This time of year veterinarians see a spike in cases of canine acute pancreatitis. People aren’t the only ones who overdue it on the holidays.
If your dog has consumed more fatty table scraps than usual, or maybe got into the garbage and devoured the fatty remains of the carved turkey this Thanksgiving, they may find themselves with a case of this very painful condition.
The pancreas is an organ in the body that produces and secretes enzymes that aid in digestion. This organ also makes insulin, which controls blood sugar levels and metabolism.
Acute pancreatitis is the sudden (acute) onset of inflammation in the pancreas. The inflammation makes the digestive enzymes start working in the pancreas instead of waiting until the enzymes reach the small intestine where they normally get to work. As a result, the enzymes start digesting the pancreas.
In severe cases of pancreatitis, the enzymes leak into the abdomen causing the digestion of other organs too. This can seriously damage the organs and result in death if not treated quickly.
There are things besides overdoing the fatty table scraps that can cause the sudden onset of pancreatitis. Other contributors are:
Trauma to the abdomen
Scorpion stings (not a problem for most dogs in most of the country)
Sometimes, the cause is unknown.
Pancreatitis can occur in any dog but it’s more common in miniature schnauzers, miniature poodles and cocker spaniels. It’s also more common in older dogs that are overweight and female.
The most common signs of pancreatitis are the same things you’d see if your dog was suffering from a thousand other illnesses: loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
But some other more concerning symptoms can occur like a swollen abdomen, an arched back, lethargy, restlessness, gagging, difficulty breathing, dehydration, and an increased heart rate. In some cases, your dog may run a fever too.
If you suspect your dog has overloaded on too many table scraps passed under the table by doting relatives and they are exhibiting these symptoms, call your vet immediately.
Diagnosis and treatment
Your vet will take a full medical history and do a complete physical exam. In addition, they’ll run blood work and may also do imaging, like ultrasound or x-rays.
Treatment will mostly consist of managing symptoms. Meds to relieve pain and reduce vomiting and nausea. IV hydration and nutritional supplementation. And maybe antibiotics if there’s a secondary infection.
Your vet may also restrict food and fluid intake to allow for healing. Depending on the severity of your dog’s symptoms, treatment may mean hospitalization.
Once the symptoms are under control and your dog can be at home, your vet may limit activity and recommend a low fat, high carb diet. This diet may be temporary until the pancreas heals, or permanent if pancreatitis is recurring or chronic.
Most healthy dogs will recover from acute pancreatitis. A dog that has other health problems may have a harder time getting over it.
And severe cases can be fatal.
Although you can’t completely prevent pancreatitis, you can most definitely reduce the risk of your dog getting it. Manage your dog’s weight, avoid high-fat diets and table scraps, and keep the garbage pail out of your dog’s reach.
Pancreatitis is unpredictable. If the case is mild, and it’s your dog’s first episode, they will likely recover fine. You may only need to watch their diet to prevent recurrence. But sometimes what seems like a mild case can recur and be serious.
A dog with chronic (recurring) pancreatitis can develop serious complications. The digestive enzymes can destroy the insulin producing cells in the pancreas resulting in diabetes.
And a condition called pancreatic insufficiency or maldigestion syndrome can result when the nutrients in your dog’s food aren’t absorbed. They’re pooped out instead. This can cause malnutrition.
Your dog will be ravenous, have diarrhea and lose weight if they are suffering from maldigestion syndrome. And although they are eating, they are starving to death because their body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs.
It’s best to manage your dog’s overall health to avoid pancreatitis, and these serious and life-threatening complications. Like with most other illnesses, early diagnosis of pancreatitis will improve your dog’s long-term prognosis.
Is your dog suffering from holiday overeating? Has your dog ever had pancreatitis? Share your experience in the comment section above.