All mammals have a pancreas. It plays an important role in metabolizing sugar in the body by producing insulin and it produces pancreatic enzymes to help the body digest nutrients. In cases of acute pancreatitis the pancreas becomes inflamed. It is a life-threatening condition.
Pancreatitis can be caused by both external and internal factors. Some medications can contribute to pancreatitis. Dogs can also develop infections which affect the pancreas. Certain metabolic disorders can cause the body to have high amounts of lipids in the blood or high amounts of calcium. Even trauma can bring on pancreatitis. But obesity and nutrition are most commonly associated with pancreatitis. Dogs which are overweight or which are fed diets high in fat are at increased risk for pancreatitis. Dogs which are fed fatty table scraps or which are allowed to binge during holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas can often have an attack of acute pancreatitis. Thanksgiving leftovers and other fatty foods can lead to an attack of acute pancreatitis.
Dogs suffering from acute pancreatitis may show some of the following symptoms:
Lack of appetite
Hunching their bodies
Oily or greasy stools
You may notice these symptoms at home. They may be particularly noticeable if your dog has binged on some fatty food or gotten into the trash and eaten something he shouldn’t have. If you see these symptoms you should take your dog to the veterinarian so he can assess whether or not your dog has pancreatitis. Your vet will be able to determine if your dog has other symptoms that can accompany a severe case of pancreatitis such as heart problems, difficulty breathing or a possible hemorrhage.
Your vet can make a diagnosis of pancreatitis by talking to you, observing your dog, doing a physical exam and performing some laboratory tests. If your dog has pancreatitis he will likely have an increase in certain enzymes in his body, such as amylase and lipase. His liver enzymes may also be affected. His white blood cell count will also probably be raised. Your vet may also want to take x-rays or an ultrasound. There is also a new test called a serum cPLI (pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity) test that can help determine the state of the pancreas.
Treatment of pancreatitis will depend on the severity of the attack. The immediate goal will be to get the attack under control and return your dog’s enzyme levels to normal. Your vet will have to get any vomiting stopped. Generally, your dog won’t be able to take normal food, water or oral medications for about 24 hours. This will also give his pancreas time to return to normal. During the next few days he will take a bland, easily-digestible, low-fat diet. It’s very important for his recovery that his fat intake be controlled and reduced. Your dog may need to switch to a special diet.
Your vet will also make sure that your dog is getting enough fluids. Dehydration is common in dogs with pancreatitis so your vet may need to give your dog fluids intravenously.
Since acute pancreatitis involves an inflamed pancreas your dog may be experiencing pain. Your vet will manage pain with pain relievers and may give your dogs appropriate antibiotics.
It is possible for a dog to have one episode of acute pancreatitis and fully recover. Making adjustments to his diet and avoiding fats may prevent any further occurrences. In other cases a dog may have recurrent bouts of acute pancreatitis. There can be complicating factors. If your dog has diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, epilepsy or other health problems, then pancreatitis may become chronic or even lead to fatal complications. You and your vet will need to work together to manage your dog’s long-term health needs.
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