What Is Canine Pancreatitis?
Symptoms at Onset and Subsequent Diet
A diagnosis of canine pancreatitis is frightening for any dog owner, especially when a veterinarian explains that it may be a life-threatening condition requiring immediate treatment and perhaps even the hospitalization of your dog for several days. But what is this illness? What are the symptoms, treatment, and subsequent dietary restrictions for your pet?
What Is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is a malfunction of the pancreas, an organ which is part of the digestive system. When the digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas are activated inside the pancreas (instead of inside the small intestine), they begin to digest the tissue of the pancreas itself. This painful autodigestion causes inflammation of the organ. If not treated, it can, in severe cases, lead to your dog's death.
Your dog may exhibit one or a combination of symptoms at the onset of pancreatitis. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
- persistent vomiting (not necessarily connected to a meal): There may be no food at all in the vomit; it can be clear or colored (perhaps yellow). Your dog may throw up time after time in a period of several hours.
- abdominal sensitivity: Your dog may whimper or cry when held or picked up, especially if you hold him around the upper abdomen.
- standing with the back arched: The dog may look as if she is trying to imitate a Halloween cat, and she may hold this pose for several minutes.
- panting (a sign of physical stress)
A dog with pancreatitis can die without treatment, so if you believe your dog is exhibiting signs of this illness, you should seek veterinary help immediately. Your vet will perform blood tests (to determine whether levels of pancreatic enzymes are elevated) and may also wish to x-ray your dog's abdomen or perform an ultrasound.
Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your dog will most likely need hospitalization, perhaps for several days. The vet may treat your pet with pain relievers, antiemetics (to relieve vomiting), and antibiotics. If your dog has a chronic condition (like diabetes) which is aggravated by the pancreatitis, the vet will work to stabilize that condition as well. Because the pancreas needs to rest in order to recover, the vet may decide not to gjve food or water to your dog for a period of time (24 hours or more). To prevent dehydration, however, your vet may give subcutaneous fluids.
When your dog returns home, you will need to ease him back onto regular food. For several days, you will likely be told to administer small amounts of bland, low-fat prescription dog food, increasing the amount over 3 to 7 days. Do not deviate from your vet's recommendations concerning your pet's diet! The goal is to allow the pancreas to heal and slowly return to normal digestive function, not to overload it and risk a recurrence.
My dog's vet once said, "Fat is the enemy for a dog who has had pancreatitis," and all dogs who have had pancreatitis should be fed a high-quality, low-fat food. Unfortunately, once a dog has had pancreatitis, it may be at greater risk of a subsequent recurrence; a low-fat diet is a preventive measure.
A further benefit of this type of diet is weight loss. As in humans, obesity makes our pets more susceptible to serious illness. Because pancreatitis is more common in older, overweight dogs, seeing that your chubby pet reaches a healthy weight is absolutely necessary to avoid another incidence. Moreover, high levels of cholesterol in the blood are also associated with pancreatitis, and a low-fat diet can help lower this risk factor.
Many people think that chubby pets are "cute" pets. They are afraid to deprive their dog of tasty high-fat foods; they hate to say "no" to the many daily treats their dogs are accustomed to. Though it may be difficult, by feeding Petunia regular food, treats and table scraps, you may be condemning her to another painful bout with pancreatitis. Would you willingly hurt your pet? Or would you rather see her live a healthy, active life free of pain and sickness?
Think of this each time you are tempted to hand out a high-fat dog biscuit or a piece of fried chicken from your dinner plate. Then pat yourself on the back for showing her what a good parent you are! Think of the low-fat diet as a form of tough love, one of those limits we must set to keep our 'kids' safe and sound.
Keeping Rex away from treats that are bad for him requires less work than choice. Pet food chains such as Petco carry tasty low-fat treats with which to reward your dog after pancreatitis. Look for treats with 7% maximum crude fat content or less. You can find veggie biscuits and even biscuits containing fruit which are delicious to her and fit this nutritional bill. Avoid rawhides or treats like pig ears. (Skin is full of fat —think of the skin on chicken!) You can try to train your dog to enjoy little bits of raw carrots, or small pieces of raw apple. Another good choice for something crunchy is bites of plain rice cakes. (Be careful of the flavored varieties, which can contain lots of chemicals. Look for organics.)
Life After Pancreatitis
Keeping your newly healthy pet on track requires a little more effort on your part, but that effort will pay off. Your dog can learn to love low-fat food and low-fat treats, and will even begin to look forward to them even as she used to beg for the old high-fat variety. Seeing her shiny eyes free of pain will be ample reward for the trouble you take to keep her diet nutritionally sound and her health off the path toward obesity-related illnesses like pancreatitis.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.