The pancreas is a organ in the abdomen that produces hormones such as insulin and enzymes that aid in the digestion of food, especially fat. Usually these enzymes aren't activated until they reach the small intestine. Sometimes, due to injury or disease, these enzymes become activated within the pancreas and will begin to digest the pancreas itself. This leads to inflammation of the pancreas and surrounding organs causing abdominal pain, vomiting, depression, fever and in some cases it can be fatal.
The initial cause of pancreatitis is not known but there may be several contributing factors. It is commonly associated with eating a rich fatty meal such as a marrow bone. In some cases, it may be associated with the administration of drugs however, some dogs with pancreatitis do not have exposure to either.
Pets with pancreatitis typically suffer with nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea. If the attack is severe, acute shock, depression, and death may occur.
Clinical signs and history are usually highly suggestive but diagnosis is often confirmed by blood test to detect pancreatic enzyme levels in the blood and inflammation indicators. Ultrasound and x-rays may also be required.
The successful management of pancreatitis will depend on early diagnosis and prompt medical therapy. As pancreatitis causes pain and nausea/vomiting which usually results in dogs not eating or drinking or bringing up what they do eat or drink, most cases require admission to the hospital and intravenous fluids therapy to correct dehydration. The mild form of the disease is best treated by resting the pancreas from its role in digestion. The only way to "turn off" the pancreas is to withhold all oral fluids and food, another reason they need intravenous fluids. Medications to control vomiting and the pain is also usually required. The presence of shock necessitates the immediate and intense use of intravenous fluids and often intensive care in hospital. Antibiotics are also indicated in many cases. Hospital visits may extend for many days! We will keep most patients until we are sure they are taking food and not vomiting, are adequately hydrated and pain free. Recurrence is very common.
Effected dogs may be placed on a specialised prescription diet that is formulated to be particularly low in fat. Some dogs find these prescription diets unpalatable and in these cases a small amount of commercial canned food may be added to make them appetising. If you prefer to feed a home cooked diet then it is important that this contains no fat or is very low in fat. Boiled chicken with no bones or skin, mixed with a variety of vegetables and pasta or rice, will provide a balanced low fat diet. It is essential that you don't feed your dog any table scraps or treats as these may contain a lot of fat. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of pancreatitis.
Recurrence of pancreatitis is common. Pancreatitis can also cause other problems that should be monitored for. The signs you should watch for are;