Canine Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is a sudden onset of pancreatic inflammation and can be a life-threatening condition.

    The pancreas is a V-shaped organ located behind the stomach and the first section of the small intestine. It has two main functions – it aids in metabolism of sugar in the body through the production of insulin and is necessary for the digestion of nutrients by producing pancreatic enzymes. These enzymes help the body promote the digestion and absorption of nutrients from food.

Acute pancreatitis is a sudden onset of pancreatic inflammation and can be a life-threatening condition. Early recognition and treatment can improve the chances of recovery. In dogs, the most common warnings are a very painful abdomen, fever, lack of appetite, depression, vomiting, dehydration, a ‘hunched up’ posture, and yellow greasy stools. Animals with more severe case can develop heart arrhthmias, sepsis, have difficulty breathing, and a life-threatening condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which results in multiple hemorrhages. If the inflammation is severe, organs surrounding the pancreas could be ‘autodigested’ by pancreatic enzymes released from the damaged pancreas and become permanently damaged.

Treatment is based upon reducing or stopping all oral intake to rest the pancreas, correcting the dehydration and maintaining proper fluid and electrolyte balances, whilst treating any complications or underlying conditions.

The diagnosis of pancreatitis is made through information obtained from the history, the physical exam, and laboratory testing. Dogs with pancreatitis generally have increased blood levels of the pancreatic enzymes called amylase and lupase. If the liver also becomes inflamed, liver enzymes as measured in the blood may be increased. The white blood cell count is generally increased in acute pancreatitis. Biopsy can result in a conclusive diagnosis, but is not generally performed.

Several factors can contribute to the advance of pancreatitis. Certain medications, infections; metabolic disorders (including high amounts of calcium in the blood); obesity; trauma and shock can be associated with the development of pancreatitis. A dog fed a diet high in fat (especially cooked meals) as well as dogs that have previously had pancreatitis or abdominal surgery appear to be more at risk.

The risk also appears to grow as the dog ages. The pancreas looses its capacity to produce digestive enzymes over time. The nutrients in food are passed out in the feces undigested. An animal with this disease often has a ravenous appetite and even though they are eating, they could literally be starving to death. Studies have shown conclusively that cooked foods require a higher enzymatic output from the pancreas to achieve proper digestion.

Pancreatitis can be a very unpredictable disease. In most cases, if the pancreatitis was mild and the pet only had one episode, chances of recovery are good. The risk of developing fatal pancreatitis is increased in dogs that are overweight or have such conditions as diabetes or epilepsy.  Nutrition plays a key role. Pets who have repeated bouts of pancreatitis may need to be fed a specific diet to prevent recurrence. A change to a raw food diet including added nutritional supplements can help to prevent recurrence or complications. Along with the addition of pancreatic enzymes to create a ‘reverse feedback’ effect on the pancreas and to effectively supplement a failing organ.

Pets that are raised on a combination raw food diet are extremely unlikely to ever have to deal with pancreatitis, or indeed a raft of other chronic degenerative diseases that can be linked to poor nutrition.

Dogs fed a diet high in fat (especially cooked meals) appear to be more at risk.