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Cat Spleens

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A light-brown cat with green eyes looks off into the distance.

There’s much to learn about the feline spleen: What does it look like? Where is a cat’s spleen located? What’s its purpose? As a cat parent, you can also read more about the various health conditions that can affect the spleen and the treatment options available.

What Is the Function of the Spleen in Cats?

The spleen is an organ that, while most people have heard of it, few know much about. It’s dark red in color, oblong shaped, and located near the stomach. The spleen has a few important roles, including:

  • Producing red blood cells
  • Storing red blood cells and platelets
  • Filtering and removing old and abnormal blood cells, bacteria, and foreign proteins
  • Helping the immune system get rid of germs

Although this organ has many useful purposes, cats can still live healthy, normal lives without it. Rest assured, a splenectomy (the surgical removal of the spleen) is only recommended when medically necessary, but most cats will make a full recovery within a couple of weeks.

Spleen Problems in Cats

Like any other organ, spleens can also be affected by a number of medical conditions. If you believe your cat is acting abnormally or an underlying health issue is affecting them, it’s crucial that you contact your veterinarian or local emergency animal hospital as soon as possible.

Enlarged Spleen in Cats

Splenomegaly is the technical term for the enlargement of the spleen, and it can affect a cat of any age or breed. In most instances, the causes of an enlarged spleen in cats are due to a secondary condition and not from the spleen itself. These triggers can commonly include immune disorders, bacterial infections, tumors of the spleen, inflammatory bowel disease, and injuries to the abdomen.

If your feline friend is experiencing an enlarged spleen, they’ll begin showing symptoms such as:

  • Lethargy and less energy
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Upon noticing any of these symptoms, or a combination of many, it’s imperative that you take your cat to their veterinary office as soon as possible. You can also call them ahead of time and give them a quick run-down of your cat’s condition and a heads-up that you’re on your way. Depending on your cat’s symptoms, some professionals may offer advice over the phone on how to help your feline until you’ve reached the veterinarians.

Once there, your cat will receive a complete examination. X-rays, ultrasounds, and bloodwork may also be recommended to have a comprehensive understanding of the underlying cause. Depending on the results, a treatment plan can be made to get your feline friend back to their happy and healthy selves.

Ruptured Spleen in Cats

A ruptured spleen, which may also be referred to as a splenic hemorrhage, doesn’t always occur instantaneously but may slowly bleed over the course of several hours. A hemorrhage can initially be caused by spleen tumors or a twisted or enlarged spleen. Various types of traumas could also damage the spleen, such as your cat getting hit by a car or attacked by another animal.

Some of the initial symptoms you’ll want to keep an eye out for include:

  • Weakness
  • Staggered or irregular breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Extended abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale gums

It’s possible that signs of a ruptured spleen will not appear for hours. These additional, long-term signs could involve:

  • Extended lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Disorientation
  • Unsteady walking
  • Weakness
  • Seizures

Upon noticing these symptoms, it’s essential that you take your cat to their veterinarian right away. Once there, they will receive a complete physical, bloodwork, and X-rays. Together, these tests can help form an official diagnosis and allow treatment to begin as soon as possible. The exact form of treatment your cat receives will be determined by their condition.

In some cases, a tight belly wrap may be all that’s needed to slow the bleeding. Though your cat will be good to return home, it’ll be recommended that you monitor their vitals and overall condition and limit their physical activity. By taking it easy, they should heal up in no time.

Depending on your cat’s condition, other forms of treatment could include blood transfusions, intravenous fluid therapy, or oxygen, all of which would be given at your veterinarian’s office. Your feline friend may also be prescribed pain medications for a short period. Surgery may be recommended if these treatment options are explored, and none are helping your cat’s condition improve. Through exploratory surgery, the state of your cat’s spleen can be better observed, and it’ll be determined whether they need to have their spleen removed.

Spleen Cancer in Cats

All cats can be affected by spleen cancer, but older males are at a higher risk. Like other forms of cancer, spleen cancer can be benign (stays in one area), or it can metastasize (spreads). Sometimes, the cancer can become a tumor and affect other organs.

Spleen Cancer Symptoms in Cats

It is not unusual for spleen cancer to progress without any significant symptoms appearing until the condition has spread or reached a later stage. As symptoms become more prevalent, they may be similar to those of some gastrointestinal issues, and they can even affect the neurological system. Signs of spleen cancer can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased water intake
  • Weakness
  • Discoloration of the skin, eyes, or gums
  • Loss of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Partial paralysis
  • Confusion
  • Bloating

In severe cases, spleen cancer can progress enough to shorten your cat’s lifespan.

Thankfully, there are a few forms of treatment for spleen cancer. One method is chemotherapy—a common treatment for many types of cancer. Chemo can be used in conjunction with other methods or may be used repeatedly over a period of time, depending on your cat’s condition.

Various types of medication may also be recommended for treatment and symptom management. These could include antibiotics (for when the tumor causes an infection), antihistamines (if the tumor causes allergic reactions), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (to help reduce pain, fever, and swelling). It is not unusual for medicines to be used alongside other forms of treatment. If your feline friend is prescribed one or multiple pills, it’s crucial that you follow the proper dosing that’s listed for each one. Too little of a medicine could cause it to be ineffective, while too much could become harmful.

Your cat’s prognosis and recovery will depend on their individual case, including their current health and reaction to treatment. That said, after having their spleen surgically removed and giving them a few weeks to make a full recovery, cats can live a healthy and normal life.

A cat’s spleen may initially seem like the underdog of organs. After all, everyone knows the placement and function of the heart, lungs, and stomach, but not many know the same about the spleen. However, by learning more about your cat, you can better help them stay healthy, and whenever a problem arises, you’ll know how to help them better.

Besides the helpful educational tidbits that come along with reading more about your cat’s spleen, there can also be random fun facts to add to your cat-related knowledge. Are you ready to learn more about your four-legged friend? Read about what goes on in their mind.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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