Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis in dogs is a potentially serious inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is the organ responsible for the production of insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels, and also for the production of pancreatic enzymes which help your dog digest his food. Pancreatitis can have a number of causes; while dogs can recover from this condition, it is life-threatening if left untreated, and can have long term complications.

The Role of the Canine Pancreas

The pancreas is located behind the stomach and the small intestine. It produces the hormone insulin, which helps to regulate your dog's blood sugar. It also produces pancreatic enzymes that help your dog's body digest food and absorb nutrients. When the pancreas becomes inflammed for whatever reason, the condition is known as pancreatitis.

Causes and Risk Factors of Pancreatitis in Dogs

There are a number of things that can cause or contribute to pancreatitis in dogs. They include:

  • Some medications
  • Infection
  • Hyperlipidemia (high levels of lipids in the blood)
  • Hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood)
  • Obesity
  • Trauma
  • Shock

Middle aged dogs have a higher risk of developing pancreatitis. Schnauzers and Yorkshire terriers seem especially vulnerable to the condition. Poor nutrition can also be a risk factor; specifically, dogs who eat diets high in fat, who have recently ingested food from the trash or table scraps, may develop acute pancreatitis. Dogs who have recently undergone abdominal surgery, or who have had pancreatitis before, also seem to be at higher risk for the illness.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Symptoms of pancreatitis include pain in the abdomen and abdominal distention (swelling). Dogs may seem depressed and assume a hunched posture. Vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea, depression and lack of appetite are all symptoms. Dogs with pancreatits may produce a greasy, yellow-colored stool.

Additional symptoms of pancreatitis include fever, arryhthmia, sepsis, difficulty breathing and a dangerous hemorrhagic condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). If pancreatitis becomes severe enough, then the enzymes released by the injured organ could damages other organs nearby in a process known as autodigestion. This can cause permanent damage to major organs.

Diagnosing and Treating Pancreatitis in Canines

Your vet will need to obtain a complete medical history, perform a physical exam, and perform lab tests to diagnose pancreatitis. Pancreatitis in dogs causes elevated levels of the pancreatic enzymes amylase and lipase in the blood. White blood cell counts also increase, as may liver enzymes if the inflammation spreads to that organ. Your vet may take X-rays or perform an ultrasound to verify the diagnosis of pancreatitis.

Treating pancreatitis involves supporting your dog's body systems to allow the pancreas to rest, and controlling any complications that may arise. You may need to withhold food for some time, at least 24 hours, to stop the pancreas from producing digestive enzymes. Your dog will then need to commence a bland diet.

Your vet will use fluid therapy to treat the dehydration associated with vomiting and diarrhea. Your dog may be hospitalized and placed on an IV drip, or you may be able to administer the fluids subcutaneously. Your dog may require antibiotics, pain medication and even surgery.