Canine Pancreatitis

Do you feed your dog people food?  You may be setting your dog up to have canine pancreatitis.  This is an inflammation of the pancreas.  While most people know the pancreas produces insulin to help keep blood sugar stable, many do not know that it also produces a quantity of digestive enzymes that help digest food.  In response to some stimulus, whether table scraps, getting in the trash, eating a toxin or drugs, the digestive enzymes begin to digest the pancreas instead of the food.  This leads to inflammation of the pancreas and the situation spirals out of control.  While some dogs have mild pancreatitis, some dogs die from it.

Pancreatitis can be acute or develop into a chronic and recurring problem.  Each episode may be mild or severe.  Dogs most at risk are obese dogs, dogs feed table scraps or allowed to get in the garbage, and some breeds of dogs such as Miniature Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, and some terrier breeds.  Dogs with Cushing’s Disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism are also at higher risk as these diseases are associated with a high level of lipids (fat) in the bloodstream.  Sometimes pancreatitis happens idiopathically, that is for some unknown reason.

Signs of pancreatitis are vomiting, anorexia, painful abdomen, hunched posture, diarrhea, fever, dehydration, and lack of energy, with vomiting being the most common symptom.  These symptoms are not unique to pancreatitis and may signal any gastrointestinal problem.  Blood tests will reveal that it is pancreatitis, along with clinical observations and the patient’s history.

Treatment consists mainly of supportive treatment.  The dog is hospitalized and given nothing by mouth for up to 48 hours.  Intravenous solutions maintain hydration and administer antibiotics to prevent a secondary infection.  Pain is controlled with narcotics so the dog does not suffer.  The pancreas is rested and allowed to heal on its own.  After 48 hours, the dog is fed a liquid diet through a feeding tube to keep the intestines healthy.  They depend on the food passing through them for food and can starve if nothing goes through them for too long.

The prognosis for the dog depends on the severity of the attack and the amount of damage to the pancreas.  Dogs can develop diabetes as a result of the destruction of the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas.  They can also develop a low level of digestive enzyme if those cells producing that are damaged.  In that case, the dog is administered enzymes to help him digest the food.

Treatment also includes reducing the risk factors for the pancreatitis to occur again.  Obese dogs are put on a diet.  Table scraps are banned.  Dogs with high blood lipids (fats) are placed on a fat restricted diet.  Dogs that have low pancreas enzymes are given them in the dog’s food so the dog can digest his meals.  Dogs may have low grade chronic pancreatitis that periodically flares into acute pancreatitis after a bout of acute pancreatitis.  Prevention is the best cure for your dog.

Keep your dog a sensible weight, avoid high fat foods and table scraps, and take your dog to the vet promptly at any sign of gastrointestinal distress.