Dog Health: Understanding Pancreatitis in Dogs
What Is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, a V-shaped organ/gland responsible for a variety of functions in dogs. This organ works both as an endocrine gland (secreting hormones in the bloodstream) and an exocrine organ (discharging hormones into ducts). Therefore, it is a dual-function gland.
- As an endocrine gland, the pancreas secretes insulin, somatostatin, and glucagon into the bloodstream (to regulate sugar metabolism).
- As an exocrine gland, the pancreas discharges pancreatic juice containing enzymes necessary for digesting food into the pancreatic duct (to break down starches, triglycerids, and protein). The pancreas also secretes bicarbonate to buffer the stomach's acids.
The pancreas is found nearby the dog's first portion of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. The pancreas lies behind the stomach and connects to the duodenum via the duct known as the pancreatic duct.
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Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Normally, the enzymes in the pancreas activate only once they leave the pancreas and reach the small intestine. Inflammation of the pancreas, however, may cause these enzymes to activate even before leaving the pancreas. When this happens, the enzymes cause the pancreas to digest itself, leading to troublesome consequences such as:
- Pancreatic tissue becoming inflamed causing tissue damage.
- Toxins released due to tissue destruction may cause a widespread inflammatory response.
- Should the pancreas be compromised, it will no longer be capable of secreting insulin causing diabetes mellitus.
Generally, pancreatitis is confined to the pancreas and liver, but at times, deleterious complications may take place leading to:
- Respiratory failure
- Weber Christian syndrome
- Disseminated intravascular coagulation
- Pancreatic encephalopathy
Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs
But what causes the pancreas in dogs to become inflamed in the first place? The causes may be many. At times, however, the causes may remain unknown, but the following are some known triggers.
- Ingestion of fatty foods. Often the dog has a history of getting into the trash or being fed greasy table scraps.
- Medications. Sulfa-containing antibiotics, azathiprine and L-asparginase (used often for chemotherapy), potassium bromide (anti-seizure meds).
- Exposure to organophosphate insecticides.
- Trauma to the pancreas, such as after being hit by car.
- Metabolic disorders such as high calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia) or high lipid levels in the blood (hyperlipidemia).
- Hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease, and diabetes.
- A tumor in the pancreas.
Note: some dog breeds are predisposed to pancreatitis such as miniature Schnauzers and Yorkshire terriers. Obese dogs are also prone to this condition.
Symptoms of Pancreatitis
- Loss of appetite
- Hunched-up position
- Abdominal pain
Diagnosis of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Veterinarians diagnose pancreatitis through a variety of tests that help rule out or confirm this diagnosis. Generally, blood work in pancreatitis patients reveals very high levels of amylase and lipase, two enzymes produced by the pancreas. Following are some common and not-so-common tests:
- Physical examination
- Complete blood count
- PLI or pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity test
- SPEC cPL (specific canine pancreatic lipase) test
- Ultrasound to rule out masses and tumors
- X-rays suggesting swelling of the pancreas
- Exploratory surgery in severe cases when no causes are found
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Treatment of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Treatment for pancreatitis is aggressive with four goals in mind:
- Provide pain relief to the dog
- Control vomiting
- Correct dehydration
- Provide nutritional support
Pancreatitis Treatment for Dogs
Since dogs affected by pancreatitis tend to have diarrhea and vomiting they are often dehydrated and require fluids and electrolytes. This is accomplished by giving dogs fluid through the skin or intravenously. This is often the best option since drinking may cause further vomiting.
Because the pancreas is already inflamed, food can aggravate the inflammation. Giving the pancreas rest is very important. For this reason, dogs are put on NPO. This acronym means ''Nil per os'' a Latin saying that means ''nothing by mouth''. Per the vet's orders this means fasting the dog for some time until the pancreas recovers.
Medications to stop vomiting are often prescribed.
If the pancreatitis is a side effect of a medication, it should be stopped according to the vet's advice.
At Home Treatments For Dog Pancreatitis
At times, veterinarians provide instructions on how owners can treat pancreatitis at home. Generally, this is for mild cases, after other medical conditions have been ruled out. This is only a sample of what an owner may be asked to do to make the pancreas recover:
- Fast the dog for as long as the vet recommends.
- When the dog shows no vomiting the dog may be offered small, frequent amounts of water. If vomiting continues, ice cubes may help keep the dog hydrated without upsetting the stomach or sub Q fluids may be needed. If the dog refuses water, chicken or beef broth with no onions or garlic can be diluted 50:50 with water.
- Electrolytes such as Pedialyte or Gatorade can be offered always in small amounts frequently during the day.
- A bland diet can be started using 75% cooked white rice mixed with 25% of boiled lean ground beef, or boiled chicken breast with the fat scooped away from the surface. This should be fed in very small amounts frequently during the day.
- If the rice is kept down well, it helps to feed it for 3-4 days. Then, the dog may be gradually shifted to its normal diet by adding more kibble and decreasing the bland diet over the course of several days.
- A prescription diet low in fat and high in fiber may be recommended.
For further reading
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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.
Questions & Answers
My dog has a blood count of 4,732 (Lipase). Besides putting my dog on a bland diet, is there anything else that I can do to correct the Pancreatitis?
Your vet can prescribe medications that reduce nausea and vomiting and pain meds. Some cases may require a corticosteroid to reduce pancreatic inflammation. Discuss with your vet what else can be done, especially if your dog is showing signs of not getting better or is getting worse. When vets aren't updated, they often assume that our pets are doing fine so no further steps are needed. This can impact their recovery.Helpful 3