Canine Pancreatitis: What You Should Know
Banfield, The Pet Hospital®
Pancreatitis is an inflammatory disease of the pancreas and tends to occur in neutered, middle-aged overweight dogs. Miniature Schnauzers and Terriers seem to be especially prone to the disease. Most veterinarians will agree that canine pancreatitis is difficult to diagnose because the exact cause is not well understood. Symptoms vary depending on severity and can point to other conditions. Specific tests your vet can perform to effectively make a diagnosis are also somewhat limited.
The pancreas is a small pink organ located under your dog’s stomach that is located next to the duodenum (first section of the small intestine). Its purpose is to release digestive enzymes into the stomach and to break down starches and proteins that have passed through the small intestine. If you feed your dog rich, fatty foods, this can cause an overproduction of the enzymes thus causing abdominal pain.
Because they affect fat metabolism in the body, health conditions such as a thyroid hormone deficiency and diabetes mellitus can cause canine pancreatitis. In addition, it is thought that many drugs can potentially cause pancreatitis but there are a few that are more commonly associated with the disease. These include seizure medications, chemotherapy drugs and certain antibiotics. Blunt trauma to the abdomen and even surgery are capable of producing pancreatic inflammation as well.
What Signs or Symptoms Might Your Dog Be Exhibiting? There May Be:
- Lack of appetite
- Abdominal pain
You might also notice an unusual posture in your dog – the front paws and legs may be on the ground while the rear limbs may be extended in an upward position. This is a response to the abdominal pain and is actually a position your pet will use while trying to find relief (head down, paws outstretched).
Testing and Diagnosis
As the pancreas becomes inflamed, its normal functioning is disrupted. When the digestive enzymes are released too soon, the liver also can become involved. These enzymes become toxins and cause an inflammatory response throughout the entire body. Sometimes the inflammation progresses and can cause more serious conditions.
Specific blood tests for diagnosing pancreatitis are typically used to determine whether there are elevated levels of lipase (enzyme that digests fat) and amylase (enzyme that digests starch). Be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian because these tests are not considered reliable. Elevated levels of lipase and amylase can also indicate other diseases. There are other blood tests such as the trypsin-like immunoreactivity test (TLI) and the pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity test (PLI). Again, your doctor can provide more detailed information. Radiographs (X-rays) and ultrasound may also be beneficial in diagnosing canine pancreatitis.
Canine pancreatitis can be a challenge to treat as the pancreas needs time to recover. Questions will almost certainly come up about aggressiveness and length of treatment as well as medication use. From the start, your veterinarian will want to reestablish adequate hydration and start your dog on electrolyte replacement therapy. The doctor may also administer potassium supplements because levels are usually lower in Pets with pancreatitis. Other issues to note: if your dog’s vomiting is severe, it can be controlled with medication; vitamin B complex supplementation should also be considered in pets that are not eating; antiobiotic usage in pancreatitis is controversial.
For pain management, aggressive pain control is a mainstay in the treatment of pancreatitis. It can be an extremely painful condition for your pet. Opioids are the preferred option in these cases but morphine is also appropriate. Fentanyl patches (skin patch that delivers pain medication) can be helpful although they can take up to 24 hours to be effective. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are not considered an appropriate choice of pain control medication for pancreatitis patients.
It is equally important that your dog’s body weight, temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood parameters (complete blood count, total protein, blood glucose and electrolytes) are monitored in order to gauge the effectiveness of therapy.
A low-fat diet and avoiding high-fat foods and treats are key in preventing and controlling chronic pancreatitis. A diet that is bland, highly digestible, high-caloric and low in fat is ideal. High-carbohydrate sources like rice may be helpful, and protein-rich sources, such as low-fat cottage cheese or boiled skinless chicken breasts can be introduced a little bit at a time. Specially formulated diets are available in stores.