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Pancreatitis 101: Avoiding Inflammation

Some holiday traditions are wonderful. Listening to favorite tunes, putting up festive decorations, and making yummy seasonal treats are some of our favorites. But for veterinarians, there’s one thing that seems to happen each winter that we’d rather not continue: a spike in cases of pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is a dangerous, painful, and life-threatening condition that affects dogs most frequently – but cats can get it too! – and requires emergency care. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, an organ located near the stomach that helps digest food and control blood sugar by releasing enzymes that aid in digestion. But when the pancreas becomes inflamed, those enzymes activate before they are supposed to, potentially causing damage to the pancreas itself, the surrounding tissue, and nearby organs.

So how can pet parents help stop this unwanted holiday tradition? Let’s look more closely at what causes pancreatitis, and how you can prevent and recognize it before it ruins your dog’s howl-iday.

Causes and Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Some dogs appear to be more prone to pancreatitis, including some breeds – such as Schnauzers – and older and/or overweight dogs. Pancreatitis can occasionally occur after surgery or as a side effect of some medications. But most commonly, pancreatitis occurs when a dog eats too much fat.

During the holiday season especially, rich foods made with fats like cream and butter are frequently on the menu, and many well-intentioned (or uninformed) people find begging puppy dog eyes hard to resist. Unfortunately, a moment of weakness – or an unsecured trash can full of tempting table and cooking scraps – can quickly lead to a visit to the emergency room.

We recommend all pet owners learn the signs of pancreatitis so you can act quickly if your dog isn’t feeling well. They can include:

  • Belly pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Lethargy
  • High or low body temperature

Treatment and Prognosis

The only way to definitively diagnose pancreatitis is by taking a biopsy of the pancreas. Unfortunately, dogs suffering from acute pancreatitis are usually too unstable to undergo anesthesia, so other diagnostic tests are performed instead to evaluate whether a dog most likely has pancreatitis. These tests can include:

  • Abdominal X-rays and ultrasound
  • Blood work
  • Urinalysis and urine culture
  • Canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity test (cPLI)

Treatment involves supportive interventions to make the dog as comfortable as possible while their body heals. Pain medications and IV fluids are frequently given, and food and water are often withheld in order to give the pancreas a chance to rest and for the attack to pass. If the attack is severe enough, hospitalization may be required.

The prognosis depends on the severity of the attack, if the pancreas was damaged and how badly, how long the dog is ill, and whether there are other existing diseases or conditions. A severe episode of pancreatitis can require lengthy hospitalization or, unfortunately, can be fatal. Placing the dog on a low-fat diet after recovery can prevent any further occurrence of pancreatitis.

Keep a close eye on your pets this holiday season. Don’t feed your dog any fatty table scraps, and make sure that your trash is secured against canine thieves. If you think your pet may have pancreatitis, the Emergency Services team at AEHV is here 24/7/365 – no appointment is ever needed. We ask you call us at 386-252-0206 to alert us of your arrival, and please complete admissions forms online. Due to increased caseload and limited staff, there may be a longer wait than usual.

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