Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pancreatitis And Your Pet

The Pancreas is a small but very important organ responsible for producing enzymes that help with food digestion as well as hormones such as insulin. Normally, digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas are activated when they reach the small intestine. Sometimes those enzymes are activated pre-maturely in the pancreas, resulting in inflammation and a disorder called pancreatitis.

The exact cause of pancreatitis is not known. In dogs, it is often associated with eating a rich, fatty meal or administration of corticosteroids, however these associations have not been found with cats.

Clinical signs of pancreatitis include nausea and vomiting, fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea. However, these clinical manifestations can also be associated with other diseases. This is why it's important to do blood work and x-rays or ultrasound to ensure a proper diagnosis of pancreatitis.

To successfully treat pancreatitis depends most on early diagnosis and medical treatment. It's important to "rest" the pancreas from it's role in digestion by withholding oral fluids and food. Your pet will need to be hospitalized on intravenous fluids to maintain a normal fluid level and electrolyte balance; they will also need to receive pain medication by injection because it is a very painful condition. Most pets with pancreatitis are hospitalized for two to four days and food is gradually re-introduced.

Generally patients suffering from acute pancreatitis will make a full recovery with no long term effects. However, it is important to note what can happen if your dog or cat goes too long without receiving medical treatment.

Sometimes if a significant number of cells that produce digestive enzymes are destroyed, a lack of proper food digestion may follow. This is known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) and can be treated with daily administration of enzyme replacement. If a significant number of cells that produce insulin are destroyed, diabetes mellitus can result. A few dogs that recover from acute pancreatitis may continue to have recurrent bouts of the disease called chronic relapsing pancreatitis. The result of this chronic inflammation allows digestive enzymes to spill into the abdominal cavity causing secondary damage to the liver, gall bladder, bile ducts, and intestines. In severe cases, untreated pancreatitis will result in shock, depression, and even death. However these cases are rare because most people seek treatment before their pet gets to this point.

Prevention of pancreatitis is not entirely possible given we don't know it's exact cause. In dogs you can at least reduce their odds of getting pancreatitis by not feeding them human food or really fatty rich foods. It is important to keep this in mind especially with Thanksgiving just around the corner. Our four legged friends will be sure to hide under the table for as many scraps as they can get. Feeding them in that moment may be satisfying, but the long term risk may not be worth it.