Pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas, the v-shaped organ located behind the stomach and first part of the intestines, becomes inflamed. The pancreas is responsible for metabolizing sugar and aids in digestion. There are many things that can contribute to the cause of pancreatitis, such as: certain medications, metabolic disorders, obesity and nutrition. “Human food” and foods high in fat can also cause this condition to occur. In some dogs, a simple food change – a switch from kibble to canned food, or even just a change in brands – can induce pancreatitis. Dogs on steroid medication or suffering from diabetes are more prone to developing pancreatitis. Pets who have had pancreatitis in the past are at a higher risk of developing it again.
A painful abdomen, lack of appetite, abdominal distension, depression, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea and yellow coloured stool are all symptoms of acute pancreatitis.
To diagnose pancreatitis, a physical examination must be completed along with blood work. Doctors will see that the enzymes produced by the pancreas, lipase and amylase, will be increased on the blood work. The white blood cell count will usually be increased as well. Depending on the severity of the condition, there are many options for treatment. If vomiting is severe, food and water will be taken away for at least 24 hours. If pancreatitis is severe, food may be taken away for a few days. This stops the pancreas from producing digestive enzymes, therefore allowing it to “rest”. Food may then be given after 24 hours. The pet is generally going to be fed small amounts of a bland diet, which is easily digestible and low in fat. Food intake will increase over time.
The second component of treatment is fluid therapy. This can be done either intravenously or subcutaneous. Many pets with pancreatitis often suffer from dehydration due to associated vomiting and/or diarrhea. Intravenous fluids are the best treatment used to ‘flush out’ the body. Anti-Inflammatory agents, anti-emetics (meds to reduce vomiting) and antibiotics are usually given to help aid in recovery of patients. Dogs who are experiencing pain can be treated with pain relievers.
A mild case of pancreatitis will often recover. Pets that have severe pancreatitis may also recover but they may develop some complications. Pets who have had pancreatitis repeatedly could develop chronic pancreatitis, which can then lead to diabetes and/or pancreatic insufficiency.
Questions Commonly Asked
What about follow up care post-recovery, and what is involved in the management of chronic Pancreatitis?
Your vet will likely prescribe a low-fat, high-fiber diet to aid in your pet’s recovery and to prevent future bouts of pancreatitis. Depending on your pet’s case, the diet recommendations may be for life for optimal health and preventative care.
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will evaluate your pet’s history as told by you. Things like getting into the garbage, eating foods that they normally don’t (change of diet/switching the pet’s food). Since pancreatitis can be mistaken for other gastrointestinal issues, X-Rays can be used as a useful diagnostic tool in ruling out the other G.I. issues or possible obstruction.
Does chronic pancreatitis in dogs mean that the pancreas is always inflamed and that the dog is constantly in pain?
In patients with chronic pancreatitis, the pancreas is not always inflamed. Chronic means it can and most likely will happen again. When it flares up again then the pancreas is inflamed and is painful. You will see the tell tale symptoms (vomiting, depression, abdominal tenderness), present. A vet should see your dog immediately when this happens so pain medication and according treatment can be given at that time.
Can pancreatitis be spread to other animals?
Pancreatitis cannot be spread to other animals or humans. It is basically an inflammation of the pancreas. If another dog or cat contracts pancreatitis, it is because of mere coincidence – dietary factors, gall secretions, etc. are to blame.