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Pancreatitis, or inflammation and swelling of the pancreas, is a painful and seldom-understood affliction that affects dogs worldwide. While spontaneous canine pancreatitis is not particularly well understood, veterinarians do have an idea of the causes that contribute to this condition, its related conditions and symptoms and treatment methods to lessen symptoms.
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The term pancreatitis refers to the general condition of inflammation and swelling of the pancreas. There are two variations of pancreatitis: acute and chronic.
Acute pancreatitis occurs with a sudden onset of symptoms with no previous signs of the condition. Chronic pancreatitis symptoms present more slowly over time. When the condition occurs suddenly in a dog, it takes many owners by surprise, and the acute form can also cause a considerable amount of pain for the affected dog.
What Is Fatal Pancreatitis?
The term “fatal pancreatitis” is used to refer to when the condition causes fatal complications to develop that eventually take the life of the dog. If pancreatitis becomes extremely severe or if a dog suffers repeated occurrences they can develop many other conditions that can lead to death including maldigestion syndrome and diabetes mellitus. Both of these conditions are treatable; however, when left untreated they will almost certainly lead to a fatal outcome.
There are two degrees of pancreatitis in dogs recognized by the veterinary community: mild and severe.
- Distention or pain in the abdomen
- General discomfort or inability to find a comfortable place to lie down
- Flinching or whining when you touch their abdomen (also a symptom of Canine Bloat, a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention)
- Lack of appetite
- Appearing hunched over when standing or walking
- Diarrhea that’s greasy and yellow in color
Dogs that are experiencing more severe cases of pancreatitis may display the symptoms listed above; however, it’s more likely that they’ll exhibit more serious symptoms that, if left undiagnosed and untreated, can be life-threatening. Some of these more serious symptoms include:
- Disseminated intravascular coagulation (a condition in which multiple hemorrhages can take place resulting in possible death)
- Heart arrhythmia (or irregular heartbeat)
- Sepsis (a body-wide infection that occurs when toxins are released into the blood)
- Difficulty breathing
In the most extreme cases, pancreatic enzymes can digest the pancreas and surrounding organs. Once organs become partially digested, the damage is irreversible.
The first thing you should do is call your vet or an emergency vet if it’s after hours. If your dog is stable, your vet may ask you to bring your dog in immediately. If your dog is not stable, your vet may come to you or make another suggestion.
It’s crucial that you act quickly if you suspect that your dog has pancreatitis. This condition can deteriorate quickly, leading to severe pain and even death.
Many important factors play into an accurate diagnosis, including your dog’s medical history, a physical examination and laboratory testing.
My Dog’s Medical History
A dog’s medical history is important because dogs that have experienced a bout of pancreatitis once are more likely to experience it again during their lifetime. The age of your dog can also play a part in the risk of concern, as older dogs are more susceptible. Lastly, any current medical conditions may also play a role in your dog’s diagnosis.
A Physical Examination
If you’ve noticed abdominal swelling or any of the other “tell-tale” signs of this condition, your vet will confirm this with a thorough physical examination.
The physical exam will consist of visually examining your dog’s stomach area in addition to palpating it gently to check for bloating and tenderness. Your vet will also check your dog’s gums, take your dog’s temperature, listen to his heart and look into his eyes and ears to check for any other signs of illness.
Laboratory testing involves drawing blood and testing it for the presence of pancreatic enzymes. An increased white blood cell count and elevated lipase and amylase (pancreatic enzymes) can lead to a diagnosis. Vets may also test for liver enzyme levels and perform x-rays and ultrasounds.
- Pain relievers
- 24-hours without food and water to rest the pancreas, then slowly introduce food and water
- Bland, prescription dog food
- Hydration through an IV drip or subcutaneous injection
- Surgery in rare cases (e.g., if bleeding or other intestinal complications arise)
Avoid Do-It-Yourself Treatments
While many pets benefit from holistic medicine and natural treatments, there are times when a vet should evaluate some conditions. If you prefer to treat illnesses through a holistic route, there are plenty of certified holistic vets available that can help immediately treat your dog’s pancreatitis.
It’s crucial that you never attempt do-it-yourself treatments such as tips read on the internet or “cures” that work for people; dogs and humans are not the same, and they do not respond similarly to certain foods and chemical substances. While you may think that you’re administering a “calming herb” to your dog, you may actually be worsening their condition or even poisoning them. This is a serious condition and should always be assessed by a trained professional.
If your dog has ever suffered from a bout of it, there’s an extreme likelihood that they will experience a recurrence. Recurring episodes can be mild or severe regardless of the severity of the original occurrence. Below are some tips that vets offer to help reduce the chance of recurrence.
- Reduce food intake and increase the exercise level of an overweight dog. Make sure not to underfeed or over-exert your dog during this type of approach, though. Weight loss should be slow and steady.
- If your dog experienced a severe episode that left his pancreas damaged, provide any necessary medications to supplement pancreatic function.
- Avoid feeding any human foods to dogs. Many human foods, particularly table scraps, are high in fat content which can prompt an episode.
- Feed multiple, small meals during the day rather than feeding one large meal. This not only reduces the strain put on the pancreas during digestion, but it also lessens the likelihood for certain breeds to develop canine bloat.
- If your veterinarian suggests keeping your dog on a low-fat diet, ensure that you comply to maintain healthy lipid levels in your dog’s body. High lipid levels can result in aggravation of the pancreas.
Watch the video below for further tips on how to prevent pancreatitis in your dog.
While no one knows exactly what starts pancreatic symptoms, there are some suspect elements that your vet will be familiar with. It may be as “simple” as a medication your dog is taking.
In other instances, you may have to go through many questions and answers before you have any idea what started the symptoms. It’s important to try to narrow it down so you can reduce the risk of another episode. You may find that the food you’ve chosen to feed your dog is simply too high in fat or that it was table scraps that caused the trouble.
There are some things that the veterinary community believes contribute to the development of this condition.
Dogs who are:
Dogs suffering from:
- Certain bacterial or viral infections
- Hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushing’s disease
- Gastrointestinal tract disease
- Idiopathic hyperlipidemia
- Ingestion of a single, high-fat meal
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It can quickly become expensive for all of the testing and vet care your dog may require if diagnosed with pancreatitis. Pet insurance can help protect your wallet, so you can focus on nursing your dog back to health. Find out whether you should consider pet insurance for you and your pet.
Have you ever treated a dog for pancreatitis?
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