Pancreatitis In Dogs: Symptoms
Everyone has heard of the pancreas, whether you know what it does or not. You at least know that it is an important organ in your body. Well it is important if your dogs’ as well. The pancreas is a part of both the digestive and endocrine system. Its main job is to produce hormones and assist the digestion in the small intestine. Both of those are pretty important jobs so you can imagine how serious the problem can be if something were to go wrong. Pancreatitis is the swelling and inflammation of the pancreas. Spontaneous pancreatitis is not well understood and the causes are not known. However, there are some dogs that we know are at higher risk, including those taking corticosteroids. Dogs with diseases associated with high serum lipid level, such as Cushing’s syndrome, diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, and idiopathic hyperlipemia, are also at a higher risk. Over weight spayed females and dogs on high-fat diets are another increased risk category.
When your dog has acute pancreatitis, he will begin to vomit abruptly and have severe pain in his abdomen. It is possible his belly will tuck up and he will get into what looks like the prayer position. If you’ve ever been in severe pain I’m sure you are aware of this position. The abdominal pain is due to the releasing of digestive enzymes into the pancreas. This can also cause your dog to become dehydrated and weak. He will have diarrhea and possibly go into shock.
The first part of the diagnosis is based on physical examination. Your vet will then do blood tests to reveal the amylase and lipase levels. There is also a new serum test called canine pancreatitis lipase immuninol reativity and TAP (trypsinogen activation peptide), which he may undergo. I wouldn’t try to memorize the name of that test if I were you; I’d leave that to the vet. An abdominal ultrasound may also be in store for your pet. This may reveal and enlarged and swollen pancreas.
Some signs of mild pancreatitis include loss of appetite, depression, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss.
An extremely severe and fatal form of pancreatitis is called fluminant necrotizing pancreatitis. Within hours your dog will go into shock. The sign would be vomiting and severe abdominal pain and if you suspect this you should stay calm and get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
After the pancreas has been attacked it may be permanently damaged. This can lead to other health issues in your dog. If the islet cells, the ones carrying endocrine, are damaged he may develop diabetes mellitus. If the acinar cells, those used in hormone secretion, are damaged your dog may develop exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
Pancreatitis in Dogs: Treatments
Treating this issue requires hospitalization. I know no dog owner wants to hear that, but it is vital in order to help your dog regain full health. They must first be treated for dehydration and shock. The next and most important step in the process is to completely rest the pancreas. This means giving the dog nothing my mouth or several days. He will have to maintain electrolyte and fluid balance with intravenous saline solutions. Pain will be controlled with narcotics and bacterial infections with antibiotics. Sometimes cardiac arrhythmias will be present. This is just a fancy name for an irregular heartbeat. If this is the case it will be treated with anti-arrhythmic drugs. If your dog does not respond to this medical treatment he may need surgery to drain the infected pancreas. If your dog has peritonitis, which is the inflammation of the inner lining of the abdomen, and has gone through shock, the prognosis is unfortunately poor.
After your dog has recovered he is susceptible to recurrent attacks. They can be mild or severe, but you can do your part in helping to prevent them. Eliminate the predisposing factors. If your dog is overweight, put him on a weight loss program and feed him only the daily rations in smaller portions to avoid over stimulating the pancreas. No table scraps! I know it’s difficult to say “no” to that face…but you must be strong for your dog. If your vet determines your dog has a high serum lipid level then he should be on a fat restricted diet. Supplemental treatments like insulin or enzymes are necessary if your dog has scarred acinar or islet cells.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficency
The acinar cells are vital in the digestive process and without the food will not be adequately digested and nutrients will go unabsorbed. These cells manufacture digestive enzymes that empty into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Sometimes these cells will atrophy, meaning they will completely or partially waste away. This condition is called PAA or pancreatic acinar cell atrophy. While the cause of this is unknown, it is the leading cause if pancreatic insufficiency.
This condition will begin in dogs while they are still puppies, under two years old. All breeds can be affected, but larger breeds are more susceptible. In German Shepherds the disease may be inherited as an autosomal recessive trait.
Pancreatitis in Dogs: Conclusion
Pancreatitis in dogs is a less common cause of pancreatic insufficiency. This is usually found in middle-aged and older small breed dogs. After the inflammation the pancreas may become scarred and contracted, which produces the same effect as acinar cell atrophy.
If your dog has pancreatic insufficiency you will probably be able to recognize it. He will continually lose weight, despite his increased appetite and food consumption. Because the nutrients in the food go unabsorbed, he will have diarrhea. There is no way you will miss this because it will have a wretched odor and look like a gray cow pie. The hair around your dog’s anus will be oily for the undigested fat. And as much as we hate to see it…your dog may begin to eat his own feces due to increased and intense hunger. Eek, that’s so gross!
If you are suspecting your dog has pancreatic insufficiency, you should take a trip to the vet immediately. The diagnosis will be made on physical appearance and stool observation. The serum trypsinlike immunoreactive assay or TLI is the most accurate test. Your vet can receive this test through a special mail out laboratory. Checking for folate and vitamin B12 levels will also aid your vet in the diagnosis.
For treatment your vet will most likely give you powdered pancreatic extracts such as Viokase-V and Pancrezyme too add to your dog’s food. In most cases to dog responds very well to this treatment. If they do not they will most likely respond completely when their diet is changed to a highly digestible and fat restricted diet. Most vets will recommend Hills’s Prescription Diet i/d. If needed and acid-blocker will be prescribe to prevent destruction of the pancreatic enzymes by acid in the stomach. Two of these acid-blockers are Tagamet, which is cimetidine, and Zantac, which is ranitidine.
Finding out your dog and a pancreatic issue can be scary! As long as you take action and seek and follow the advice from your vet you will be able to help your pooch live a happy, healthy life! Pancreatitis in dogs is scary, but can be beaten!