What is pancreatitis?
Let's start by explaining what the pancreas is. The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach. It produces digestive enzymes, which help us to digest our food. It also produces insulin and other hormones that help us regulate our blood sugar. Pancreatitis develops when the pancreas becomes inflamed. Inflammation causes those digestive enzymes to be released out into the surrounding abdomen. The digestive enzymes start to try to digest the structures it encounters (including the liver and nearby intestine), causing injury. Depending on how severe it is and how long it's left untreated, it can be life threatening.
What causes it?
There are many cases where the inciting cause remains unknown. However, a common cause is a pet that has recently eaten a high fat or rich meal. This could be after they've gotten into the trash or received table scraps for example. It does not need to be pure fat, per se – if it's something that is much richer than what your pet normally eats, it can set an episode of pancreatitis off. Certain dog breeds, like the Miniature Schnauzer, are at higher risk for developing pancreatitis.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms commonly seen are:
- Decreased appetite or refusal to eat at all
- Abdominal pain
- +/- Fever
How is it diagnosed?
Often, pancreatitis can be diagnosed via one of two ways. One is through a blood test, called a specCPL (specific canine pancreatic lipase). This is a test that can be run in-house and typically only takes 10-15 minutes to run. This test is specifically for making a diagnosis in dogs. Performing an ultrasound (or sonogram) is the other way to get a diagnosis. This allows us to get a detailed look at the pancreas and its surrounding structures.
How do you treat it?
The best way to treat pancreatitis is through hospitalization. Once we have a diagnosis of pancreatitis, we will make up a treatment plan, which is tailored to each individual patient. Often, pets with pancreatitis are dehydrated, painful and nauseous. Intravenous (IV) fluids allow us to rehydrate, IV pain medications are employed to keep your pet comfortable and anti-nausea medications are given to stop vomiting. The length of hospitalization is determined by patient response and also on how severe the case of pancreatitis is. Pancreatitis can vary from mild (only requiring 24 hours hospitalization) to severe (requiring an extended hospital stay and aggressive treatment). At its most severe, it can be fatal.
The good news is that with most cases of pancreatitis, pets will recover and move forward without any long-lasting complications. There are a few (typically with pets who develop very severe cases of pancreatitis) where there is the possibility for development of diabetes mellitus. Some pets may develop repeated episodes of pancreatitis down the road – for those pets we recommend they be on a special low fat or fat-restricted diet for life as a preventative measure.