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Pancreatitis is a disease of dogs and cats in which we get inflammation of the pancreas. This inflammation can be chronic (common in cats) or acute (common is dogs). 

The pancreas is an organ that serves many purposes including:

  • Production of digestive enzymes and bicarbonate to aid in digestion.
  • Production of insulin and glucagon – the hormones that regulate blood sugar.

Obviously, with the above functions, the pancreas is an organ that dogs and cats must have. 

When an animal develops pancreatitis the symptoms are often very severe.  Inflammation of the organ can cause the digestive enzymes in the pancreas to actually start to digest itself which leads to further inflammation and damage.  The most common symptoms in the dog are severe vomiting, diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, shock, and in severe cases death.  Cats have similar symptoms but the symptoms are often much more subtle and not as severe.  Many cats just have a poor appetite and lose weight

The cause of pancreatitis is elusive but many animals that develop the disease have had a history of a recent high fat meal.  Some breeds, such as Schnauzers – because of other diseases common in the breed – are more commonly affected with this problem than other breeds.  Dogs that have Cushing’s disease or diabetes are more prone to develop pancreatitis, as well as dogs and cats that are overweight.

Diagnosis of this disease is based on clinical signs, history, evaluating blood levels of pancreatic enzymes, radiology, and ultrasound.  Again, the cat is the more elusive to diagnose as the symptoms are so nebulous.

Treatment involves several things depending on the severity of the episode:

  • Fluid therapy is of paramount importance to keep your pet well hydrated and control any secondary problems related to the pancreatitis.
  • “Resting” the pancreas by withholding food and water for 3 – 4 days is typically needed.  This aspect of treatment has been challenged recently with some clinicians starting oral food and water earlier.  In any event – no food or water can be given orally until the vomiting is well under control.
  • We use various drugs to control vomiting.
  • We use various drugs to control the severe pain that many animals in pancreatitis have.
  • Often an antibiotic is given to cover for or prevent any possibility of secondary infection in the pancreas.

Once an animal is over the current bout of pancreatitis it is important to prevent future episodes.  We will always make sure we have no underlying cause – such as hyperlipidemia in Schnauzers.  We also will prescribe a specific diet often very low in fat and encourage our owners not to feed high fat treats or table scraps.

Pancreatitis is a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease.  However, with appropriate treatment and prevention we usually are very successful in controlling this problem.

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