Santa Fe Scoop

Spleen Tumors - Very Common and Can Kill a Dog with Little Warning

I am writing this in hopes others can avoid this happening to their pet.  My nearly 12 year old dog, Marlin died from a bleeding spleen mass early this morning very suddenly. He had some symptoms in the preceding days but I had attributed them to other things.  If I could go back believe me I’d have done things differently.


If your dog is having weakness in his hind legs and is drinking more than normal, it could be a spleen tumor that is bleeding.  Other than that, Marlin was eating normally, playing with the other dogs, and he had no fever.


I took him to the vet on Oct 5 to get another opinion on his condition.  His front elbow seemed to be bothering him more and he was overall slowing down and seemed to be laying around more.  He had TPLO (knee) surgery when he was 2 and a hip replacement at 9.  I was wondering if it was time for full time Rimadyl or similar medication.


Blood tests were done and his liver was fine so we started him on full dose Rimadyl.  We found a tumor in his eye so I took him to an eye specialist in ABQ.  It was not causing him pain, there was no glaucoma and pressure was normal, but he could get the tumor removed (60% success rate), or have the eye removed later once the pressure began to build up.  It likely was not metastasized. He had an elevated white blood cell count (WBC) and if we were going through with surgery that would need to be resolved, but it did not sound urgent.  The vet recommended general antibiotics, xrays to see if they could find a source, and more thyroid tests, but it could be a passing bug that would clear up on its own.


One of my dogs died of liver cancer last July and I had medications left over from her, one was Wei Qi Immunity Booster that a vet had recommended, so I began giving him that.  Plus salmon oil, some garlic, parsley, pumpkin and some COOKED raw food mixed in his dry food.  He gobbled it up.


On October 18 he wretched a bit, which I figured was from the food.  He always had a sensitive stomach and a vet had prescribed Pepcid and antacids as needed.  I also fed him plain yogurt and Gentle Digest probiotics.


On Monday, October 21 I noticed his hind legs seemed to be weak and he was drinking more I thought, but it was warm and he was playing outside.  I had thought I might have seen a worm in his stool, or maybe it was grass?  I wondered if his hip replacement hardware had a problem, or after googling it, maybe he had Degenerative Myelopathy or a slipped disk or some intestinal worm infections can cause weak hind legs.  I stopped the Rimadyl thinking it could be a liver issue or maybe ulcer.  His vet was off on Monday and Tuesday, but I took him in to get a follow up blood test to check liver enzymes and WBC and for a stool test. 


On Tuesday, October 22 I had expected to get the test results and called the vet but they didn’t call back.  Marlin had drank a lot of water and threw some of it up, but he was eating fine, his gum color was good, he didn’t have a fever and he was playing with the foster dog.


His vet would be in Wednesday so we’d get the results and discuss next steps.  I called 6 times.  Finally at 430 I was able to talk to the vet and get his test results.  No parasites in the stool.  But his WBC was still high and now he was anemic. I got home from work and Marlin would walk 20 feet then lay down.  His temperature was 99.9 (100-103 is normal for dogs). Something was seriously wrong.


I took him to the emergency vet.  They did xrays and ultrasound and found a mass on his spleen that was very likely bleeding.  They would remove the spleen and mass (tumor) that night.  But soon his blood pressure and heart rate dropped and it was too late.  I lost him.


I should have had the xrays done right away.  I shouldn’t have assumed the weak rear legs were a mechanical problem.  I should have not waited for his regular vet to get in Wednesday and should have taken him to see another vet sooner.


I have so many regrets, but what I hope I can do is prevent this from happening to others who read this.

Spleen tumors are very common in some breeds such as Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds and some vets recommend regular ultrasounds every 6-12 months in later years to screen for tumors.  They have a 50-50 chance of being malignant.

Symptoms can be decreased appetite and weakness.

This is from

Generally the disease develops slowly and no signs of disease are present in the early stages. Even dogs with large tumors will show no symptoms early on. Unfortunately, by the time a dog is symptomatic he is usually in an advanced stage of this life-threatening disease.  Over time, small ruptures in the tumors can develop which allow blood to escape into the abdomen, chest, the sac around the heart, or subcutaneously (right below the skin).  This blood loss causes some dogs to show intermittent symptoms of lethargy and weakness, but usually the signs are so subtle they go unnoticed or are attributed to another less serious cause.

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Comment by victor breton on March 26, 2016 at 9:42pm

Im sorry for your loss dogs are truly mans best friend a special bond only true dog lovers know. I am going through the same scenario my 14 yr old boston terrier has a very large tumor that cant be seen nor felt only detected by xray. Its large the vet thinks its on his spleen ive gone to 3 vets and am now going to go to a specialist for another opinion. of the 3 vets only one will operate. All say he has 50% chance i am really at odds what to do? if i act there is a very real chance he will die after operation if i dont operate it can explode and he will die. 

Comment by Julie L on November 2, 2013 at 5:54pm

Denise, thank you so much for sharing your story. Marlin was a 60lb Border Collie mix.  He might have had Shepherd in him, a breed that is apparently more prone to it. 


I am sorry for your loss of Perdida. 


Since Marlin died on Oct 24 I have heard from many people who have lost their dog suddenly and unexpectedly to a  bleeding spleen tumor.  Apparently it is often referred to as the "silent killer" because there is often no warning.   The Emergency Vet he saw told me it is a very common surgery at the emergency vet (to remove the spleen and tumor) and e-vet's must be trained in it (when I asked her how often she had done the surgery she said more than she could count and it was part of the e-vet's repertoire because it is so common).


Shari and Bob's Mom, thank you for your support.


Symptoms might be:  loss of appetite or not eating as much as usual or becoming a pickier eater, lethargy, weakness in the hind legs (struggling to jump in the car or on the bed), not wanting to walk very far (on a leashed walk for example), drinking more.  Symptoms may come and go which might indicate the bleed stopped, then started again.  You may notice tenderness in the abdomen and distended stomach. 

Comment by Denise Jimenez on November 2, 2013 at 12:52pm

Julie, thank you for sharing your story and enlightening owners about this condition. I lost my 12 year old German Shepherd Dog "Perdida" to a ruptured spleen tumor. I  attributed some of her symptoms to normal aging, and I was wrong. Please don`t beat yourself up about this or have regrets. You did what you could based on the knowledge available to you at the time. I don`t know the breed of your dog, but if it was a large breed, twelve years is the average life-span.I am on my fifth German Shepherd, and it`s heart-break no matter what the circumstances when they die. I`m sure Marlin was extremely lucky to have enjoyed his life with you.

Comment by Bob's mom on October 25, 2013 at 8:40pm

I am so sorry for your loss Julie.  You're story is heartbreaking but know you did everything you knew to do - Marley knew that.

Comment by Shari Shantasi on October 25, 2013 at 10:18am

So very sorry for your loss, Julie. I don't currently have a dog but have friends who do and will pass along your valuable information to them. Any good pet owner would have done just what you did, all you could. Thanks to your blog, those of us who see ourselves in your actions, will be more proactive. 

RIP Marlin

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