What is Pancreatitis in dogs?
The pancreas is a small organ in the dog that is responsible for aiding in digestion and regulating blood sugar. In a healthy dog, the pancreas will secrete digestive enzymes in controlled amounts, that will help to break down the nutrients that the dog consumes once they get to the small intestine. When inflammation of this organ occurs, we are left with pancreatitis. When inflammation occurs, the normal function of the pancreas is disrupted. What were once harmless premature digestive enzymes that would travel to the small intestine to aid in digestion, will begin to be prematurely activated in the pancreas. This results in the digestion of the pancreas and the body itself. Pancreatitis is a painful and life threatening condition when left untreated.
Signs of Pancreatitis in dogs
The symptoms of pancreatitis can range in severity, but most often present with some form of gastrointestinal upset. With pancreatitis, the process of digestion is greatly affected. Because of this, you can imagine the wide range of symptoms that each dog can experience. Some of these symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain (This can vary from discomfort on palpation, to a pet arching their back in “praying pose” due to the severity of the pain.)
- Anorexia or a change in appetite.
- Diarrhea, possibly bloody diarrhea (hematochezia)
- Signs of shock in severe cases
What are the causes of pancreatitis in dogs?
There is no set in stone rule for when pancreatitis will occur, but some known causes include:
- Genetics: Some breeds are more prone to pancreatitis than others. These breeds include Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, King Charles Spaniels, Collies, and Boxers. While these breeds are most at risk, any breed can develop pancreatitis.
- Diet: In many cases of pancreatitis, some kind of fatty or unfamiliar food was introduced to the dog in question. Feeding a pet their normal and recommended diet can greatly reduce their risk of getting pancreatitis.
- Disease: Some hormonal diseases, such as hypothyroidism, have been linked to pancreatitis. Cancer of the pancreas can also result in this condition.
- Trauma: Pancreatitis can occur while patients are healing from any kind of trauma to the abdomen.
- Age & Weight: Older, overweight dogs are more prone to pancreatitis. This is due to the high levels of fat in the blood.
- New Medication: Pancreatitis has been brought on by the addition of a new medication. Some medications linked to pancreatitis include calcium, cholinesterase inhibitors, potassium bromide, phenobarbital, some diuretics, and azathioprine.
The presenting symptoms will help to point the veterinarian in the direction of testing for this condition. Along with a thorough medical history, there are a few diagnostics used to diagnose pancreatitis in dogs.
- Blood work: There are a few factors that will be considered when a veterinarian reviews blood work for the suspicion of pancreatitis. In a complete blood count and biochemistry, a high level of amylase may be observed. However, this result alone cannot confirm pancreatitis in dogs. Now, most doctors rely on a diagnostic that tests for pancreas-specific lipase. This test requires only a small amount of blood, and is referred to as a CPL.
- Abdominal ultrasound: An ultrasound performed by a skilled professional can help to confirm pancreatitis with the findings of an enlarged pancreas, or hyperechoic fat and fluid accumulation around the pancreas. This can also help to rule out other conditions.
- Radiographs: While radiographs have a limited ability to diagnose pancreatitis, they are often recommended to rule out other conditions that could cause gastrointestinal upset.
When pancreatitis is diagnosed, the intensity of the treatment will depend on each patient specifically. The recommended course of action is hospitalization with the following protocol:
- Pain management: Pancreatitis can be incredibly painful, and can result in abdominal pain, anorexia, lethargy, and other concerns that hinder recovery. Pain management is an important tool in the recovery process.
- IV Fluid therapy: In many cases, a dog will present with dehydration due to vomiting, diarrhea, or anorexia. The dehydration must be corrected in the treatment regimen.
- Anti- Emetics: Pancreatitis causes gastrointestinal upset, which can lead to nausea and vomiting. The nausea should be addressed to prevent further dehydration, and the hopes that the dog will gain back an appetite as the condition is treated.
- Gastrointestinal Antibiotics: Pancreatitis will often cause diarrhea, which will need to be addressed with GI antibiotics to prevent further dehydration.
- Monitoring: Hospitalizing a dog with pancreatitis is ideal due to the potential of the condition worsening. Pancreatitis can be deadly, so strict monitoring by a professional is ideal.
Prognosis for pancreatitis will vary depending on the severity of the condition, and how the dog responded to initial treatment. When a dog presents in shock, or when the condition was not treated quickly, prognosis can be guarded. These situations may require more intense hospitalization, and strict follow up with your vet if they survive the condition. In the cases of the acute forms of pancreatitis that respond quickly to treatment, a good prognosis is expected. With following the rules of treatment, and adhering to a low fat diet, most dogs will recover without any long-term consequences.
There are some dogs who will experience a chronic form of pancreatitis, which can result in damage to the pancreas. Dogs who have recurrent pancreatitis will need to follow the strict instructions of their veterinarian to prevent further complications.
Prevention of pancreatitis will depend on the individual dog, but is usually best prevented by the avoidance of fattening food. Diet plays a big role in the overall health of our pets, and can be the simplest form of prevention for multiple conditions, including pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is a serious condition that can truly threaten your pets overall health. With a healthy diet and routine exams with a veterinarian, you can help to prevent this damaging disease.
If you learned something from this article, take a look at Cushing’s disease in dogs on our blog, and understand another condition that can affect our beloved companions.