Carsten column: The dog Spleen from different perspective |

Carsten column: The dog Spleen from different perspective

Dr. Ron Carsten
Integrative Pet Vet

Last month, we reviewed basic information about the dog spleen function and touched on a few disease problems. That information was based on what some call Western medicine which focuses on anatomy, function, and understanding disease pathology. There is another medical approach that is based on centuries of observation of health, disease, and response to treatment. Some refer to this as Eastern medicine. It is a system that evolved to explain and treat symptoms.

This month, further discussion of the spleen provides an opportunity to explore a portion of Eastern medicine through a Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) perspective of the Spleen (capitalized to denote TCVM Spleen).

Keep in mind that Traditional Chinese Medicine is a highly developed and successful medical system for a large population. Its success in managing health and treating disease has stimulated widespread use and increasing amounts of modern medical research in an effort to more fully understand its concepts and how they relate to Western understanding of disease.

In TCVM, the organs, like the Spleen, are not the anatomy but rather a description of an abstract concept and their dynamic functions based on the anatomy. Organs in TCVM are visualized as webs of energy or systems with defined functions. These organs and systems have interrelated functions with other body organs and systems. Each organ is associated with an element, an emotion, and it opens to the outside of the body. TCVM considers such concepts as Qi and Blood, yin and yang, excesses and deficiencies, and the “six pathogens.”

Organs in TCVM are paired with another organ in terms of function. The Spleen and Stomach form one of these pairs and are thought to influence digestion, immunity, blood formation, muscle metabolism, body fluids, and more. Working together, the Stomach processes the ingested food into its components which are then transported to the Spleen for transformation and distribution. Substances derived from food are the sources of Qi and Blood. Through these processes, the Spleen is able to govern the transport and metabolism of water and nutrients in the body, regulate the circulation of blood, and influence immune function.

Keep in mind that the discussion here is a relatively simple description of a complex health care approach. When the Spleen is deficient, digestive disturbances such as poor appetite and abnormal stools can be seen. However, because other organs and systems can be involved, additional signs of deficiency can include muscle atrophy, weak pulse, fatigue, cold limbs, mental fog, anxiety, obesity, and a weakened immune system.

There are numerous factors not described here that are important to recognize when evaluating a patient. Common contributors of Spleen deficiency include anxiety and worry, eating cold foods, irregular eating patterns, and overexertion. These factors can impact our pet companions.

Even though TCVM describes a concept, there have been correlations with Western medicine. Interestingly, for centuries, until the recognition of the spleen as part of the lymphoid system, Western medicine also described the spleen as part of digestion. This separation from digestion has shifted in the West again with the realization that there is an interwoven relationship between the stomach and spleen during development in the embryo.

Further, in the 1970s blood circulation between the stomach and spleen was found to occur through certain arterioles (small arteries) from the spleen to the stomach tissue. Blood was also found to drain in certain veins from the stomach into the spleen. This relationship highlights the potential for secretory and resorptive functions between the spleen and stomach.

Other modern research has demonstrated correlations between dysfunction of the TCVM Spleen and Stomach and changes in Western anatomy and function. For example, Spleen dysfunction has been associated with muscle metabolism changes, alterations in the stomach lining, suppressed nerve function of the sympathetic nervous system that signals the digestive tract, and reduced immune activity. Gene expression studies of TCVM herbs are supporting physiological observations of functions attributed to the Spleen.

While it can be challenging to fully understand the principles of TCVM in the context of our Western society, it is fascinating to consider the interface between Western medicine and TCVM observations and descriptions. Recognizing these perspectives and the correlations with current scientific research can facilitate a deeper understanding of supportive care for our pet companions.

Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs. Dr. Carsten is the 2022 Colorado Veterinary Medical Association Distinguished Service Award recipient.

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