The pancreas is a V-shaped organ located behind the stomach and the first section of the small intestine, the duodenum. It has two main functions: it aids in metabolism of sugar in the body through the production of insulin, and is necessary for the digestion of nutrients by producing pancreatic enzymes. These enzymes help the body promote the digestion and absorption of nutrients from food. Acute pancreatitis is a sudden onset of pancreatic inflammation. Chronic pancreatitis can also occur.
Multiple factors can contribute to the development of pancreatitis in dogs:
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis may range from mild to very severe. The symptoms are similar to those of other diseases and may include a very painful abdomen, abdominal distention, lack of appetite, depression, dehydration, a 'hunched up' posture, vomiting, and perhaps diarrhoea. And fever can often accompanies these symptoms.
Animals with more severe disease can develop heart arrhythmias, sepsis (body-wide infection), difficulty breathing, and a life-threatening condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which results in multiple hemorrhages. If the inflammation is severe, organs surrounding the pancreas could be 'autodigested' by pancreatic enzymes released from the damaged pancreas and become permanently damaged.
Dogs with chronic pancreatitis may show signs similar to those in acute pancreatitis, but they are often milder, and severe complications are less likely.
To diagnose pancreatitis, other causes of the symptoms must be ruled out first. Then the following is conducted
The goals of treatment are to:
Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances are common in dogs with acute pancreatitis, so supplemental fluids are given either by the subcutaneous or intravenous route; depending upon the severity of the condition.
Dogs who are experiencing pain can be treated with pain relievers.
Medications are often given to decrease the amount of vomiting such as cerenia or maxalon. If vomiting is severe, food, water, and oral medications are withheld for at least 24 hours. Depending upon the dog's response, food intake can be started again after a day or more. The dog is generally fed small meals of a bland, easily digestible, high-carbohydrate, low-fat food. In some cases, it may be necessary to use tube feeding to provide proper nutrition.
If the pancreatitis was caused by a medication, the medication should be stopped. If it was caused by a toxin, infection, or other condition, the appropriate therapy for the underlying condition should be started.
In rare instances where there are intestinal complications or the development of a pancreatic abscess, surgery may be necessary.
Pancreatitis can be a very unpredictable disease. In most cases, if the pancreatitis was mild and the pet only had one episode, chances of recovery are good and keeping the dog on a low-fat diet may be all that is necessary to prevent recurrence or complications. In other cases, what appears to be a mild case may progress, or may be treated successfully only to have recurrences, sometimes severe.
Some animals develop chronic pancreatitis, which can lead to diabetes mellitus and/or pancreatic insufficiency, also called 'maldigestion syndrome.'
It may take your dog several days up to a couple of weeks to recover completely. Some dogs will have a reduced appetite but should improve each day. Some dogs will also experience diarrhoea or soft faeces but this should also be improving each day. Follow medication directions carefully and contact your vet if you have any concerns regarding the medication or your dogs progress or health.
Diet is essential in recovery and preventing further bouts of pancreatitis. Avoiding fatty foods especially ‘human food’ such as meat scraps, sausages etc is essential as once dogs have had pancreatitis they are much more vulnerable to getting it again.
An easy solution is to use specialised food designed specifically for pancreatitis. These are available to purchase at the Maraboon Veterinary Surgery:
When the inflammation subsides in the pancreas, some scarring is inevitable. When 80% of the pancreas is damaged to an extent that insulin cannot be produced, diabetes mellitus results. This may or may not be permanent depending on the capacity for the pancreas’ tissue to recover. Check out our page on Diabetes Mellitus to be aware of the symptoms. If you have any concerns, please contact your vet immediately.