What Does Your Dog's Spleen Do?

Let’s talk about the importance of the spleen and how its crucial role is viewed first in conventional veterinary medicine, second in traditional Chinese medicine and lastly how spleen health can be supported with canine chiropractic care.

1. Immune Function:

– The spleen is a key organ in the dog’s immune system. It acts as a secondary lymphoid organ, along with lymph nodes and tonsils, where immune responses are initiated.

– Within the spleen, there are specialized regions called white pulp, which contain immune cells such as lymphocytes and macrophages. These cells play a critical role in recognizing and attacking pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances that enter the bloodstream.

2. Blood Filtration:

– The spleen acts as a blood filter, helping to remove damaged or old red blood cells from circulation. It filters the blood to identify and eliminate blood cells that may be compromised or nearing the end of their lifespan.

– This function is essential for maintaining a healthy red blood cell population and ensuring efficient oxygen transport throughout the dog’s body.

3. Storage of Blood:

– The spleen serves as a reservoir for blood, particularly in times of increased demand, such as during exercise or stress. It can release stored blood into circulation when needed to maintain proper blood volume and pressure.

4. Platelet Regulation:

– The spleen also plays a role in regulating platelet levels in the blood. Platelets are essential for blood clotting and wound healing. The spleen can store and release platelets as necessary to address bleeding or injury.

In summary, the spleen in dogs serves as a vital component of the immune system, aiding in the recognition and elimination of pathogens. It also contributes to blood filtration, maintaining a healthy red blood cell population, and regulating platelet levels. Dysfunction or damage to the spleen can have significant health consequences for a dog, so its proper function is essential for overall well-being.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), including acupuncture, the spleen has a different conceptual function compared to its role in Western conventional veterinary medicine. In TCM, the spleen is considered one of the vital organs responsible for various aspects of the body’s overall health. 

1. Digestive Function:

The spleen, as seen in TCM, is closely associated with the digestive system. It is responsible for transforming and transporting the nutrients extracted from food and fluids to various parts of the body. This function is often referred to as “Spleen Qi” in TCM terminology. A healthy spleen ensures proper digestion, absorption of nutrients, and the production of Qi (vital energy) and Blood.

2. Qi Production: 

The spleen is considered the source of postnatal Qi. Postnatal Qi is the energy acquired from the food and air we consume and breathe. A well-functioning spleen is vital for generating Qi, which provides energy to all the body’s organs and systems, including muscles, the immune system, and the mind.

3. Blood Production: 

In TCM, the spleen is also responsible for governing blood. It transforms and transports the nutrients from food to produce Blood. Adequate Blood production is crucial for overall health and vitality. A deficiency in Spleen Qi can lead to Blood deficiency and its associated symptoms, such as weakness and pale gums.

4. Fluid Metabolism: 

The spleen plays a role in regulating the body’s fluids. It ensures that fluids are distributed evenly and that excess fluids are not retained in the body, which can lead to issues like edema or dampness in TCM terms.

5. Mental and Emotional Balance: 

In TCM, the spleen is linked to the intellect and emotional stability. A healthy spleen is thought to help maintain clear thinking and stable emotions. An imbalance in the spleen can lead to overthinking, worry, and anxiety.

From an acupuncturist’s perspective, if a dog’s spleen is not functioning optimally, it can manifest in various ways, including digestive issues, fatigue, muscle weakness, poor appetite, and emotional imbalances. Acupuncture and TCM herbal remedies are often used to address imbalances in the spleen’s function and restore overall harmony within the body.

The innervation of the spleen involves a complex network of nerves from the autonomic nervous system. In general, the spleen receives both sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation, which play different roles in regulating its function. 

In dogs, the spleen does not receive direct innervation from a specific level of the spine in the way that certain muscles or organs might have specific spinal segments associated with them. Instead, the spleen, like most internal organs, is primarily innervated by the autonomic nervous system, specifically the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions.

1. Sympathetic Innervation:

– The sympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the “fight or flight” system, has an influence on the spleen. Sympathetic nerve fibers that innervate the spleen come primarily from the celiac ganglion, which is a part of the sympathetic chain located near the aorta.
– Sympathetic stimulation of the spleen typically results in vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) within the organ. This reduces blood flow to the spleen and can lead to a decrease in the release of immune cells and other factors within the spleen.
– The sympathetic nervous system’s involvement in the spleen’s innervation is part of the body’s overall response to stress or danger, as it redirects resources away from less critical functions like immune response.

2. Parasympathetic Innervation:

– The parasympathetic nervous system, often associated with “rest and digest” functions, also plays a role in spleen innervation. Parasympathetic nerve fibers are derived from the vagus nerve (cranial nerve X) and reach the spleen through the celiac plexus.
– Parasympathetic stimulation tends to have a calming effect on the spleen, promoting increased blood flow, and potentially enhancing immune function.

3. Functional Balance:

– The spleen’s function and response to various stimuli are often the result of a dynamic balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic influences. In situations of acute stress or danger, sympathetic stimulation may predominate, leading to vasoconstriction and reduced immune function. Conversely, during periods of rest and recovery, parasympathetic stimulation may dominate, allowing for enhanced immune activity and overall maintenance of spleen function.

Canine chiropractic care takes into consideration the entire autonomic nervous system and its influence on organs like the spleen. Spinal adjustments are used to promote better nervous system function, potentially affecting the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic influences on the spleen and other organs.

So now you know – what your dog’s spleen does – and yours does the same for you, too 😉