Recognizing the early signs of pancreatitis -- inflammation of the pancreas – is essential to your cherished canine companion’s health, with the illness itself being either chronic or acute.
The signs of a dog with acute pancreatitis may include extreme lethargy, abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, severe dehydration, and sometimes collapse and shock. The signs of a dog with chronic pancreatitis are less severe and may include lethargy, decreased appetite or refusal to eat, abdominal pain, and/or vomiting.
What then, is the pancreas? A small organ tucked between the stomach and intestines, it plays a vital role in producing the hormones, insulin and glucagon, which regulate blood sugar. It also produces digestive enzymes that help break down carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Pancreatitis not only has many potential causes but its clinical signs aren’t always specific to the pancreas, thereby making it difficult to diagnose. While routine blood tests aren’t often helpful, other, pancreatic-specific blood tests can be done, and yet, even these tests aren’t 100 percent accurate, nor are abdominal x-rays. But if your dog’s vomiting, it’s vital to either rule in or rule out the possibility of a foreign body obstructing his stomach and/or intestine – from a small button to several socks. The best suggested method of imaging the pancreas is an abdominal ultrasound, with the clearest images coming from dogs with a case of acute or severe pancreatitis rather than chronic or mild.
Once a diagnosis has been made, dogs with acute pancreatitis often require several days, if not weeks, of treatment that may include intensive intravenous (IV) fluid and electrolyte support, pain medications, anti-nausea medication(s), stomach-protection medications, nutritional support in the form of a feeding tube and/or antibiotics. And since these dogs’ conditions are often critical, they’re best treated, if possible, in an intensive 24-hour care facility.
On the other hand, dogs with chronic pancreatitis might be hospitalized for IV fluid therapy to correct any dehydration they’ve suffered. Or a vet may decide that subcutaneous (under the skin) fluid administration – at the appointment or at home -- will suffice, together with anti-nausea, stomach-protective and pain medications, and the recommendation that they be put on a bland, low-fat diet temporarily, while they recover, or permanently.
The prognosis for dogs with pancreatitis depends, ultimately, on the severity of their illness.
Sadly, those suffering from severe pancreatitis have a poor prognosis and a higher risk of death, often as a result of multiple organ failure, a pancreatic abscess formation or an abdominal cavity infection (peritonitis).
Dogs who have recovered from just one or multiple episodes of pancreatitis may develop extensive scarring within the tissues of the pancreas. This scarring can lead to diabetes and/or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). EPI occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce a sufficient amount of digestive enzymes.
While you can’t totally prevent acute pancreatitis, you can reduce your dog’s risk of developing the disease and ensure his wellbeing by never letting him become overweight, by avoiding high-fat diets, by never feeding him table scraps and by keeping him from accessing your garbage.
Article by Nomi Berger. Nomi is the bestselling author of seven novels, one work of non-fiction, two volumes of poetry, and hundreds of articles. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada with her adopted Maltese, Mini, and has been writing as a volunteer for animal rescue groups in Canada and the U.S.A. since 2013.