Pancreatitis In Dogs and Cats

You may think of the pancreas as an organ which is responsible for producing insulin, the hormone which drives sugar into our cells which gives them the energy to carry out their normal functions. The pancreas also has a second responsibility, it creates and secretes digestive enzymes which help break down food in the intestines. Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed, causing these digestive enzymes to leak out of the pancreas and into surrounding tissue. In the following article, I will discuss pancreatitis in dogs and cats as well as the diagnostic and treatment options available.

The pancreas is a unique organ in that it has both endocrine and exocrine function, meaning it both produces hormones and functions as a gland which produces substances which are sent out through ducts in the body, rather than through the blood directly. Pancreatitis occurs when an acute insult to the pancreas results in inflammation and a disruption to the digestive or glandular activities. This disruption can result in leakage of very caustic digestive enzymes from the pancreas into the surrounding tissues. Pancreatitis is thought to be very painful to affected dogs although cats may be asymptomatic.

What are the signs my dog may have pancreatitis? Vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and a painful belly or fever are all classic signs associated with this condition. Affected dogs may be very reluctant to eat or maybe sensitive when being picked up. In some cases, this discomfort may cause lethargy and your pet may not be as active or playful as usual.

While the exact cause of pancreatitis is unknown, there are several suspected risk factors that may predispose a pet to pancreatitis. One such risk factor occurs when dogs on a regulated diet then eat a single, high-fat meal. For example, a dog who lives strictly on dog food who suddenly and unexpectedly gets into the trash. In this scenario, the pet’s pancreas is overwhelmed by the high-fat content of the meal which leads to inflammation and leakage of enzymes.

There may also be a link between other pancreatic conditions and the onset of pancreatitis.  Diabetes, for example, is a disease of the pancreas that may predispose a pet to an increased risk. In addition, hypothyroid disease and conditions resulting in higher calcium levels in the blood may be linked to pancreatitis. Certain drugs or medications may also increase the risk of developing pancreatitis. Trauma, tumors and even genetics may also play a role. Miniature Schnauzers have a higher incidence of pancreatitis than other breeds.

To diagnose pancreatitis, certain blood tests or imaging is recommended. Your veterinarian may recommend pancreatic specific blood tests if they suspect your pet may be affected. In addition, x-rays and ultrasounds can be used to image the pancreas and look for evidence of inflammation or insult. It should be noted that obtaining a diagnosis of pancreatitis by x-ray is more difficult and studies have shown an ultrasound to be a superior method of diagnosis.

Treatment for pancreatitis really varies based on the severity of the condition and underlying cause. Some cases of pancreatitis are milder in presentation and diet modification, pain control, and antibiotics when appropriate may be enough to get your pet well again. However, pancreatitis cases can range from mild to life-threatening and severe cases may warrant hospitalization and advanced treatment options to address.

If you think your pet has pancreatitis or is displaying any symptoms of G.I disease, please call one of our Veterinary Hospitals to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors. With the right tests and treatment, many patients with pancreatitis do recover very well and go on to lead happy, healthy lives.

Jeffrey Stupine VMD

Medical Director

World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals