Don’t Panic! Navigating Pancreatitis in Pets

Puppy on ottomanIn an emergency practice, one of the most common problems we are asked to address is the complaint of vomiting and diarrhea. Since the causes of vomiting and diarrhea are varied, questions about lifestyle, breed, and diet often come into play when we are working to diagnose the issue. Since our furry companions can’t speak for themselves, we rely heavily on owner’s information to provide clues to an underlying reason for the condition.

Pancreatitis is one of the culprits for the distressing signs of vomiting and diarrhea. In layman’s terms, Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas. The job of the pancreas is to secrete enzymes to aid in digesting food. It is a small, pink organ located in the upper abdomen.

Why has your pet developed pancreatitis? Frustrating as it may be, in many cases, we may never find out.  Predisposing factors include trauma, certain medications, parasites, infection, breed disposition, preexisting diet.

Got Bacon?

You’re having a lovely breakfast consisting of bacon, scrambled eggs, and French toast.  Fido would just love a little bacon, so you give him a few strips. He gobbles it right up. Delicious!  Later that night, you notice that he just doesn’t seem right. Fido is now vomiting and appears quite lethargic. Oh, no!

Many dogs would just love some bacon, fat from steak, a couple of meatballs, and a hambone. Unfortunately, these can be triggers for pancreatitis. Our little (or quite large, in some cases) friends generally just can’t handle these types of foods. These types of foods can be triggers for pancreatitis. The reality is that some dogs just cannot tolerate the types of foods you and I can eat. Fatty foods overwhelm the pancreas and cause inflammation.

This inflammation may be mild or severe. Vomiting, diarrhea and a painful, tense abdomen mark severe cases of pancreatitis. Blood work and abdominal X-rays are typically advised in these types of cases to rule out other causes of vomiting/diarrhea such as a gastrointestinal obstruction. Severe cases need to be hospitalized and treated with intravenous fluids, pain relief and anti-emetics. Mild cases may possibly be treated on an outpatient basis. Sadly, some cases are so severe that they may actually result in death.

In pancreatitis, the pancreas, which secretes digestive enzymes after a meal, is triggered to secrete these enzymes even when the pet is not eating. This results in “auto digestion”, the pancreas starts to digest itself. This is extremely painful. Since the liver is located near the pancreas, this inflammation and tissue destruction may affect it as well. This may lead to a widespread inflammatory response.

Since the pancreas is affected, there is a possibility of diabetes mellitus developing. The pancreas loses its ability to secrete insulin.  This may be temporary or permanent.

How Breed Can Determine Risk for Pancreatitis

Schnauzers are the poster puppies for pancreatitis. This breed is prone to hyperlipidemia (excess circulating fat) and has altered fat metabolism. This may predispose to pancreatitis.

Yorkshire terriers may also be predisposed.

Pancreatitis in Cats

In cats, lethargy, dehydration and decreased appetite may be signs of pancreatitis. Cats are a bit different than dogs in that they may not vomit or have abdominal pain. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may be associated with pancreatitis in cats.

Cats exhibiting these signs will need to be hospitalized, placed on intravenous fluids and monitored very closely. Severe cases may require a feeding tube.

If your furry companion is vomiting, experiencing diarrhea, or showing signs of lethargy, please give us a call. There may be serious underlying reasons for these signs, and we are here to help.