The pancreas is an organ that sits near your dog’s stomach. It produces digestive enzymes and the hormones that regulate blood sugar.
Any time you see “-itis” at the tail end of a word, it means inflammation of whatever it comes after. Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. Enteritis is inflammation of the intestines. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas.
Pancreatitis is a fairly common ailment in dogs. Why one dog, eating exactly what another dog eats, develops pancreatitis while the other doesn’t is unknown. An unplanned, super-high-fat meal is usually the culprit, as when a dog gets in the garbage and eats discarded bacon grease, or gets on the counter and eats a pound of butter, or someone left a cake on the coffee table with a Labrador Retriever around.
Risk Factors for Pancreatitis in Dogs
Predisposing factors include obesity, diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome (overactive adrenal glands), and some medications. Schnauzers sometimes suffer from a condition called hyperlipidemia, which predisposes them to pancreatitis.
Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Signs of pancreatitis include vomiting, loss of appetite, painful abdomen (which can look like a hunched up appearance, or the dog may posture like the yoga pose downward dog), lethargy, and fever.
Pancreatitis can be acute, meaning it comes on all of a sudden with no warning, or chronic.
Acute pancreatitis can be severe and life-threatening. Many of these dogs must be hospitalized for intravenous fluids and supportive care. Chronic pancreatitis tends to cause waxing, waning symptoms repeatedly over time. Chronic pancreatitis requires careful, long-term management.
If your dog is showing signs of pancreatitis, your veterinarian will likely take an abdominal x-ray. This is to rule out other potential causes of the signs your dog is showing. Baseline blood work is done for the same reason. Finally, a blood test called specific canine pancreatic lipase (SPEC cPL) will likely be run. This test is much more sensitive and specific for pancreatitis than the older tests veterinarians used to have to rely on (lipase, amylase). Many veterinary hospitals can run this test in-house. With results immediately available, your dog can get the treatment he needs right away.
For chronic cases, your veterinarian may recommend an abdominal ultrasound, as this can provide useful information regarding severity, which helps in determining prognosis.
Treatment for Pancreatitis in Dogs
Treatment for acute pancreatitis generally includes fluid therapy [either hospitalized intravenously, or administered subcutaneously (under the skin) as an outpatient], anti-nausea medications for vomiting [Cerenia (maropitant)], and pain medication (usually opioids like buprenorphine and tramadol; gabapentin – a neuropathic pain reliever – can be helpful as well).
Treatment for chronic pancreatitis may start the same way as for acute, but then long-term maintenance needs to be implemented. This means feeding a low-fat, highly digestible diet (like Hill’s I/D Low Fat or Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Low Fat), and having pain and anti-nausea medications on hand at home to manage flare-ups.
Pancreatitis in dogs can be unpredictable, sometimes even unavoidable. Knowing what to watch for, and seeking veterinary attention right away can make all the difference for your dog.