Canine Pancreatitis can be very nasty and requires immediate veterinary attention in order for a dog to make a full recovery. This guide to canine pancreatitis describes the symptoms of this condition and what to do if you see them and gives guidance to prevent your dog suffering from pancreatitis in the first place.
What Is Canine Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is one of the most common conditions in dogs. It occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. This can be acute (occurs suddenly) or chronic (an ongoing condition) and if not treated in time can be life-threatening.
Unsuprisinlgy pancreatitis affects the pancreas, a gland in the abdomen that has a dual purpose. Its primary function is to produce enzymes that help with food digestion. It also produces insulin that goes in the blood to regulate blood sugar levels.
Much like us, when a dog eats food, they chew it up and swallow it. In the stomach, acids mush it up further and enzymes are added to begin the break-down of dietary nutrients, a process known as digestion.
When the food particles are small enough, they are propelled into the upper part of the small intestine (the duodenum) for yet more digestive treatment. As this passes into the lower parts of the small intestine the nutrients are absorbed for use within the body and the rest is passed.
The pancreas is a pale pink glandular organ that sits just under the stomach and along the duodenum. The pancreas has two main jobs:
- secrete digestive enzymes to help break down the food, and
- secrete insulin and glucagon to regulate how we use the nutrients we eat.
Attack of the Enzymes
These digestive enzymes are normally safe as inactive forms within pancreas so that they are harmless. When the flow of the enzymes into the digestive tract becomes disrupted, they can become prematurely activated and released internally, escaping into the rest of the dog's body.
The released enzymes then begin to do their job and digest the proteins and fats. However they are now in the wrong place and your dog starts to eat itself from the inside!
This causes inflammation in the abdomen and great pain great pain to your dog. The pancreas itself usually gets attacked, but since both the kidney and liver are close to the pancreas they are typically the next in line.
The pancreas produces insulin, and the damage can cause this to cease, leading to diabetes mellitus. This can be temporary or permanent
Effects of Pancreatitis
If left untreated the inflammation can lead to several very nasty outcomes including
- malfunctions in your dog's blood clotting mechanism (disseminated intravascular coagulation or DIC) which can lead to internal bleeding or unwanted clotting.
- Weber-Christian Syndrome where fats within the body are attacked, which is very painful for the dog and can cause some very nasty long-term effects, including
- Pancreatic encephalopathy where the fats protecting the central nervous system are destroyed, which can lead to paralysis and brain damage.
With acute pancreatitis, the condition usually happens once, and although the symptoms are more severe, chances of other organ damage are usually minimal.
However if left untreated and left to become chronic, long-term pancreatitis, there is a real risk of massive organ damage.
Pancreatitis can occur suddenly, so it is important that you recognize the symptoms.
If your dog experiences one or more of the following symptoms of pancreatitis take your dog to the vet immediately:
- Painful abdomen (this may be apparent by a hunched up appearance)
- Fever and high temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen eyes
- Dry skin
- Dry mouth and drinking a lot (dehydration)
- Frequent diarrhea
- A decrease in energy levels
- Lethargy and depression
- Irregular heartbeats
- Difficulty breathing
- Yellowish and greasy stool
It may not be apparent at first that your dog has pancreatitis. Because many of these symptoms are relates to other conditions. However, if you see more than a few of them, seek veterinary attention.
Which Dogs are Most Likely to Suffer from Pacreatitis?
Female dogs are more prone to developing this condition, as are obese, middle-aged and older dogs. Furthermore, breeds like Miniature Schnauzers, Yorkies, Miniature Poodles, and Cocker Spaniels are also more likely to suffer from pancreatitis.
Diagnosis For Canine Pancreatitis
Since a variety of conditions share similar symptoms, proper diagnosis can take some time.
Typically your vet will go through your dog's medical history and do a physical exam of your dog focusing on the abdomen.
If they think there is a possibility of it being pancreatitis, they will typically run blood tests (CBC), serum biochemistry profile to check the overall health of the dog and see if other organs are affected.
You can also expect CT scans and urine sample to be taken and sent to urinalysis. The vet may also use X-ray imaging to see if the pancreas looks cloudy.
In some cases, an ultrasound is used for a better view of the pancreas and surrounding organs. This is a non-invasive procedure although your dog may be administered with a mild sedative.
If a dog has pancreatitis, blood work will show elevated levels of pancreatic enzymes amylase and lipase. In some cases, a dog will also have elevated levels of liver enzymes as liver disease can cause pancreatitis
What Causes Pancreatitis?
The exact cause of pancreatitis in dogs is unknown, but several factors relate to this condition.
Hyperlipemia is a dog that has high blood fat content. This is typical in dogs that have metabolic problems.
This condition can be brought on by a high-fat meal. The sudden stimulation to release enzymes to digest fat seems to be involved, although it is not fully understood why. However once the high fat meal is consumed, the levels of fat don't go back to normal resulting in high-fat levels.
Dogs that are fed with high-fat food and table scraps are usually overweight and have greater chances of developing pancreatitis.
The development of pancreatitis links bacterial and viral infections.
Any type of injury that connects with stomach can lead to pancreatitis. For example, dogs that were hit by a car are at higher risk and even surgery to the abdomen can bring on pancreatitis.
Diabetes Mellitus or Hypothyroidism
Both Diabetes Mellitus and Hypothyroidism bring on a concurrent hormonal imbalance associated with altered fat metabolism. This can predispose your dog to pancreatitis.
This is another concurrent hormonal imbalance complaint that involves elevated blood calcium which activates stored digestive enzymes.
Reflux of duodenal contents into the pancreatic duct.
While this is a common cause of pancreatitis in humans, it is a much less common cause in dogs
The pancreatic enzymes are stored in an inactive form to prevent self-digestion. They remain inert until they are mixed with activating enzymes.
Since the strongest activating enzymes are made by duodenal cells (so they activate in the with food in the duodenum) if duodenal fluids get into the pancreas, these enzymes are activated and pancreatitis results.
Other causes of canine pancreatitis
The above are the most common causes, but others also include:
- Various medication, in most cases corticosteroids and potassium bromide
- Blood clots caused by some other condition
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Hormonal diseases like Cushing's Disease
As we said before, less active older, middle-aged, and female dogs more often develop pancreatitis. However, that does not mean that the rest are immune to this condition.
Treatment For Canine Pancreatitis
Once diagnosed, your vet will aim to rehydrate your dog as fast as possible with intravenous fluids. This helps restore the circulation to the pancreas and supports the natural healing mechanisms of the body.
Pain and nausea relief medicine is also often administered either through the IV or injection rather than with food. This medication helps to keep the dog comfortable and restore their interest in food and water.
Rehydration through the drip continues until your dog is able to drink an hold down an adequate amount of fluid. This is not a quick process and can take as much as a week.
Some vets will suggest plasma transfusion, which has the theoretical benefit of replenishing blood proteins, but the effectiveness has been questioned.
It was thought that stimulating the pancreas too early would cause the inflammation to become further aggravated. More recently vets have moved towards an earlier return to feeding as this has been found to aid the GI tract's ability to resume function.
So, after a few days of fasting, they will start the dog on small amounts of fluid diet for a couple of days. After that period, food and water intake can be higher depending on how well your dog responds.
Dogs that experience vomiting and diarrhea will be given medication that will stop these symptoms, to reduce dehydration, restore appetite and soothe the stomach.
In most cases, to prevent any bacterial infection from developing antibiotics are neccesssary.
Low Fat Diet
As the dog recovers, solid food will be part of their diet. The treatment for both acute and chronic pancreatitis involves a change on a low-fat diet.
Low-fat diets are crucial to managing pancreatitis and their use should be for several weeks before attempting return to regular dog food.
Some dogs can never return to regular dog food and require prescription low-fat foods indefinitely. There are many prescription diets, specially for dogs with this condition, and your vet will recommend the right one for your dog.
It is very important that dogs with chronic pancreatitis take a low-fat diet since pancreatitis can lead to diabetes and pancreatic insufficiency. This condition causes the food to pass through your dog's system undigested. In this case, a dog will also need pancreatic enzymes supplements.
Dietary Management And Prevention
If your dog has chronic pancreatitis, dietary management is the key to addressing further bouts of pancreatitis.
Getting the right diet for your dog is the only way to make them feel better and have a good quality of life. The goal is to unburden the pancreas as much as possible.
Your vet will typically give you prescription food for the first few weeks. If your dog does not like these (fussy wotsits!) then you may need to look for low fat commercial dog foods that have under 7% of fat content on dry matter.
How Much Fat is in Pet Food?
In order to determine the fat content of a pet food, some calculation is necessary as there will be moisture is in the food and you want to know the fat content on the dry matter.
The bag or can of food typically has two values that we need: the % moisture and the % crude fat.
To determine the % fat in the food, you subtract the moisture content from 100. For example, if the moisture content is 20%, the dry matter is 80%.
Next, take the % crude fat from the label and divide the % crude fat by the % dry matter and you want the number to be 0.07 (7%) or less.
For example, if the dry matter is 80% and the crude fat content is 4%, the true fat content is 4 divided by 80, which gives us 0.05, which is 5% and the right sort of food for your dogs pancreas.
If the dry matter was 25% and the fat content 5%, then this is 5 cut into 25, which gives us 0.2 or 20%...way too high!
Remember simply reading the fat content on the label does not take into account the moisture content of the food and will not tell you what you need to know.
When in doubt, canned chicken, or even fat-free cottage cheese and/or boiled white rice can work as part of the diet, but be careful you do not add too many carbs to the diet.
Whatever you do, do not give your dog any table scraps or meat and meat treats that are high in fat!!!
Moderate protein levels
If you opt for feeding your dog with commercially made diet, look for moderate protein levels of 20-30%. White chicken and turkey meat are easily digestible proteins so look for foods with these as main ingredients.
If you want to make your dog's meals at home boiled chicken, low fat beef, beef liver, kidney, and heart are good and healthy protein sources.
Avoid too many starches
Large amounts of potatoes, white rice, maize, tapioca, and pea starch shouldn't be present in a pancreatitis diet. So look for alternative sources of carbohydrates, and if you cook for your dog, use vegetables like broccoli, dark leafy greens, or sweet potatoes.
No added sugar
Avoid giving your dog foods with added sweeteners since they can have an impact on blood insulin levels.
Dogs suffering from pancreatitis can benefit from added pancreatic digestive enzyme supplements or probiotics and prebiotics. They can help lower the blood lipid levels and support better digestion, which means less work for the pancreas.
Look for natural supplements with Bromelain, Papain, and chicory extract that will support good and easy digestion. You can also ask your vet to recommend some product based on your dog's state.
Prognosis For Pancreatitis In Dogs
The prognosis for dogs with pancreatitis depends on several factors, like treatment and the severity of the disease.
If noticed in early stages of inflammation, and handled properly, pancreatitis is easily treated and a dog will make full recovery. In these cases, the recurrence of the disease isn't likely because ones prevent symptoms in timely manner .
In severe cases, a dog can develop diabetes, kidney damage, liver damage, or digestive issues. And although diabetes is a manageable condition, owners must prevent symptoms before hand.
Furthermore, kidney and liver damage are serious conditions but the state can be reversed if the condition is noticed in time. If not, the severity of a dogs case will determine the chances of recovery.
As mentioned before, if the enzymes damage other organs, or cause bleeding and infection, pancreatitis can be lethal.
Beware of Diabetes Mellitus
After pancreatitis, some damage is inevitable. If insulin can't be present because of pancreas damage, diabetes mellitus results. This may or may not be permanent depending on the amount of damage and the ability of your dog to recover.
Pancreatitis is a very painful condition with sudden symptoms. Inflammation of the pancreas and abdomen causes this. Certain breeds, obese, inactive older dogs, that have high levels of fat are at higher risk of developing this condition.
The best way to minimise the risk is simply to keep your dog fit and healty; ensure they do not become obese and too sedentary. Limit their fat intake and keep an eye open for the symptoms.
Pancreatitis is a life-threatening condition if not noticed in time, but a dog can spend the rest of his life happy and healthy if you react properly.
- 1 What Is Canine Pancreatitis?
- 2 Symptoms
- 3 Diagnosis For Canine Pancreatitis
- 4 What Causes Pancreatitis?
- 5 Treatment For Canine Pancreatitis
- 6 Dietary Management And Prevention
- 7 Prognosis For Pancreatitis In Dogs
- 8 Beware of Diabetes Mellitus
- 9 Conclusion