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Acute Pancreatitis in the Dog
The pancreas is one of the organs associated with digestion, including digestion of fat and
also glucose control. It is located next to the small intestines, stomach and the liver in the
front part of the abdomen. It contains granules of inactivated potent digestive enzymes that
are activated when released into the intestines allowing the breakdown of food particles.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. This can occur if the inactivated granules are
accidentally activated in the pancreas before being released. This causes auto digestion of the
pancreas and is very painful. This often occurs after a fatty meal as persistently elevated
levels of fat stimulate the release of pancreatic enzymes. It can also be secondary to
pancreatic cysts, tumours or abscesses. It causes a variety of problems and in severe cases can
lead to death.
What factors make it more likely your dog will develop pancreatitis?
While pancreatitis can occur in any dog, there are some factors that make it more likely to
occur. These high risk animals include:
- certain breeds, such as Miniature Schnauzers, terriers, Labradors and huskies - Those on high fat diets or who have recently ingested a high fat meal (sausages, bacon - Obese animals - Middle aged animals - Desexed females - Those with underlying endocrine problem such as diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s - After recent trauma or surgery - Those with high calcium levels. - Those on some drugs particularly long term medications such as potassium bromide,
What are the signs of pancreatitis that I might see at home?
There are a variety of signs, and often presents similarly to a gastroenteritis or intestinal
blockage. Common symptoms include:
- Vomiting - Diarrhoea - Signs of nausea – lip smacking, drooling, inappetance - “Praying stance” – stretching out the front legs on the ground and standing up with - Struggling to get comfortable when laying down - Mild abdominal pain/off colour - Dehydration and collapse.
What are the complications that can occur with pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis has a range of severities from mild abdominal pain and slightly off food through
to severe pain, collapse and multi-organ failure. Due to its proximity to the
intestines, liver and stomach it can cause damage to these organs. The leakage of digestive
enzymes can result in peritonitis (inflammation and infection of the abdominal cavity). It can
also cause severe dehydration and secondary damage to the kidneys, shock, systemic illness
and in severe cases death.
What can your vet do to confirm pancreatitis?
A general blood profile and a canine pancreatic specific lipase (cPSL) test, as well as a
thorough clinical examination are often performed to test for pancreatitis. The pancreatic
specific lipase test can occasionally miss some cases, so treatment may be instituted if
clinically your dog appears to have pancreatitis even if the cPSL is within normal limits. An
ultrasound and biopsy of the pancreas can also give further information about the severity of
the damage and to rule out complications such as tumours or abscesses. It is essential in cases
of protracted disease. Radiographs may also be recommended to rule out a foreign body.
What can your vet do to treat pancreatitis?
Depending on the severity of the disease and other organs affected. Most cases will require
hospitalization for close monitoring, intravenous fluids (to prevent dehydration and rehydrate
the body), pain relief and anti-nausea medication to stop them vomiting. Some cases will
require antibiotics and mild cases may be managed at home. If there are complications such
as liver problems then additional medication or tests may be required, but your vet will be
able to discuss a thorough treatment plan for your dog’s individual needs. During the
recovery period and also long term, a low fat diet is critical to reduce the risk of further
What can I do to prevent pancreatitis?
A low fat diet, weight loss/prevention of obesity and regular veterinary checks to diagnose
any other underlying diseases that can predispose to developing pancreatitis are the most
important factors to helping reduce the risk of your dog developing pancreatitis.
There are several low fat diets such as Royal Canin Low Fat Gastrointestinal, Eukanuba
intestinal low residue or Hills i/d which are ideal for long term maintenance to prevent
pancreatitis. High fat “treats” such as marrow bones, left over sausages or bacon rinds should
always be avoided.
Weight loss can also help prevent pancreatitis. A low fat diet, feed for their ideal weight, and
regular exercise assist in weight control. Alternatively a weight loss specific diet such as
Royal Canin Obesity, Eukanuba Weight Control or Hills r/d can assist in more rapidly
removing excess kilos.
If you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact your vet.
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