The pancreas is like the cool guy at a party whose quiet but powerful presence is effectively controlling the event’s entire vibe—until he gets angry. For reasons unknown, the cool guy is suddenly red-faced and raging. Seemingly in response, the other guests begin turning over tables and fighting, sending the night into total chaos. 

Suddenly, a once controlled and harmonious environment becomes destructive and dangerous—this is exactly what happens in your pet’s body during pancreatitis.

So, who is this pancreatic party crasher, and what makes the situation so volatile? Liberty Veterinary Hospital provides all the pertinent information with this pancreatitis profile.

Name and occupation? Your pet’s pancreas explained

The pancreas is a small, vital organ responsible for critical body processes, specifically the production of blood-sugar-regulating insulin and glucagon, and the creation and delivery of digestive enzymes to the small intestine for the breakdown of fats, protein, and carbohydrates.

On a good day, the pancreas is unnoticeable. However, this small organ has a short fuse—and can become irritated and inflamed, sometimes without reason. Pancreatitis (i.e., literally, “pancreas inflammation”) triggers the premature activation of digestive enzymes, which are normally inert until they reach the small intestine. When the enzymes are activated, they digest the pancreas from the inside, causing extreme pain and tissue damage. Toxins released by the damaged tissue set off widespread inflammation in the body—bringing more injury and insult to the party.

What makes you angry? Pancreatitis causes in pets

Most pancreatitis cases are idiopathic, meaning their cause is unknown. This can be frustrating for veterinarians and owners trying to minimize repeat occurrences, as pets who have had pancreatitis are more likely to experience the problem again. However, several risk factors are known to make some pets more susceptible to pancreatitis, including:

  • Dietary indiscretion — Dogs who consume high fat meals or eat from the trash are more susceptible.  No link to nutrition is known in cats.
  • Hereditary risk or breed — Miniature schnauzers are high risk because of their elevated triglycerides and altered metabolism. Other breeds at an increased risk include cocker spaniels, dachshunds, poodles, and some sled dog breeds.
  • Blunt trauma — For example, a fall from height
  • Concurrent inflammatory conditions — Cats with pancreatitis typically have simultaneous inflammatory bowel disease or cholangiohepatitis, and may suffer from all three, a condition known collectively as triaditis.
  • Chronic medication use — Some medications are known to trigger pancreatitis when used long-term.
  • Obesity — Overweight pets are at a higher risk for pancreatitis. 

What are your most recognizable traits? Pancreatitis signs in pets

Pancreatitis appears with nonspecific illness signs that commonly include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain (e.g., resting in the “bow” position)
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea

If your pet is experiencing any clinical signs, contact Liberty Veterinary Hospital for an appointment. Pancreatitis can range from mild to severe, but mild cases left untreated typically worsen, so a wait-and-see approach is never advised.

How would others describe you? Diagnosing pancreatitis in pets

In addition to your pet’s history and physical exam findings, the veterinarians at Liberty Veterinary Hospital will use specific diagnostics, such as abdominal X-rays, ultrasound, and bloodwork, to rule out other illnesses, and to visualize the pancreas. One specific blood test, known as a specific canine or feline pancreatic lipase (i.e., spec CPL or FPL), is used to measure the amount of lipase (i.e., a specific enzyme produced only by the pancreas) circulating in the pet’s blood stream. A high lipase (i.e., positive test result) suggests pancreatitis, but must be considered with other test results to confirm the diagnosis.

What do you do to relax? Pancreatitis treatment in pets

Pancreatitis treatment focuses on the following:

  • Pain management — We know from people that pancreatitis pain is severe, so pets typically receive opioid medications intravenously.
  • Correcting fluid/electrolyte imbalance  — Intravenous fluids correct dehydration, expedite inflammatory toxin and waste removal, and help the pet feel better.
  • Clinical sign resolution — Medications are given to correct nausea and diarrhea.
  • Non-inflammatory nutritional support — Restoring the body’s nutrition and gastrointestinal motility helps accelerate the pet’s return to health.

Pets are routinely hospitalized for several days, to ensure that inflammation subsides, and appetite is restored. In severe cases with kidney or liver failure, supportive care may be long-term.

What do you need from others to be your best? Preventing pancreatitis in pets

Unless the cause is known, such as a dog eating a fatty piece of meat, pets who have suffered pancreatitis are likely to get another attack. Its often mysterious cause makes preventing pancreatitis altogether impossible, but you can take some precautions to keep your pet’s pancreas on its best behavior:

  • Feed affected dogs a low-fat veterinary diet. Keep cats on their regular diet, because no nutritional link is known in cats.
  • Maintain up-to-date preventive veterinary care.
  • Exercise your pet regularly, to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid feeding your pet table scraps or unfamiliar foods.
  • Instruct holiday guests not to share food with your pet.
  • Keep trash cans inaccessible to dogs who are likely to “dumpster dive.”

When your pet’s once calm and cool pancreas displays its full power, the results can be devastating. Protect your pet from unnecessary pain and suffering, by seeking prompt veterinary care for any changes in health or behavior. To schedule an appointment for your pet, contact Liberty Veterinary Hospital.