Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and can be acute or chronic. The pancreas is an organ whose job is to secrete enzymes into the gut to help digest food (and also to make insulin). Pancreatitis results from the premature activation of the enzymes. This leads to local damage to the pancreas and can extend systemically.
- Dietary indiscretion - usually eating something fatty; this is by far the most common cause.
- Abdominal trauma
- Drugs - L-asparaginase (chemo drug), potassium bromide, sulfa antibiotics, etc.
Symptoms of pancreatitis include anorexia (not eating/drinking), abdominal pain, often vomiting and diarrhea. There may also be weakness, weight loss and dehydration.
We have often diagnosed pancreatitis by clinical signs and ruling out other diseases. On blood work, Amylase and/or Lipase may be elevated. We now have a more sensitive test called the cPLI (canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity concentration). If this test is positive then pancreatitis is occurring. Abdominal ultrasound is also used to help make the diagnosis.
Treatment is generally supportive with IV fluids being the mainstay of treatment. If the dog is actively vomiting, food may be withheld for the first 12-24 hours. Nausea medicine, pain medicine and sometimes antibiotics are also given. Most cases generally respond well with 2-4 days of treatment.
Pancreatitis is serious and can become a life threatening condition and may progress to other organ disease (liver or kidney failure). However, most patients respond well with aggressive and early treatment.
Avoid human food (unless directed by your vet), especially fatty foods like sausage, bacon, steak, etc. If a dog has repeated episodes, a low fat prescription diet may help prevent recurrence. If the dog is on one of the drugs known to cause pancreatitis then an alternative should be tried.