What is pancreatitis?
The pancreas is a digestive organ that sits next to the stomach and produces the enzymes to digest food, as well as the hormone insulin that regulates blood sugar. In pancreatitis the pancreas becomes inflamed and swollen; this can happen suddenly (acute) or can be a more prolonged condition (chronic). In most cases the underlying cause is unclear, although we know that it can be related to scavenging (particularly high fat food, such as raiding the bin) and is more common in certain breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers and Terrier breeds.
What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis can range from mild to very severe, and it can even be fatal in some cases. Symptoms vary but typically include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain (dogs can adopt a “prayer position” where they drop down on their elbows with their bottom in the air)
- Lethargy and depression
It is important to contact your vet straight away if you think they may be suffering from pancreatitis as it is a painful condition and can be severe in some cases.
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
The symptoms of pancreatitis are non-specific and so may be confused with gastroenteritis, for example. The vet may be suspicious of the condition particularly if there is significant abdominal pain. In order to reach a definitive diagnosis they will normally recommended blood tests (that include a specific test for pancreatitis) and an abdominal ultrasound scan that can reveal inflammation and swelling in the pancreas.
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How is it treated?
Treatment will vary according to the severity of the condition. If your dog is only mildly affected, they are likely to be treated at home using a combination of anti-sickness medication, pain relief, a low-fat diet (this is important) and rest. In more severe cases, the dog will need to be hospitalised for an intravenous drip, very strong pain relief (usually opioids), anti-sickness medication, tempting to eat and supportive nursing case.
What is the prognosis?
Most dogs go on to make a full recovery, although some are prone to suffer from recurrent bouts throughout their life. In these cases, feeding a low fat diet is important to reduce the frequency and severity of flare ups. You can find a low-fat diet – Hill’s I/D Low Fat – in our shop following this link. This diet is also recommended for dogs suffering from chronic pancreatitis.
Very rarely pancreatitis can lead to diabetes, due to destruction of the cells that produce insulin.