What is Pancreatitis?
This is inflammation of the pancreas due to over-stimulation. The pancreas is a large gland that is responsible for producing the enzymes that help digest fats and protein. When overstimulated, more enzymes than necessary are produced and they can begin to digest parts of the pancreas itself. It is very painful. In the most severe cases, bacteria from the intestinal contents can cause infection and form a pancreatic abscess. The bile duct can also be blocked, leading to a build-up of bile and liver damage. Pancreatitis occurs in two forms. Acute pancreatitis comes on usually with no warning causing severe disease. Chronic pancreatitis can rumble on for years causing intermittent and usually milder disease. The disease affects female dogs more than male dogs, but all cats can be affected. Severe cases can be fatal.
What are the signs?
Pancreatitis is most commonly associated with middle-aged and older dogs fed high fat diets and human food. Licking fat from BBQ grates and scavenging through rubbish bins have also caused previous cases.
Signs of pancreatitis include:
These signs are quite common. There are also lots of other reasons for animals to vomit and have a painful abdomen. To definitely diagnose pancreatitis, a blood test is required to measure the amount of pancreatic enzymes produced. At the same time we check for other diseases such as liver disease, and diabetes.
Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and the blood results. Severe cases require hospitalisation and intravenous fluids and antibiotics. Severe cases require high levels of supportive care, and may be hospitalized for a week or more. It is important that no food or water is ingested. Occasionally we need to place feeding tubes in to the intestine to provide nutritional support.
Abdominal ultrasound and/or x-rays are usually required.
Occasionally surgery is required to control infection, and/or to aid diagnosis for concurrent disease.
Less severe cases can be treated at home. All cases of pancreatitis must maintain a sensible, low fat diet. Some cases recover well then, when returning home, return to their previous diet and have a relapse in symptoms. Often the second time around is much more severe.
Animals that have recurrent pancreatitis are more likely to develop diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes), or pancreatic insufficiency. In the latter case a lack of digestive enzymes are now produced due to the pancreas being destroyed by the disease.
Fat stimulates the pancreas. The key to controlling pancreatitis in dogs is low fat diets. These are available commercially and as homemade forms. A number of manufacturers produce high quality low fat diets. These should be strictly adhered to with only low fat treats allowed. We can advise you on what’s appropriate for your pet.
Be very careful at times when your dog may steal things, such as a BBQ. A few stolen sausages could result in your dog being back in hospital, or worse.
If this is not enough to control the disease in your dog (it usually is) we may add pancreatic enzymes in to the food to make life easier for the pancreas. These are available as tablets or powder.
Cats seem to benefit from control of any contributing or concurrent illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease or cholangiohepatitis. It is unclear whether or not there is any benefit to dietary changes in cats. That said the low fat, highly digestible diets used for pancreatitis in other species, will help alleviate underlying bowel disease in cats may be of benefit.
Weight control in overweight cats is likely to help control the problem. B12 vitamins and low doses of cortisone may also be of some benefit.