Dr. Deborah Shores
What is canine pancreatitis?
In short, pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is responsible for two specific functions. The first function produces enzymes that are released into your dog’s intestines for aid in digestion. The second function is responsible for the production of three hormones: insulin, which regulates blood sugar, glucagon, which raises blood sugar, and somatostatin, which stops the secretion of insulin, glucagon, and growth hormone. Both of these functions are critical to your dog’s health.
When your dog’s pancreas is inflamed, the digestive enzymes are leaked into the tissue of the abdomen. Because the enzymes are not selective, they will digest any of your dog’s tissues they come in contact with, causing severe inflammation and pain.
Pancreatitis occurs both acutely and chronically. Symptoms range from extremely mild to life-threatening. Repeated bouts of inflammation can scar your dog’s pancreas and cause permanent damage to the functions the pancreas is responsible for. Some dogs will lose weight since they are no longer able to fully digest and obtain all the nutrients from food. Your dog’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels may also fail, which can result in diabetes.
What are the symptoms of canine pancreatitis?
Acute attacks of pancreatitis occur suddenly and the symptoms are often severe.
What is the cause of canine pancreatitis?
Many times, the cause of pancreatitis is unknown. Many veterinarians see an increase in pancreatitis cases around the holidays when dogs are fed more fats and sugars than optimal, putting added stress on the pancreas.
Diet also plays an important factor in pancreatitis. High carbohydrate-based diets are extremely demanding on your dog’s insulin levels, which, in turn, are demanding to your dog’s pancreas. Many processed foods are also lacking in natural enzymes, due to processing at high temperatures. Overweight dogs are also more prone to pancreas issues.
Some breeds also have a genetic predisposition that makes them more prone to pancreatitis. Miniature Schnauzers, Yorkshire and Silky Terriers in particular suffer from this.
To help prevent pancreatitis from occurring in your canine, make sure your dog is receiving enough exercise and fed a quality, balanced diet. Don’t give your dog too many table scraps — especially during the holiday season!
Treatment options for canine pancreatitis
Pancreatitis is often diagnosed with a cPLI (Canine Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity) blood test. Sometimes an inflamed pancreas or pancreatic cysts can be identified on abdominal ultrasound. Elevations of enzymes that are associated with liver inflammation may also be noted on blood tests. This is due to the close proximity of the pancreas to the liver and bile duct.(1)
For mild cases, food and drink may be withheld for a day or two, in conjunction with IV fluids and medication to stop vomiting and limit pain. In some cases, feeding as soon as nausea and vomiting are well controlled may be recommended. In severe cases of pancreatitis, many dogs require hospitalization for multiple days. Based on success with its use in humans with pancreatitis, hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be available at some referral centers.(2)
Proper nutritional management is important for dogs with pancreatitis. After an acute attack and with your veterinarian’s instruction, a bland, low-fat diet should be introduced. Experts think that even though fats may be limited for dogs with pancreatitis, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation (DHA and EPA especially) can be beneficial and reduce high lipid levels in the blood.(3) Unfortunately, pancreatitis often recurs, despite prevention. The addition of supplements into your dog’s diet should be discussed with your veterinarian as a part of an overall wellness or treatment plan.
If you have any questions about pancreatitis, feel free to ask me via our “ASK THE VET” feature.
Armstrong, P. 2011. Canine Pancreatitis: Diagnosis and Management. Western Veterinary Conference Proceedings. Veterinary Information Network.
Crow, D. 2008. Oxygen Therapy. Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference Proceedings. Veterinary Information Network.
Harris, W. 1999. Nonpharmacologic Treatment of Hypertriglyceridemia: Focus on Fish Oils. Clin Cardiol. Jun;22(6 Suppl):1140-3.
ABOUT DR. DEBORAH SHORES