'Tis the season for family gatherings, gift giving, and food galore. Veterinarians know that this is also the season for canine pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), a painful, potentially life-threatening condition most commonly caused by overindulgence in foods that are particularly rich or fatty. And what kitchen isn't overflowing with such foods this time of year?
The pancreas is a thin, delicate-appearing, boomerang-shaped organ that resides in the abdominal cavity, tucked up against the stomach and small intestine. While the pancreas may be diminutive in appearance, its actions are mighty! It is the body's source of insulin and enzymes necessary for food digestion. When pancreatitis is chronic or particularly severe, this little factory sometimes permanently closes down, resulting in diabetes mellitus (requires insulin shots) and/or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (requires digestive enzyme replacement therapy).
There is no cure for pancreatitis-much like a bruise, the inflammation must resolve on its own. This is best accomplished by allowing the pancreas to rest, which means giving nothing orally (not even water) to prevent digestive enzyme secretion. Treatment consists of hospitalization for the administration of intravenous fluids; injectable medication to control vomiting, pain and stomach acid secretion; and antibiotics to prevent secondary infection or abscess formation. Dogs should be monitored around the clock for the life-threatening complications that sometimes accompany pancreatitis, such as kidney failure, heart rhythm abnormalities, respiratory distress and bleeding disorders. Small amounts of water and a fat-free diet are typically offered once vomiting has stopped, abdominal pain has subsided, and there is blood test and/or ultrasound confirmation that the inflammation has calmed down. If your dog has pancreatitis, count on a minimum of two to three days of hospitalization, and be sure to ask who will be caring for your dog during the night.
Long-term treatment for pancreatitis typically involves feeding a low-fat or fat-free diet. This may be a life-long recommendation, especially if your dog has been a "repeat offender." Most dogs fully recover with appropriate therapy; however, some succumb to the complications associated with this disease.
If you are concerned about your pet's diet, or have questions regarding pancreatitis, please call our office to schedule an appointment.