The pancreas is a small organ that sits nestled between bowel loops of the upper small intestine. This small, spongy organ is responsible for helping with digestion, especially of fats, and also for insulin secretion (blood sugar regulation). The pancreas is cantankerous and can easily be irritated.
Acute pancreatitis is a potentially life-threatening illness, sometimes brought on by a dietary indiscretion, especially a high fat treat. Some pets, especially dogs, seem to be able to eat anything without getting sick. However, many pets that eat something they aren’t supposed to will get mild to severe gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea). Some will suffer from the more severe problem of pancreatitis. In many cases, the actual cause cannot be identified.
Dogs and cats can both suffer from acute pancreatitis. Abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea are the most common symptoms. These pets often run high fevers and have uncontrollable vomiting. Necrotizing pancreatitis is the most severe type of pancreatitis. This occurs when portions of the pancreas actually begin to die. This is very painful and dogs with this disease will be very sick.
Early veterinary treatment is vital. Physical examination usually reveals a fever and painful abdomen. Blood tests are important to measure dehydration, abnormal blood cell counts, and possibly elevated pancreatic enzymes. Severe cases of pancreatitis can sometimes result in kidney failure, so monitoring labwork is very important. Surgery may even need to be performed to drain infections from the pancreas.
Hospital care is critical to help the patient recover from the pancreatitis. Intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and pain medications help alleviate the symptoms of the disease.
When the pancreas is inflamed, nothing can be given orally, not even water or medication. Anything that enters the stomach can further aggravate the already aggravated organ. Extended hospital stays are not unusual and some pets may even need feeding tubes inserted directly into their intestines if the pancreas remains inflamed.
Some pets will suffer from chronic pancreatitis, with frequent flare-ups. These may not necessarily be triggered by consumption of a new food, but could occur without an explanation. These pets may develop diabetes because the pancreas becomes so damaged that it does not make enough insulin.
Certain breeds of dogs, such as Miniature Schnauzers and some terrier breeds, seem to be more susceptible to pancreatitis.
After recovery, a highly digestible, low fat diet is usually recommended. Some veterinarians believe that supplements of antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium might help prevent future episodes of pancreatitis.
Be aware of pancreatitis and how it affects the health of your pet. Early veterinary intervention is absolutely critical for a positive outcome with this particular disease.
Please note that this information does not replace onsite, professional, veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.
Veterinary Technical Services Department