Canine pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is manageable but not curable. That doesn't mean your dog can't experience one episode and never have another one if you make appropriate dietary changes, but the disease can recur or prove fatal. You'll need to monitor your dog's diet for the rest of his life.
Your dog's pancreas secretes digestive enzymes for food breakdown, and makes insulin for sugar metabolism regulation. When pancreatitis occurs, these digestive enzymes leak, so the pancreas literally begins eating itself. Pancreatitis might come on quickly, in the acute form, or gradually, in its chronic state.
While any dog can suffer from pancreatitis, certain breeds appear more susceptible to pancreatic inflammation. These include the miniature schnauzer, cocker spaniel, Yorkshire terrier and miniature poodle. Females are more affected than males, with the disease usually occurring in senior canines.
Many cases of pancreatitis are idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause. However, dogs diagnosed with diabetes, epilepsy, hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism and too much calcium or fat in the bloodstream are more likely to come down with the disease. Pancreatitis can result from trauma, such as being hit by a car; reflux; specific medications, including antibiotics with sulfa; pancreatic tumor and environmental toxins. Obese dogs are at higher risk than those of normal weight.
Symptoms of pancreatitis include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, dehydration, fever, lethargy, breathing difficulty and obvious abdominal pain. Get your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Untreated, pancreatitis is deadly.
Your vet might give your dog intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy if he's dehydrated. The inflamed pancreas must rest, so food and water is withheld for at least 24 hours. When feeding starts again, your dog receives several small, bland meals daily rather than one or two large meals and his regular food. Your vet might prescribe a low-fat diet for your dog. She might also give him pain medication.
While you can't guarantee your dog will never suffer from pancreatitis, limiting the amount of fatty food your dog consumes lowers his risk. Ask your vet to recommend the best diet for your particular dog, and don't give your pet table scraps. If your canine is a "garbage hound," make sure you secure and dog-proof all the trash receptacles in your home. Keep your dog at a proper weight and give him regular exercise.
By Jane Meggitt
Veterinary Partner: Canine Pancreatitis
American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation: Pancreatitis
Merck Veterinary Manual: Pancreatitis in Small Animals
Southern Colorado Veterinary Internal Medicine: Canine Pancreatitis
petMD: Pancreatitis in Dogs
About the Author
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.