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    Pancreatitis in Dogs


    The pancreas is a gland that, in dogs, sits tucked up underneath the stomach. As a gland, its job is to secrete substances that aid in bodily functions. Most people know that the pancreas secretes insulin and helps regulate blood sugar. Too little insulin = diabetes. But the pancreas also secretes digestive enzymes that help break food for digestion. The stomach begins the process of breaking down sugars so the body can use them. The pancreas digestive enzymes enter the small intestine and help to continue the process that started in the stomach.

    What is Pancreatitis?

    Inflammation of the pancreas causes the digestive enzymes to be excreted abnormally into the body. These enzymes can start to digest things that they should not like the intestinal lining, the nearby liver and kidneys, and the pancreas itself. This produces severe pain, inflammation, vomiting, and diarrhea. This condition is called pancreatitis.

    Acute Pancreatitis

    Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly. It commonly occurs when dogs get into the garbage or are fed a human food that is high in fat, such as steak, pork products, potato chips, or fried foods. A dog with acute pancreatitis will exhibit some or all of the following signs:

    • Anorexia (lack of appetite)
    • Frequent vomiting
    • Diarrhea which may contain blood
    • Increased water consumption
    • Weakness
    • Abdominal tenderness or pain
      • This may be exhibited in dogs as walking tenderly, walking with a hunched posture, or sitting in a praying posture, with elbows on the floor but rear end up in the air.
    • Fever
      • A dog''s normal temperature is between 100.5 and 101.5. Not all dogs with acute pancreatitis will exhibit an abnormal temperature, but many do.
    • Dehydration
      • Sunken eyes and dry gums are the most common signs of dehydration in dogs.

    Please note, these signs are not unique to pancreatitis; your veterinarian will have to run tests to diagnose the condition.

    Chronic Pancreatitis

    Chronic pancreatitis occurs when there is a long-term, low-grade pancreatitis that is always present. This condition may present as serial episodes of vomiting, diarrhea, and/or decreased appetite. These bouts may get progressively worse over time.

    Chronic pancreatitis may occur if the first incident of acute pancreatitis is not treated aggressively enough or if there is a chronically poor diet. Many dogs with chronic pancreatitis are overweight and have high amounts of fat in their blood, usually the result of a poor diet or a dog that is routinely fed fatty human foods.

    Diagnosis of Pancreatitis

    The diagnosis of pancreatitis is usually based on blood tests and clinical signs, but sometimes ultrasound examination is also needed to confirm this finding. A new blood test called a CPLi test is now standard for the diagnosis of pancreatitis.

    Treatment of Pancreatitis

    In cases of acute pancreatitis, the dog needs to be hospitalized and put on intravenous fluids, antibiotics, anti-emetics, and other medications. The hospitalization may last a few days until the dog is able to eat again without vomiting. It is often recommended that these dogs be fed diets low in fat in the future in order to prevent chronic pancreatitis. The cost of this treatment will vary among veterinarians; you should request an estimate before beginning treatment.

    Chronic pancreatitis is controlled with long-term diet changes, weight loss if necessary, supplements, and blood work monitoring. The costs of these special foods, medications, and tests will be higher than just feeding a standard diet, but they will be lower than the costs of multiple hospitalizations in the future.

    Recommendations for Holistic Maintenance of Chronic Pancreatitis

    From a holistic perspective, here are some recommendations for maintaining health in dogs with chronic pancreatitis, or those that have suffered an episode of acute pancreatitis:

    • Homemade, low-fat diet
      • Commercial low-fat diets are available from your veterinarian. A good homemade low-fat diet is easy to prepare, cheaper, and will help prevent further pancreatitis issues for your canine friend. Feed smaller, more frequent meals.
    • Digestive enzymes
    • Slippery Elm
    • Omega-3 fatty acids in low amounts
    • Co-enzyme Q 10
    • Vitamin B12 (usually by injection)
    • Vitamin E and selenium
    • Milk Thistle
    • SAMe (S-Adenosyl Methionine)

    Pancreatitis may also respond to acupuncture and Chinese herbs, but dietary therapy is the key to long-term care.

    Prognosis for Pancreatitis

    Dogs with acute pancreatitis are in lethal danger if they are not treated aggressively and monitored closely. Once they have survived the initial attack, their prognosis is good if they are fed a low-fat diet, watched carefully so they don't get into the garbage, and are treated with the proper supplements and vitamins.

    Dogs with chronic pancreatitis also have a good prognosis for a normal life span if they are maintained properly with diet, supplements, and monitoring.

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    Dr. Janice Huntingford

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