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Pancreatitis in Dogs and Cats

Updated: Oct 26, 2022


What is pancreatitis? Pancreatitis is a disease process where the organ known as the pancreas, is inflamed. Pancreatitis can affect cats and dogs. The pancreas is an organ that is involved in digestion, it releases inactive enzymes into the intestine. Once in the intestine, the enzymes are activated and they help break down food.


Pancreatitis occurs when the enzymes the pancreas produces, are activated too early, or when protective enzymes are inhibited, this leads to the enzymes starting to digest the pancreas itself.


What are the causes of pancreatitis?


Risk factors that can cause pancreatitis are:

  • Eating high-fat foods

  • Obesity

  • Trauma/injury to the pancreas,

  • Medications can trigger pancreatitis, such as antiseizure medications.

  • Blockage of the pancreatic ducts

  • Shock ( this causes reduced blood flow to the pancreas)

  • In cats, pancreatitis can be seen as part of another disease process involving the liver, (cholangiohepatitis, and hepatic lipidosis), diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.

  • An existing disease of the pancreas ie. Cancer or infection (abscess)

  • The hormonal diseases Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism are also linked to pancreatitis.


What are the signs of pancreatitis?


Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic.


Acute being sudden in onset and more severe in clinical symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening, and these cases need hospitalisation to treat.


Chronic is more long-term in its duration and can cause long-term side effects such as diabetes, or, digestive problems, such as exocrine pancreatitis insufficiency. These cases are less severe in symptoms and can be harder to diagnose.


Acute pancreatitis is more severe in presentation. In dogs, we see vomiting, abdominal pain, anorexia, fever, and lethargy.

Cats show signs of lethargy and anorexia, and they may or may not have signs of vomiting or abdominal pain.

Acute pancreatitis can be very serious as it can lead to multiple organ failure and septic shock, which are life-threatening conditions requiring emergency treatment.


What animals are predisposed to pancreatitis?

  • In dogs, breeds such as miniature schnauzers can have disorders metabolizing fats, which can cause high-fat content in the blood, (hypertriglyceridemia), which can make pancreatitis more common in this breed.

  • Yorkshire and Silky Terriers, and Miniature poodles are at a higher risk.

  • Dogs that are prone to scavenging or eating high-fat foods are more at risk of developing pancreatitis after scavenging.

  • Cats that suffer from IBD or liver disease are more likely to be seen with problems with their pancreas.

  • Cat breeds such as the Siamese, are more commonly seen with pancreatitis.


How do you diagnose pancreatitis?



Pancreatitis can appear similar to other diseases such as acute gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal obstruction, peritonitis, intoxications, and acute renal failure.


Diagnosis to determine pancreatitis as the cause of clinical signs involves a combination of the clinical history, full physical examination of the patient, and blood tests, urine samples, and diagnostic imaging. Ultrasound is usually considered the best test for pancreatitis.


How do you treat pancreatitis?


Medical:


Treatment of pancreatitis involves treating the underlying cause, supportive care, and treating the symptoms shown. It is generally a self-limiting syndrome with recovery in 24-48 hours in mildly affected cases.


Treatment is based on three main goals: correction of dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities, abdominal pain treatment, and control of nausea.


Severely affected patients with acute pancreatitis patients are hospitalised as they are usually very sick. A treatment plan may include pain relief, anti-sickness medications, intravenous fluids, gastroprotectant medications, and sometimes antibiotics.


Nutrition:


Nutrition is very important in these patients and encouraging eating a low-fat, highly digestible diet is important and generally continued for a few weeks to ‘rest’ the pancreas. Studies have shown that good nutrition can increase recovery rates. However, some patients usually are so sick they refuse to eat due to nausea. These animals can have a feeding tube placed to help feed them and remove the nausea associated with them trying to eat by themselves.


Surgery:


Some patients that are very sick and are diagnosed with septic abdomen or pancreatic abscessation, these are surgical emergencies that need complex surgery to treat.


What is the outcome of treatment for pancreatitis?



The prognosis, or outcome, for the treatment of pancreatitis depends on the underlying cause and severity of the disease. Each patient is different. Some cases will completely recover, but others may have long-term issues which can develop, or repeat episodes of pancreatitis are seen.


In severely affected animals kidney disease, diabetes, or exocrine pancreatic disease can develop following acute pancreatitis. Very sick patients which develop life-threatening issues such as multiple organ failure or septic shock have a poor prognosis and can result in death.


How can pancreatitis be avoided ?


Reducing the chance of your pet developing pancreatitis can be to keep them at a healthy weight as obesity is a known risk factor. Feed your pet a healthy diet that avoids high-fat foods, and, avoid offering human foods such as cheese, and fatty meat trimmings etc.


If you are worried your pet has pancreatitis, or are looking at ways to reduce your pet's risk of pancreatitis, talk to a vet today for more advice on this topic.

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