Pancreatitis is a common diagnosis among our patients and is a painful, damaging disease. The pancreas assists in the digestive process by producing various enzymes that begin breaking down food. The most common cause in pets is the ingestion of food that contains higher than normal levels of fat or acids.
If a pet’s system is surprised with food it’s not used to processing, then the digestive enzymes that the pancreas produces are activated before they should be. These enzymes usually get activated in the small intestine after they travel out of the pancreas. But with pancreatitis, these powerful digestive enzymes are activated in the pancreas. Thus, the pancreas begins to digest itself, instead of the food in the small intestines, resulting in pain and inflammation.
Symptoms of Pancreatitis:
Behavior to Watch For… due to the painful aspect of the condition, your pet may whine, howl, attempt to run away if you try to pick them up, seem to have difficulty getting comfortable when lying down, and they also may appear to have a hunched back.
Acute or Chronic
Typically, pancreatitis is referred to as either acute or chronic, respectively meaning it either occurred quickly and then lasts for days or it has lasted months and sometimes years. Dogs can experience both types of pancreatitis and some breeds are more likely to develop it than others. Most common are acute cases result from a pet finding leftover hot wings, steak fat, etc. in the trash can. High fat and/or spicy foods can shift the pancreas into overdrive, producing digestive enzymes before it’s supposed to.
The cause of chronic cases can be difficult to determine, as it could be the pet is just predisposed to it. If your dog has chronic pancreatitis, flare-ups can be managed at home. Watch your dog for any changes in the amount of food it eats, its activity level, and its bowel movements. If your chronic pancreatitis dog starts vomiting or hunching its back as though its belly hurts, then you should contact us immediately to avoid more serious issues.
Immediate attention is the best plan of action. The longer you wait to get treatment the higher the chance that hospitalization will be necessary. In order to allow the pancreas to rest and heal, oral foods will need to be stopped and IV fluid therapy will need to be started. Antibiotics and pain medication will also be given to treat your dog’s specific symptoms. Most dogs will be hospitalized for several days while these treatments are being administered. Oral food will slowly be reintroduced as your dog starts feeling better and the symptoms of pancreatitis resolve, but typically a low-fat diet is recommended for dogs who have ever had pancreatitis.