Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a gland that produces the hormone insulin and secretes digestive enzymes. Insulin is passed into the blood to aid in the utilization of sugars. The enzymes are passed into the first part of the small intestine for the digestion of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. The development of pancreatic disease has been associated with several factors, including obesity, poor nutrition, trauma, tumors, and obstruction of the bile or pancreatic ducts. Bacterial infections are not a primary cause, but can complicate pancreatitis once it has occurred. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. The cause of pancreatitis often remains unknown. Episodes of pancreatitis can range from mild to severe, where patients may exhibit a plethora of signs from mild lethargy to multiple organ failure or death. 1
Common signs of acute pancreatitis may include:
- Severe abdominal pain. The dog will be reluctant to move and will stand with an arched back and tensed abdomen.
- Vomiting may occur some hours after eating, rather than immediately, which is more diagnostic of acute pancreatitis.
- Depression, collapse and shock
Common signs of chronic pancreatitis may include:
- Increased thirst and excessive urination
- Bulky, fatty, foul-smelling gray stool, particularly after a high-fat meal.
- Weight loss
- Occasional vomiting, flatulence, and other signs of digestive upsets.
- Poor general condition, particularly of the skin and coat.
- Signs of diabetes mellitus in progressive cases.
Diagnosis is made based on the history, clinical signs, physical examination, and confirmed by laboratory tests on the blood, urine, and feces. Acute pancreatitis needs emergency treatment. Antibiotics and pain-relief drugs will also be necessary. No food can be given by mouth, so intravenous fluids and feeding will be part of treatment. However, although fasting is recommended to give the organ a respite, it has more recently been shown that appropriate nutritional therapy is critical to support healing. It is, therefore, generally not advisable to withhold nutrition beyond 2 to 3 days, including the length of time the dog may have been anorexic.1 Some cases will require surgical intervention if this will reverse the cause.
The prognosis is generally not good for acute pancreatitis, although up to 5% of affected dogs can be saved with early treatment. Animals that recover from acute pancreatitis may continue to have flare-ups throughout their lives. Some cases tend to recur and become chronic, and require careful watching for signs and feeding of special diet available from veterinarians. In cases of chronic form of the disease, pancreatic extracts and vitamins will also be part of treatment and are often needed for the rest of the dog's life. In either the acute or chronic disease, dogs are at risk of developing diabetes mellitus, and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.2