Pancreatitis in Dogs and Cats

Hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving, but please don’t indulge with your pets. Here’s a friendly reminder of why Joey doesn’t share food (Friends anyone?).

What is it?

Tucked beneath the stomach and next to the intestines is the underrated pancreas. This organ not only makes the hormones to help you process the byproducts of food (insulin and glucagon), but also makes digestive enzymes to help break food down to begin with. If you think that’s complicated, it’s about as moody as that teenager you’re raising. Look at it the wrong way and trouble will stir. A high fat meal can push the pancreas over the edge – turkey trimmings, ham drippings, grease! Think any food a cardiologist would tell you to avoid.

So what's the big deal?

Well to start, pancreatitis can cause a variety of digestive symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, reduced appetite, and abdominal pain. This happens because those digestive enzymes are normally stored as inactive molecules, but sometimes these get prematurely activated.  Inflammation ensues within the pancreas and the nearby liver. Instead of breaking down food the body breaks down those very organs. In severe cases the capacity to produce insulin is disrupted, triggering permanent or temporary diabetes.  Often times the trigger cannot be isolated, but classically it’s caused by high fat foods or trauma. It tends to affect small dogs more often than large breeds and curvaceous dogs are predisposed. 

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis can be tricky in some cases, especially because of where the pancreas lives. In some cases, if there is regional inflammation in the stomach, small intestine, liver or gall bladder – the pancreas gets hit as an innocent bystander. Often blood work is the first step, but an ultrasound can also be very helpful to get a firm diagnosis. is confirmed through blood work, though we can often get a good idea from history and examination findings. 

How do you treat it?

Most cases can be managed with low fat diet, anti-nausea meds, appetite stimulation, and fluid management, however some do require a hospital stay.

How about cats?

Cats can definitely get pancreatitis as well, but it usually isn’t from a high-fat diet. In fact, we usually don’t ever find out why it happens in cats. Most of the time it is secondary to another disease process such as IBD, trauma, infections (like Panleukopenia) and even toxin exposure such as organophosphate insecticides and certain medications (Azathioprine, diuretics like Lasix, tetracyclines and others). So please, don’t pass the turkey or gravy to Fido! He and your wallet will thank you later. Have a happy holiday from all of us at City by the Sea. 

– Dr. Bri

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