as I suggested and she brought him first to Dr. Gregg Kuehnel at Pet Vet Animal Hospital who referred him to Coral Springs Animal Hospital where, after reviewing his symptoms and tests, confirmed my suspicions of a splenic tumor.  Bear was rushed to surgery and his spleen was removed .... but this wasn't any ordinary spleen... this one had a big tumor on it... and when I say BIG... it was over 16 pounds!  That is heavier than any bowling ball I ever used. That is like two babies! 

Dr. Jehn from Coral Springs did the surgery and he said that it was in his TOP 3 largest splenic tumors he has ever removed.  And all 3 of the families were the same... thinking that their pets were just 'getting fat'. "This is not uncommon', says Jehn. 

Here is a picture of Bear's spleen after surgery! WOW!

A walk with mom after surgery

 I'm happy to report that Bear is doing GREAT!  He has made a full recover and is bounding down the street like a young man.   His tumor was benign and he is going to be fine.

Now - what the heck is the spleen for and what is this tumor all about?  

Well... the spleen sits just below the stomach on the left side of the body. Its consistency is similar to that of the liver. It is involved in the immune system acting as a central processing plant for immune complexes acting like a huge lymph node.  Plus, the spleen is a site of red blood cell production. The spleen is also responsible for taking older red blood cells out of circulation, destroying them and recycling the iron and proteins in them. 

It is a really cool organ that I personally think does not get enough attention. There are a lot of red blood cells working their way gradually through the spleen at any given time, effectively making the spleen a storage area for blood. If a dog has a severe hemorrhage and needs extra blood, the involuntary muscles of the spleen contract, squirting forth a fresh supply of blood. 

(Read more about the spleen on this great page: http://dawgbusiness.blogspot.com/2011/12/why-does-spleen-get-no-respect.html

So in short - it is a very 'bloody' organ... and when something goes wrong in that organ - it is not good. 

Bear had a large nasty - yet benign - tumor growing on his spleen and if that had ruptured, Bear would have bleed internally - and would have died. 

Karri Miller, DVM - Lap of Love's Oncology Consultant sheds some more light on splenic tumors; "Dogs can develop primary cancer in their spleen and metastatic cancer in their spleen.  The rule of thumb in dogs developing primary tumors in the spleen is that 66% of them are malignant.  Of those that are malignant, 66% of them will be hemangiosarcoma (malignant tumor of blood vessels).  Other malignant tumors that can affect the spleen include:  lymphoma, histiocytic sarcoma, fibrosarcoma, leiomyosarcoma, etc.  Most of the malignant splenic tumors can behave in an aggressive manner where follow up treatment is recommended.  A visit with an oncologist would be recommended to discuss the treatment options after removing the spleen for dogs affected with malignant splenic tumors."

"Dogs that have benign tumors usually have a hematoma (large blood clot), hemangioma, and reactive lymphoid hyperplasia.  Surgery to remove the spleen in these cases can save the dog from a splenic rupture in the future.  Once the spleen is removed, no other treatment is needed." Miller says.

I'm so glad that Bear is doing well and his tumor is benign.  I know that my being at their home that night may have brought a lot of tears as they said goodbye to Chelsea but it also led to Bear's survival.  And now Chelsea is protecting her brother from above. 

Posted by:
Vet Mary Gardner
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and Euthanasia
Broward, Miami Dade, Palm Beach Counties including North Miami, Aventura, Hollywood, Davie, Cooper City, Coral Springs, Weston, Davie, Ft. Lauderdale, Plantation, Pembroke Pines, Tamarac, Wilton Manors, Lighthouse Point, Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach, and Jupiter. 

Thanks to Bear's family for allowing us to share his story to help others!
Thanks to Dr. Gregg Kuehnel at Pet Vet Animal Hospital/West Boca Veterinary Center  & Dr. Jehn at Coral Springs Animal Hospital


  1. the doctors at Lap of Love are the greatest... I will always have a place in my heart for them and the service they provide...

  2. Thank you to Dr Gardner she saved Bear our dog.


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  4. Your very welcome Patrick... but I think Dr. Jehn saved Bear more than I did... I just pushed you a tiny bit towards him!
    Mary Gardner, DVM

  5. My best friend Sampson died yesterday from a splenic tumor rupture. It happend very quickly and was over in hours. I'm absolutly gutted, but in reading the information you provided, it did bring some comfort in just understanding what happened. Thank you.

    1. Oh - I am so very sorry to hear about Sampson...please feel free to post a memorial of your loved one on our website: www.lapoflove.com

      I'm glad our information was helpful in a way.

      You are in our prayers!
      Dr. Mary Gardner

  6. I'm so happy that bears tumor was benign! We have a beagle who had a small benign tumor on her spleen which we had removed. Unfortunately we are currently dealing with our other beagle who also had a tumor... We had it removed and biopsied. They said it's osteosarcoma and that it's very rare to find it only in the spleen. I was just curious if anyone had any exerience with this. We just left auburn after speaking to the oncologist, but even she has only read about a handful of cases like this.

    Erin Colvin

    1. I'm so glad to hear about your first beagle... but sad about your second. :( Oddly enough, my good friend and neighbors basset hound had a splenic tumor which was also osteosarcoma (this happened this summer) - she had it removed. Unfortunately it made it's way into Webster's kidney which was also removed. He passed away about a week later from Acute Kidney Failure (the other kidney was just having too hard of a time).

      These two are the only two cases I have heard about as well. I'll put some feelers out there to see if I hear more.

      And I'll be sending positive thoughts your way!!


  7. Erin,
    I'm so sorry to hear about your Beagle. Osteosarcomas in the spleen are extremely rare. Unfortunately, they do seem to metastasize fairly quickly in the handful of cases that have been reported. I have only seen one in my career as a veterinary oncologist and it did spread within months. The oncologists at Auburn are great and your baby is in good hands with them. I highly recommend following their treatment plan. Good luck!
    Karri - Lap of Love oncologist


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