The Pet Corner: Pancreatitis can cause major issues

Published 9:23 am Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The pancreas is a very fragile and friable organ located next to the duodenum, the first part of the small intestines, where the stomach empties into the intestines.

It is a vital organ with two basic functions: to produce digestive enzymes to aid in digestion of food and to produces insulin which allows the body to properly utilize sugar.

Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed. Pets can have acute or sudden onset pancreatitis or a more chronic, relapsing pancreatitis.

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It is a serious and sometimes life threatening disease. Pancreatitis may occur without any known cause. The majority of cases, though, are from pets eating table scraps.

Pork products, including bacon, ham and pork chops, are among the worst culprits. There is a wide range of severity of illness depending on the type of food and amount ingested.

Some dogs are more susceptible because  some individuals have more sensitive gastrointestinal organs.

Symptoms of pancreatitis are primarily nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain.

In severe cases, acute shock, depression and death may occur.

Typically, there is a history of the dog eating some type of table scraps or eating some unknown substance in the yard prior to these clinical signs.

A definitive diagnosis of pancreatitis can be difficult since no single test can confirm the disease.

Blood tests along with the history and clinical signs usually support the diagnosis. Blood tests usually reveal an increase in white blood cell count; however, an increased white blood count is common with many infections and diseases.

An increase of pancreatic enzymes called amylase and lipase are helpful in diagnosing the disease, but some dogs with pancreatitis can have normal levels of pancreatic enzymes.

Sometimes it is necessary to treat for pancreatitis strictly based on history and clinical signs. Since the severity of the disease varies, treatment varies due to how sick the pet is.

Treatment consists of giving the pancreas a rest by withholding all food and water as well as any oral medications. Intravenous fluids are necessary to ensure the dog does not become dehydrated and to maintain normal electrolyte balance.

Typically, dogs must be hospitalized for two to four days while intravenous fluids are administered and food is gradually re-introduced.

Antibiotics and medication for vomiting must be given by injection until the dog is well enough to eat without vomiting.

Early diagnosis and prompt medical treatment is important for the therapy to be successful. Dogs with shock and severe illness have a guarded prognosis.

Fortunately, most cases of the milder forms of pancreatitis have a good prognosis and recover completely. Some dogs that survive a significant bout of pancreatitis may develop secondary conditions.

If enough of the pancreas is destroyed, a dog may no longer have enough digestive enzymes for proper digestion called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. These dogs require daily medication of enzyme replacement.

If enough insulin-producing pancreatic cells are destroyed, the dog may become diabetic. The secondary conditions are not the typical situation, and most dogs recover without any long-term effects.

If your dog shows any symptoms of pancreatitis, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your dog lives a long, healthy and happy life.

Dr. Jeff Castle is a veterinarian at Clark County Veterinary Clinic.