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Pancreatitis in Dogs

german shepherd dog drinking water in a field

Introduction

Pancreatitis in dogs occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. When the pancreas gets inflamed, it can affect the body’s ability to digest foods and produce insulin.

Pancreatitis falls into two categories. Acute pancreatitis in dogs happens suddenly and usually responds well to treatment. Chronic pancreatitis is a long-lasting disease that can permanently change the organ’s size and function. If chronic pancreatitis becomes too severe, it can cause irreversible damage.

Pancreatitis can occur in any dog but some breeds are more susceptible than others. Dog breeds that are more likely to suffer from pancreatitis include the miniature schnauzer, miniature poodle and cocker spaniel. Pancreatitis is also more common in older dogs, overweight dogs, and females.

Common Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Common symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs include:

  • Abdominal pain that often increases soon after eating
  • Changes in mood and behavior (depression)
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loose stools
  • Loss of appetite that can become so severe that it causes anorexia
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Struggling to breathe
  • Vomiting

A wide range of health conditions other than pancreatitis can cause these symptoms, so owners need to have their vets diagnose their dogs before starting any treatment.

Diagnosing Pancreatitis in Dogs

Veterinarians will usually perform a visual test to determine whether dogs need more advanced diagnostics. The initial physical examination includes looking for the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs. When veterinarians observe several symptoms, they can confirm the diagnosis by:

  • Ordering blood work to look for metabolic abnormalities and high or low levels of specific chemicals
  • Using ultrasound to see whether the pancreas has become deformed or damaged
  • Examining pancreatic tissue under a microscope to observe damage (histopathology)

Histopathology offers the most concrete evidence of pancreatitis. It’s usually a last resort, though, since taking a sample from the pancreas may put the dog in danger. Fine-needle aspiration can retrieve a sample without risking the dog’s health. Fine-needle aspiration, however, can only take samples from a small area of the pancreas. This leaves the possibility of missing affected tissue in other parts of the pancreas.

Unfortunately, ultrasound doesn’t work well for breeds that have deep chests. The chest’s size can blur images of the pancreas. The results of ultrasound imaging also depend on the experience using the equipment and locating the pancreas. Newer imaging equipment makes the job easier, but not all veterinary practices can afford the latest models.

Treating Canine Pancreatitis

Treating canine pancreatitis often depends on the underlying condition that causes the pancreas to become inflamed. For example, a dog with hypertriglyceridemia (high triglycerides in the blood) would likely benefit from bezafibrate medication, which doctors also use to treat high triglycerides in humans.

Assuming that the veterinarian cannot identify the underlying cause of pancreatitis, conventional treatments include:

  • Therapeutic diets with less than 25% fat calories
  • Fluid therapy that helps prevent dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea
  • Pain management in the form of opioid infusions
  • Plasma injections
  • Prednisone (a type of steroid that prevents inflammation)

Ideally, doctors can focus on the health condition that leads to pancreatitis. When that’s not possible, veterinarians usually treat the symptoms to see if the pancreas will heal over time.

Lowering the Risk of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Since pancreatitis has numerous sources, it’s difficult to say how owners can lower the risk of dogs developing the disease. More often than not, veterinarians recommend a healthy lifestyle that includes:

  • Avoiding high-fat foods, especially table scraps
  • Weight management in the form of exercise and calorie restriction
  • Avoiding drug interactions that may cause pancreatitis
  • Paying attention to the early symptoms of pancreatitis

Acute and chronic pancreatitis in dogs often respond well to the proper treatments. Since the condition can have multiple sources, it makes sense for owners to focus on giving their dogs healthy lifestyles that include nutritious food and plenty of exercise.

Cost to Treat: Approximately $800 to $6,000

 

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