Pancreatitis is not a straightforward
disease. It can be a killer or cause symptoms no more severe than
a mild "tummy ache." It can be a chronic disease that relapses
for no apparent reason or a one-time event with an obvious underlying
cause. Some dogs recover fully, others develop severe complications
that need long term management. Adding to the confusion, it is
virtually impossible to tell how the disease will progress in an individual
patient until treatment is well underway. Getting a little background
information about pancreatitis can help owners deal with this confusing
"When a dog develops pancreatitis, the digestive enzymes that the organ produces leak into the abdomen and damage any tissues that they come into contact with."
What Does the Pancreas Do?
The pancreas has two separate jobs:
- The production of the hormones
that regulate blood sugar levels.
- The manufacturing of enzymes
needed for digestion, which are then secreted into the intestinal tract.
It is this second role that plays the
biggest part in canine pancreatitis.
What Causes Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis can develop for a number of reasons, including:
- The recent ingestion of
a fatty meal
- A history of eating table
scraps or getting into the trash
- Pancreatic infections
- The presence of other medical
conditions (e.g., Cushing's disease, high blood lipid levels, etc.)
- Treatment with some types
- Abdominal trauma
- A genetic predisposition
- Past episodes of pancreatitis
In many cases, however, no underlying
cause for pancreatitis is ever uncovered.
The Symptoms of Pancreatitis
When a dog develops pancreatitis, the
digestive enzymes that the organ produces leak into the abdomen and
damage any tissues that they come into contact with. This is very
painful. Dogs with pancreatitis may tense their bellies when touched
or even whine, growl or attempt to bite. Other common symptoms
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of energy
These symptoms are not unique to pancreatitis
so to make a definitive diagnosis a veterinarian needs to run some tests.
Routine blood work and one of two specific tests called either a cPLI
or SPEC-CPL will diagnose most cases of pancreatitis, but sometimes
other procedures such as fecal examinations, urinalysis, x-rays, abdominal
ultrasounds and even exploratory surgery will be necessary as well.
Veterinary and Home Care
Pain relief, medications to control
nausea and vomiting, and fluid therapy to maintain adequate hydration
are central to treating pancreatitis. Antibiotics may be prescribed
to treat a suspected pancreatic infection or prevent one from developing,
and if an underlying cause can be identified that should be addressed
as well. Until dogs have stopped vomiting, they should not be
offered any food, water or medications by mouth. Once their symptoms
are under control, they will first be offered water, and if they can
hold that down they can then start to eat small amounts of a very bland,
low fat food. At this point, most dogs can be switched to oral pet medications and can go home for continued treatment and
monitoring. More severely affected dogs may need to remain hospitalized
and be fed via a tube that is inserted into the intestinal tract. Plasma transfusions may also be necessary.
If future flare-ups are a concern,
your veterinarian might recommend that you continue to feed a low fat dog food for the long term. Dogs with severe pancreatic damage can
develop diabetes mellitus if they no longer are able to produce adequate
amounts of insulin or can develop pancreatic insufficiency if their
ability to manufacture digestive enzymes has been compromised.
These conditions can usually be managed with insulin and pancreatic enzyme supplements, but despite aggressive and appropriate care,
some dogs do end up dying from the damage caused by pancreatitis.
The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition.
This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not
be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of
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