Pancreatitis and The Unsuspecting Owner

Now the BBQ season is up on us, there are a couple of things to consider when your best mate is looking at you longingly with their big hungry eyes. Yes, I am referring to your beloved dog. I understand it is hard when that sausage is sizzling, and your mate is begging you for just one bite, or that the amount of saliva being left on the floor is pooling for all to walk through with bare feet, it is easier to just give them a cheeky sausage. But as the day goes on more and more fatty foods have been consumed, you may be creating a problem for the next day. Never mind the cheeky one they pinched from the BBQ or the stolen scraps from the bin. Or the kid’s left overs being hoovered up whilst no one was looking. It’s a dog’s dream to eat that steak fat strip that runs from one end to the other. But, why is this so bad?

What is Pancreatitis?

For dogs, the pancreas is located within the abdomen near to the stomach. It is a glandular organ that is important both for digestion and for producing hormones such as insulin to balance glucose in the body. It is not uncommon for the pancreas to become inflamed, causing a condition called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can occur in any breed, age or gender of dog or cat but particular breeds, such as schnauzers, are more susceptible. Pancreatitis can come on quickly, as acute pancreatitis, and may not recur. These bouts tend to be more severe in presentation. It can also become recurring bouts of chronic pancreatitis that tend to show less severe signs but can have very serious consequences.

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Causes of Pancreatitis

There are a few factors that can cause Pancreatitis but a common, known cause, is fatty foods. This is why dogs and owners need to be careful around BBQ season. It may also be caused by backwash into the pancreas from the small intestine. This is common in human patients but not common in veterinary patients. Alterations in fat metabolism from systemic disease, obesity, or some breed predispositions, may also result in pancreatitis.

When the pancreas is functioning normally, the enzymes to digest food only become active only when they reach the small intestine. In a dog with pancreatitis, however, the enzymes become activated before they’re released, causing inflammation and damage to the pancreas and its surrounding tissue essentially digesting the body (in acute pancreatitis). If this inflammation occurs for long enough, the ability for the pancreas to produce insulin may be affected and may result in diabetes.

Canine Stomach and duodenum with inflamed pancreas

Canine Stomach and duodenum with inflamed pancreas


Sign of Acute Pancreatitis

  • Vomiting, often repeatedly

  • Pain in the abdomen (dogs may appear uncomfortable or have hunched back)

  • Diarrhoea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Increased thirst and usually increased urination

  • Weakness/Lethargy

  • Fever

NOTE: If symptoms such as these or a combination are exhibited, it is important to call to a veterinarian.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Pancreatitis

Treatment for acute pancreatitis is generally supportive. The most common management options include:

  • Perform a blood test to confirm pancreatitis – an ultrasound may be required;

  • Pain relief as pancreatitis can be very painful;

  • Intravenous fluid (IVF) therapy to treat dehydration and electrolyte imbalances;

  • Monitoring for worsening of the condition;

  • Antiemetic medication to prevent vomiting and reduce fluid loss;

  • Use of a prescription diet of gastrointestinal-supportive low-fat, or ultra-low fat, food; and

  • Feed smaller, more frequent meals of bland food instead of one or two larger meals.

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After care at home

Your vet will send you home with low fat diet, and possibly ongoing pain relief. A discussion about signs to watch out for and the possible results of the pancreatitis episode will be important.