Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a large, elongated gland that sits transversely behind the stomach.
The pancreas is an amazing organ that performs two vital functions:
- producing hormones such as insulin
- producing enzymes that help in digestion of food
Dogs of any age, sex, or breed, and occasionally cats, can get pancreatitis. There is a poor understanding of the exact cause. However, there is often a parallel between pancreatitis and corticosteroids or rich, fatty diets. For example, the times of the year when veterinary ERs see an influx of pancreatitis cases are Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Further reading: Canine Pancreatitis: What Causes It?
When your dog’s pancreas becomes inflamed, digestive enzymes can spill into the abdomen. The spilled enzymes can damage nearby organs, such as:
- the liver
- bile ducts
- gall bladder,
- or intestines
Pancreatitis can occur suddenly in either a mild or severe form.
Dogs that recover from sudden episodes can also continue to have bouts of illness that return repeatedly.
What does it look like
Signs of pancreatitis in dogs or cats often vary and can depend on the other organs involved.
Typical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Severe attacks can cause shock, collapse, and even death.
Diagnosis is based on physical signs, laboratory tests, and x-rays or ultrasound. Diagnosis can be difficult, and your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist or veterinary teaching hospital.
Management of pancreatitis depends on early diagnosis and prompt treatment.
Withholding oral fluids and food can let the pancreas “rest.” However, your dog might need IV fluids for a few days. Some veterinarians also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications.
Dogs that are in shock from a severe attack need emergency treatment which involves:
- intravenous fluids
- and other medications
What is the prognosis
The prognosis depends on several factors:
- the spread of the damage
- severity of the inflammation
- response to the initial treatment
Dogs that suffer severe or repeated attacks can develop long-term problems. For example, damage to the pancreas can result in a lack of digestive enzymes. As a result, such a dog needs daily enzyme supplementation with all their meals. Severe or chronic pancreatitis can also result in diabetes because the damaged pancreas can no longer produce insulin.
Pancreatitis in Dogs