The pancreas is an organ located near your dog’s stomach. It produces digestive enzymes and the hormones that regulate blood sugar.
Every time you see “-itis” at the end of a word, it means inflammation of whatever comes after it. Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. Enteritis is inflammation of the intestines. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas.
Pancreatitis is a fairly common condition in dogs. Why one dog that eats exactly what another dog eats will develop pancreatitis while the other does not is unknown. Usually, when a dog goes in the trash and eats discarded bacon fat, comes on the counter and eats a pound of butter, or someone leaves a cake on the coffee table, an unplanned, super high-fat meal is the culprit, with a Labrador Retriever around.
Risk factors for pancreatitis in dogs
Predisposing factors are obesity, diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome (overactive adrenal glands), and some medications. Schnauzers sometimes have a condition called hyperlipidemia, which predisposes them to pancreatitis.
Signs of pancreatitis in dogs
Signs of pancreatitis include vomiting, loss of appetite, painful abdomen (which may look hunched up or the dog may pose like the downward facing dog yoga pose), lethargy, and fever.
Pancreatitis can be acute, that is, it occurs suddenly without warning, or it can be chronic.
Acute pancreatitis can be serious and life threatening. Many of these dogs require hospitalization for intravenous fluids and supportive care. Chronic pancreatitis tends to cause increasing, decreasing symptoms over time. Chronic pancreatitis requires careful, long-term management.
If your dog is showing signs of pancreatitis, your veterinarian will likely do an abdominal x-ray. This is to rule out other possible causes for the signs your dog is showing. A baseline blood test is done for the same reason. Finally, a blood test called specific canine pancreatic lipase (SPEC cPL) will likely be done. This test is much more sensitive and specific for pancreatitis than the older tests that veterinarians had to rely on (lipase, amylase). Many veterinary clinics can perform this test in-house. Because the results are available instantly, your dog can get the treatment they need right away.
For chronic cases, your veterinarian may recommend an abdominal ultrasound as this can provide useful severity information that will help determine the prognosis.
Treatment of pancreatitis in dogs
Treatment for acute pancreatitis generally includes fluid therapy [either hospitalized intravenously, or administered subcutaneously (under the skin) as an outpatient], Anti-nausea anti-vomiting drugs [Cerenia (maropitant)]and pain relievers (usually opioids such as buprenorphine and tramadol; gabapentin – a neuropathic pain reliever – may also help).
Treatment for chronic pancreatitis can begin in the same way as acute, but then long-term maintenance must be followed. This means feeding a low-fat, highly digestible diet (like Hill’s I / D Low Fat or Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Low Fat) and having pain and anti-nausea medications on hand at home to manage relapses.
Canine pancreatitis can be unpredictable, and sometimes inevitable. Knowing what to look for and seeing a veterinarian right away can make all the difference for your dog.