Pancreatitis occurs in both dogs and cats. The pancreas is located between the stomach and the duodenum (part of the small intestine). It is an organ responsible for producing enzymes which aid in food digestion as well as producing hormones such as insulin which are secreted into the blood.
If disease or trauma causes these enzymes to be activated in the pancreas before they are released to digest food, they will begin digesting the pancreas. This causes severe inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis causing the abdomen to be tender and painful. Pancreatitis can be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (a long term problem).
The signs can vary to include:
- Lack of appetite
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Tender abdomen
- Increased drinking
- High temperature
Causes of pancreatitis
The exact cause of pancreatitis is often not known but there can be underlying factors.
- Obesity-Many pets diagnosed with pancreatitis are overweight. Dogs are particularly susceptible to developing pancreatitis after eating food with a high fat content, especially human food.
- Abdominal surgery or trauma to the abdomen eg. road traffic accident
- Metabolic disorders
- Small intestinal problems
Diagnosis of pancreatitis
Your veterinary surgeon will perform a full clinical examination and will require a thorough history. A blood sample is taken to test for pancreatitis enzymes present in the blood (amylase and lipase). A more sensitive and specific test will also be recommended called feline or canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity. This is tested for in-house for an immediate result of positive or negative. If a more accurate evaluation is required to determine a numerical level of pancreatitis enzymes present, the sample may be sent to an external laboratory for testing which takes a few days. Sometimes further investigation is required and this usually involves X-Rays and/or ultrasound. Diagnosis of pancreatitis in cats is more difficult as blood analysis does not always show the same abnormalities as in dogs. Cats do not always vomit with pancreatitis and may only show signs of anorexia, lethargy and abdominal pain.
Treatment of pancreatitis
Treatment of pancreatitis varies depending on the severity. Usually intravenous fluids are administered to correct dehydration and pain relief is given to keep your pet as comfortable as possible. Anti nausea drugs and sometimes appetite stimulants are required. Once stable your pet is encouraged to eat. If lack of appetite has been a problem then encouraging any eating by offering especially tasty food like chicken or white fish is vital. The patient is fed several small meals little and often throughout the day. Once their appetite is regained they should then only be fed on a special prescription low fat food containing highly digestible nutrients and a minimum amount of fat. Some patients will be recommended a special prescription low fat food for the rest of their lives.