When Good Pancreases Go Bad: Pancreatitis in Pets

pancreatitis in petsAs far as internal organs go, the pancreas is a pretty formidable foe. Sure, when it’s happy everything seems to be sunshine and rainbows… But make the pancreas mad, and the fun is over.

Pancreatitis in pets is a common, but not so welcome, diagnosis here at Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services. This condition can require extensive care and is one all pet owners should know by name.

Don’t Mess Around With the Big P

The pancreas is a very important abdominal organ that plays a large role in digestive function. This organ is responsible for producing enzymes that break down fats in the small intestine. It also produces insulin, a major player in blood sugar regulation.

Pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas. This organ is known to be a little bit of a diva, and its delicate nature makes it prone to inflammation.

Pancreatitis in pets can occur after the organ is overloaded by fatty or rich food, secondary to trauma, or, many times, for no apparent reason at all.

When pancreatitis occurs, the symptoms may vary from very subtle to very severe. Affected pets often have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Restlessness or panting
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Many other disease conditions can present similarly. If we suspect that one of our patients may have pancreatitis, it is important for us to perform diagnostic testing to confirm our suspicion. Often blood testing and/or abdominal ultrasound can help us to arrive at the correct diagnosis.

Treating Pancreatitis in Pets

Once we have diagnosed pancreatitis, treatment is primarily symptomatic. We cannot cure this condition, rather we must help support the body until the episode is over.

When treating pancreatitis in pets, we need to be aware of several aspects of our patient’s overall condition. These include:

Hydration and electrolyte management — Many pets who are suffering from pancreatitis become dehydrated. They often are not eating or drinking well and may be losing fluids through vomiting or diarrhea. In moderate to severe cases, intravenous fluids administered in the hospital are typically necessary to maintain a good hydration status and address any electrolyte imbalances. Medications to slow or stop vomiting and/or diarrhea are also essential to pancreatitis management.

Pain control — People with pancreatitis will tell you that it hurts! Our pets feel pain as well, and often aggressive pain management is needed to get our furry patients comfortable.

Nutritional support — Pets who are unable to eat due to their condition can become weak and compromised. If a pet cannot eat for a prolonged period, sometimes feeding tube placement or nutrition via total parenteral nutrition (administered in the vein) may be necessary. Mild and recovering cases of pancreatitis typically need a specialized pancreas-friendly nutrition plan as well.

Treatment of infection — Most pancreatitis is sterile, but some cases can be complicated by a bacterial infection. In these situations antibiotic therapy may be necessary.

Blood sugar management — Because the pancreas is a vital player in blood sugar metabolism, an angry pancreas may result in high blood sugar. It is important for us to address this and monitor closely, as in severe cases pancreatic scarring can result in permanent diabetes.

Some cases of pancreatitis may be managed on an outpatient basis. Others require hospitalization and aggressive treatment in our intensive care unit.

While we can’t stop every case of pancreatitis in pets, you can take some steps to lessen your likelihood of meeting. Be sure to limit or avoid feeding table food to your pet. If you do offer your pets people food, avoid fatty, rich foods such as bacon, butter, and gravy. Also be sure to secure your garbage cans so that an accidental overindulgence doesn’t occur.

The holiday season is prime pancreatitis season, and while we would love to see you, we hope that it is just for a happy visit. Of course if your pet experiences trouble of any kind this (or any) time of year, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. We will be here to help you.