Pancreatitis is inflammation and swelling of the pancreas. It can occur in a mild or severe form.
The cause of spontaneous pancreatitis in dogs is not well understood. Dogs taking corticosteroids are at increased risk. There is a higher incidence of pancreatitis in dogs with Cushing’s syndrome, diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism and idiopathic hyperlipemia (a disease of Miniature Schnauzers). These diseases are associated with high serum lipid levels ( fat in the blood). Pancreatitis is also more prevalent in overweight spayed females and dogs on high-fat diets. An attack may be triggered by eating table scraps or a fatty meal.
Acute pancreatitis is characterized by the abrupt onset of vomiting and severe pain in the abdomen. The dog may have a tucked-up belly and assume a prayer position. Abdominal pain is caused by the release of digestive enzymes into the pancreas and surrounding tissue. Diarrhoea, dehydration, weakness, and shock may ensue.
The diagnosis can be suspected based on a physical examination. It is confirmed by blood tests showing elevated amylase and/or lipase levels, along with a new serum test called canine pancreatitis lipase immuninol reactivity and TAP (trypsinogen activation peptide). Abdominal ultrasonography may reveal an enlarged and swollen pancreas.
Mild pancreatitis produces loss of appetite, depression, intermittent vomiting, and diarrhoea and weight loss.
Fulminant necrotizing pancreatitis is an acute, extremely severe, usually fatal form of pancreatitis. In hours, the dog will go into shock. Dogs may vomit or simply show signs of severe abdominal pain.The dog may develop diabetes mellitus if the islet cells have been destroyed or may develop exocrine pancreatic insufficiency if the acinar cells have been destroyed.
Dogs with acute pancreatitis require hospitalization to treat shock and dehydration. The most important step in treating pancreatitis is to rest the gland completely. This is accomplished by giving the dog nothing by mouth for several days and maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance with intravenous saline solutions. Antibiotics are used to prevent secondary bacterial infections. Pain is controlled with narcotics. Cardiac arrhythmias, if present, are treated with anti-arrhythmic drugs.
Dogs who do not respond to medical treatment may require surgery to drain an infected pancreas. The prognosis for dogs with shock and spreading peritonitis is poor.
Dogs who recover from pancreatitis are susceptible to recurrent attacks, which can be mild or severe. These episodes can be prevented, in part, by eliminating predisposing factors. For example, place overweight dogs on a weight-loss program. Feed the total daily ration in two or three small servings to avoid overstimulating the pancreas. Do not feed table scraps. Dogs with high serum lipid levels should be placed on a fat-restricted diet. If scarring has damaged the acinar or islet cells, the dog may need supplemental treatment such as enzymes or insulin.