With the holidays coming, veterinarians always prepare their staff to deal with an influx of pancreatitis. Our pets are part of the family, and we want to share our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals with them. Unfortunately, what we intended as a gesture of love, sends your little buddy to the hospital.
The pancreas is responsible for producing several important hormones that help in digestion and regulate blood sugar. These hormones including insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin. The exocrine gland, secretes pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes that pass to the small intestine. The pancreas is part of a complex digestive process that seeks to break down proteins, triglycerides, and complex carbohydrates. This process also produces bicarbonate to buffer stomach acid.
Pancreatitis can be chronic (long term) or acute (sudden). Chronic pancreatitis is more common in cats and acute pancreatitis is more common in dogs. Siamese cats and miniature schnauzers seem to be genetically prone to suffer from pancreatitis.
Certain drugs, viruses, and bacteria can cause the inflammation of the pancreas, a condition known as pancreatitis. The most common cause of acute pancreatitis in dogs is the consumption of fatty human foods such as pork, beef, and other fatty human foods. Dogs who frequently get into the trash, a condition many veterinarians refer to as “garbage gut” are also prone to the acute form of pancreatitis.
When a pet eats fatty foods, the pancreas releases enzymes and other substances into the surrounding area of the abdomen rather than secreting it properly through the digestive system. The secretions cause localized inflammation that damages the pancreas and nearby organs. This can become a serious, life-threatening condition that can lead to diabetes, kidney failure, and intestinal obstruction. A pet not properly treated for this condition, if he recovers, can be more likely to have pancreatitis again, or develop the chronic form of the disease.
Symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs include:
• lack of appetite
• painful abdomen
Symptoms of pancreatitis in cats differ and include:
• poor appetite
• lower body temperature
• increased respiratory rate
• possible hepatic lipidoses (fatty liver syndrome) that causes the mucus membranes to
turn yellow in color
Pancreatitis treatment is similar for the dog and cat and is not inexpensive. Be ready to hand over some bills.
Your veterinarian will take away all food and water to rest the digestive system. The pet will be put on IV fluids. Pain medications, anti-nausea medication, and sometimes, antibiotics will be administered through the IV line. With treatment, it can take several days for the inflammation to subside. Only then will your vet begin offering small amounts of water, and begin a bland diet. Once the pet has shown that he can eat without ill side effects, the pet will be sent home on a bland diet such as Hills ®Prescription I/D. The vet will have the pet parent slowly transition the dog to his regular food over a period of one to two weeks. That piece of Thanksgiving turkey may be the most expensive food you've ever purchased. Depending on the severity, it can cost upwards of $1000+.
While it may be temping to try to treat Pancreatitis at home, it is very difficult to do so. Some of the symptoms such as diarrhea can be improved with over-the-counter medications. If the pet can drink without vomiting, dehydration can be prevented with an oral electrolyte solution. However, there is nothing you can give your pet to help with the severe abdominal pain. It is inhumane to put your pet through that.
Considering the possible severe outcome, it is recommended that you prevent pancreatitis rather than treating it at home.
Methods of prevention of pancreatitis include:
• Feed a steady diet
• If changes in foods are required, do it slowly over several days by adding a small
amount of the new food to the old food, until the new food has completely replaced the
• If you decide to add approved vegetables and fruits to your pets diet, add only a small
amount at a time. Keep in mind that a small amount for a Chihuahua is different than a small amount for a Great Dane.
• If you make your own canned food or meat-based home made diet, add only boiled low fat meats (such as chicken). Avoid high fat meats as well as spices.
• Keep your garbage in a secure place that your dog or cat cannot access.
Resist temptation during holidays and throughout the year. Don't give in to a begging pet. Its for their own good. Instead, have some treats to share so that your pet still feels a part of his pack.