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Pancreatitis in Pets

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a small organ in the front part of the abdomen, near the stomach, duodenum and liver, which produces enzymes needed to digest food as well as hormones, including insulin (the hormone that is lacking in diabetic patients).

Both dogs and cats can get pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis can be acute (sudden) or more chronic (happening over a course of time, possibly waxing and waning).

What are the signs of pancreatitis?

Signs of pancreatitis can vary from mild gastrointestinal upset to severe illness with more typical signs including a loss of appetite, fever, depression, vomiting, diarrhoea, a painful abdomen, and dehydration. Severe cases can cause acute shock, depression and even death.

Why does it occur?

The exact cause of pancreatitis is often unknown.

There are differences in the disease process between dogs and cats.

In dogs, risk factors that increase the likelihood of an attack include:

  • Obesity
  • Eating a fatty meal
  • Suffering from hyperlipidaemia (high fat content in the blood)
  • Certain diseases (including Cushing’s disease and Diabetes Mellitus, shock etc)
  • Certain medications and toxins
  • Some breeds are more susceptible, esp. Miniature Schnauzers.

In most cats, the cause of pancreatitis is unknown, but some causes have been reported in the literature, including trauma, lack of blood flow to the pancreas causing ischemia, several infectious agents have been named (e.g. feline parvo, toxoplasma, and several viruses), and certain toxins.

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a small organ in the front part of the abdomen, near the stomach, duodenum and liver, which produces enzymes needed to digest food as well as hormones, including insulin (the hormone that is lacking in diabetic patients).

Both dogs and cats can get pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis can be acute (sudden) or more chronic (happening over a course of time, possibly waxing and waning).

What are the signs of pancreatitis?

Signs of pancreatitis can vary from mild gastrointestinal upset to severe illness with more typical signs including a loss of appetite, fever, depression, vomiting, diarrhoea, a painful abdomen, and dehydration. Severe cases can cause acute shock, depression and even death.

Why does it occur?

The exact cause of pancreatitis is often unknown.

There are differences in the disease process between dogs and cats.

In dogs, risk factors that increase the likelihood of an attack include:

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

The signs mentioned above can point to pancreatitis or other diseases in the abdomen, so it is important for your vet to ask you questions about eating habits, toilet habits etc. then do a thorough examination, often followed by blood tests and sometimes imaging (x-rays and /or ultrasound).

Cats can be more difficult to diagnose due to the vague signs they show with chronic pancreatitis. Blood tests are available for both dogs and cats.

What is the treatment for pancreatitis?

Treatment intensity depends on the severity of the disease, some cases need hospitalisation with intravenous fluids, pain relief, antibiotics and other supportive treatments. The milder cases can sometimes be managed at home with appropriate supportive medication, and especially with dogs, with a highly digestible, low fat food. At Cronulla Vet Clinic we can make recommendations for such foods. Maintaining a healthy weight and not eating fatty foods is important to reduce the risks of further flare ups as well.

Long Term Outlook for Pancreatitis patients:

Apart from the risk of recurrences of the pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis can lead to “Pancreatic Insufficiency” where  a lot of the cells that produce the digestive enzymes are destroyed, and proper digestion can no longer occur. Sufferers develop chronic diarrhoea, and chronic weight loss and will have to take lifelong pancreatic supplements to be able to digest their food.

If a significant number of the cells that produce insulin are destroyed, Diabetes Mellitus can develop, and the patient will need daily insulin injections to survive.

To help support recovery and to minimize the chances of relapsing, appropriate diet recommendations can be made here at Cronulla Vet Clinic.