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Ask the Vet: Pancreatitis by Kristel Weaver, DVM, MPVM
November 5, 2012

Over the holidays we frequently hospitalize dogs and cats with pancreatitis.  Even if your cute little one is looking up at you with big, sad eyes it’s better for them not to eat the greasy turkey leftovers.  This month’s article is all about pancreatitis.

What is pancreatitis and what causes it?

Pancreatitis results from swelling and inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas not only produces hormones like insulin but also digestive enzymes.  These enzymes are normally inactive until they reach the intestinal tract.  But when the pancreas becomes inflamed they activate prematurely and digest the pancreas itself, causing a lot of damage.

How do I know if my dog has pancreatitis?

Dogs with pancreatitis vomit, aren’t interested in food, and have a painful belly.  They might show their abdominal pain by walking with a hunched back or stretching out in the prayer posture.  They might also be lethargic, have diarrhea, or a fever.  Your veterinarian will use a combination of history, examination, blood work, and ultrasound to diagnose pancreatitis.

How is pancreatitis treated?

Based on severity, pancreatitis is usually treated with a combination of fluids, pain medications, anti-nausea medications, and antibiotics.  Food is withheld for the first one to two days to “rest” the pancreas and give it a chance to heal.  Moderate to severe cases of pancreatitis require hospitalization on IV fluids, whereas mild cases might be treated as outpatients.  Severe pancreatitis can be fatal despite aggressive treatment. 

Are some dogs more predisposed to pancreatitis than others?

Yes, dogs with diabetes, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, or high lipids are more likely to get pancreatitis.  Dogs that are obese or that eat a rich, fattening meal are also predisposed.  Dogs who have had a previous episode of pancreatitis are more likely to get it again.  Any dog can get pancreatitis and sometimes we cannot identify a reason why. 

Do cats get pancreatitis too?

Yes!  Cats also get pancreatitis.  When cats have pancreatitis it is different from dogs in several ways.  First, they don’t usually have a history of eating a rich or fattening meal.  Second, they often have a chronic problem instead of a sudden attack.  Third, they are not typically vomiting and often only shows signs of a poor appetite and lethargy.  Diagnostics and treatment are similar for cats and dogs.

If you want to give your pet something special for the holiday buy a special treat from the pet store. It may be hard to resist those pleading eyes but your pet’s health is worth it! I hope you and your entire family have a wonderful Thanksgiving without an emergency visit to the veterinary hospital!

Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master’s of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM).  She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007. 

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