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Pancreatitis in Dogs

In dogs, pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. It is a condition in which the pancreas is inflamed and swollen. This page focuses on canine pancreatitis symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Miniature Schnauzer
The pancreas is responsible for two major functions. One is to produce insulin for the body to use and store glucose. The other is to produce pancreatic enzymes that enable the body to digest and absorb fats and proteins in the digestive tract.

However, the digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas can not only digest foods, but also the dog's body as well if there is a leakage of the enzymes into the body.

Pancreatitis in dogs is the inflammation and swelling of the pancreas due to leakage of active digestive enzymes into the pancreatic tissue.

Canine pancreatitis can be in a mild form, or it can be more severe with hemorrhage. It can be acute or chronic.

Acute Pancreatitis in Dogs

Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly and quickly. If the pancreas is severely inflammed, the pancreatic enzymes spill out from the pancreas into the abdominal cavity and start to digest other body organs, causing permanent damage to the surrounding organs, such as the liver, bile ducts, gall bladder, and intestines.

Symptoms

Acute canine pancreatitis is characterized by symptoms such as sudden onset of vomiting and severe abdominal pain which is caused by the release of the digestive enzymes into the pancreas and surrounding organ tissue. The dog may cry out and have a tucked-up belly. Other symptoms include diarrhea, yellow, greasy stools, dehydration, weakness and lethargy. In severe cases, there may be signs of shock or total collapse.

Possible Results of Acute Pancreatitis

When a number of cells that produce the digestive enzymes are damaged, insufficient food digestion results. This condition is known as pancreatic insufficiency.

When a large number of cells that produce insulin are destroyed, diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) can result and insulin therapy may be needed.

Some dogs, after suffering and recovering from an acute pancreatitis attack, may continue to have recurrent bouts of the disease (chronic pancreatitis), and the symptoms may also tend to worsen over time progressively.

Beware of Fulminant Necrotizing Pancreatitis

This is an acute and the most severe (often fatal) form of canine pancreatitis. The dog looks very sick with vomiting or signs of severe abdominal pain. If you suspect this problem, get your dog to the vet immediately. Don't wait!

Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs

The exact cause of canine pancreatitis is unclear, but it can be triggered by any of the following:
  • High Fat Diets: High fat diets, especially combined with low protein intake, tend to trigger pancreatitis in dogs. Even a single occasional high fat meal may cause pancreatitis in a dog whose diet is normally moderate or low in fat.
  • Certain Diseases: Dogs with certain diseases are more prone to pancreatitis. These diseases include Cushing's disease, diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, and idiopathic hyperlipemia (a disease unique to Miniature Schnauzers).
  • Certain Medications: Medications that seem to cause canine pancreatitis include corticosteroids, azathioprine (Imuran Rx), potassium bromide (used for seizure control), l-asparaginase (a chemotherapeutic agent), and zinc (used as a dietary supplement).
  • Age and Breeds: Pancreatitis is most common in middle-aged or older dogs - especially in overweight spayed female dogs and dogs who are fed diets high in fat. Miniature Schnauzers and Yorkshire Terriers tend to be more prone to develop dog pancreatitis.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Diagnosis can be made by blood tests showing elevated amylase and/or lipase levels, along with a canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (cPLI) test.

Ultrasound examination may detect a swollen and enlarged pancreas.

Finally, a biopsy of the pancreas can be performed if necessary.

Dogs with an attack of acute pancreatitis usually requires hospitalization for treatment of dehydration and shock.

Food, water and all oral medications are withheld for 24 hours or more in order to give the pancreas a rest, which is the most important step in treating pancreatitis. Instead of food and water, the dog will be given intravenous saline solutions to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance. If the dog's symptoms improve in the course of a few days, food intake in small portions can resume but the food given is bland, easily digestible, and low-fat.

Antibiotics are used to protect against infection. If the dog is in great pain, pain-relief medications will be administered. The most common pain-relief drugs include meperidine (Demerol), fentanyl patches (Duragesic) and morphine.

Prevention of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Dogs who have recovered from an attack of acute pancreatitis are susceptible to recurrent bouts of the disease. To prevent or minimize recurrence, veterinarians recommend the following :
  • Low-fat Diet: Feed the dog a low-fat, moderate-fiber diet. Also, feeding the dog two or three small meals a day instead of one big single meal can avoid overstimulating the pancreas. No table scraps should be given. Visit our page on Dog Food for Pancreatitis for more information on suitable foods and supplements for dogs with pancreatitis.
  • Weight Control: In addition to diet, weight control is a very important factor in preventing future attacks of pancreatitis. Overweight dogs seem to have more severe bouts of pancreatitis when it occurs and to have recurrences more frequently.
  • Exercise: Exercise improves digestion and intestinal movements, resulting in a healthier digestive system, which is important in preventing pancreatitis.
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