What is Pancreatitis?
The pancreas is a vital organ in the abdomen. It produces digestive enzymes to help in the digestion of food and hormones such as insulin to regulate various body functions. The disorder is called pancreatitis when the pancreas becomes inflamed.
Pancreatitis is a common disease of dogs and there is no age, sex or breed predisposition. When dogs recover from an acute episode of pancreatitis they can suffer from recurring bouts of pancreatitis known as chronic, relapsing pancreatitis. The associated inflammation of the pancreas in chronic, relapsing pancreatitis causes the digestive enzymes to leak into the abdomen, resulting in secondary damage to the surrounding organs such as the liver, bile ducts, gall bladder and intestine.
How is it Caused?
The exact cause of pancreatitis is not well known, but there may be several factors that contribute to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis often occurs within a few days of a dog eating a rich, fatty meal, and in some cases can be associated with administration of cortisone. However some dogs can develop pancreatitis without exposure to either of them.
Normally the digestive enzymes produced in the pancreas are activated when they reach the small intestine. However, the enzymes are prematurely activated in the pancreas instead of the small intestine in pancreatitis resulting in digestion of the pancreas itself.
What Signs are Seen in Pancreatitis?
The signs are often variable and the intensity depends on the quantity of enzymes that are activated. Common clinical signs range from lack of eating and depression with vague abdominal pain in mild cases to severe acute vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, shock and even death in more severe cases.
How is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of pancreatitis is based on the presence of clinical signs, laboratory tests which include blood cell count and test for elevation of pancreatic enzymes in blood, and X-ray and ultrasound investigation of the abdomen.
Some dogs with pancreatitis may elude detection with the tests, and consequently the diagnosis is only tentative in some cases.
What is the Treatment for Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is a potentially devastating disease and affected dogs must be treated promptly and aggressively. The backbone of treatment for mild and severe acute pancreatitis is fluid therapy via intravenous drip and feed nothing by mouth. The drip is usually maintained for 2 to 3 days before water is offered orally. Withholding food and water (together with administering medications by injection) prevents stomach stimulation of pancreatic secretion.
Dogs with mild pancreatitis are sometimes given antibiotics and pain relief medication as well. Small quantities of water are given to the dogs at least 24 hours after vomiting has ceased. Bland food such as Hill's i/d Prescription Diet can be given in small quantities if there is no vomiting after drinking. The quantity of food is progressively increased to normal daily requirement over a few days if there is no more vomiting. A low fat and high carbohydrate diet with a moderate level of protein, such as Hill's i/d or w/d Prescription Diet, is suggested for the long term. Access to table scraps and food belonging to other pets in the household must be strictly avoided. Cooked rice and cottage cheese may be added to the Prescription Diets to encourage acceptance.
Do Dogs Recover?
Most mild cases of pancreatitis have a good prognosis. Dogs presenting with shock and depression have a less favourable chance of survival. It is, therefore, important to present cases of suspected pancreatitis in the early stages to give the dogs the best chance of survival.
Will There be any Long Term Problem?
Although uncommon, long term complications may follow severe or repeated pancreatitis.
A significant number of pancreatic cells that produce digestive enzymes may be destroyed in some cases. Affected dogs are required to be given enzyme tablets daily in food to aid digestion. In other cases, a significant number of pancreatic cells that produce insulin are destroyed which results in diabetes mellitus. Affected dogs are then treated with insulin. Another possible complication of pancreatitis is adhesions between various abdominal organs which will affect their functioning.
Fortunately, most dogs with pancreatitis do recover with no long term effect when diets are well managed.