If your dog is losing her appetite, losing weight, is suffering from abdominal pain or other unexplained intestinal discomfort, the cause might be pancreatitis. In older dogs and dogs with chronic/repeat bouts of pancreatitis, it can cause kidney failure, diabetes and intestinal obstruction. Because our fur babies are generally quite stoic and don’t complain about pain until it is quite severe, most pups with kidney failure have lost approximately 75% of their kidney function before they become symptomatic and complain about pain and discomfort. The quickest way to identify that your pup may be suffering from pancreatitis is loss of appetite. So, if your fur baby normally dives into her bowl but has started to become finicky about her food and is starting to lose weight, immediately take her to the vet for blood work to identify any kidney or intestinal issues. While pancreatitis can be very serious if left untreated, proper and timely treatment will get your pup back to normal.
What is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is the medical term for inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is an endocrine gland which produces a variety of hormones including insulin and glucagon. The pancreas also serves various digestive functions by secreting enzymes which assist digestion and help nutrient absorption.
There are two types of pancreatitis:
- Acute – This type of pancreatitis appears suddenly and quickly and can range from mild to severe.
- Chronic – This type of pancreatitis is reoccurring with symptoms such as vomiting or discomfort after eating and can grow progressively worse over time.
In both cases, severe inflammation of the pancreas can cause enzymes to leak into the abdominal cavity. These enzymes will then actually digest the pancreas itself as well as other organs. Permanent damage can occur to the pancreas, kidneys, liver, bile duct, gall bladder and intestine.
Unfortunately, your dog can’t use words to tell you what’s wrong. So you need to watch your dog carefully for any combination of these symptoms:
- Poor appetite
- Severe vomiting
- Severe diarrhea (possibly bloody)
- Yellow, greasy stool
- Abdominal pain (often characterized by crying and a hunched back)
- Bloating (abdominal distention)
- General tiredness and weakness
- Reluctance to walk
Not every dog with pancreatitis will exhibit all of these symptoms. Some dogs may exhibit just a few. Others may exhibit only one strong symptom such as fever, abdominal pain or severe vomiting.
If your dog has these symptoms you should immediately take your pup to see your vet. Delay in seeking treatment can, in some cases, be fatal so why take the risk? There are a few tests your vet can run which will aid in diagnosis. A standard blood test will show if lipase and amylase levels are elevated. Elevated levels indicate a high chance of pancreatitis. Another test which might be conducted is the PLI (Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity) test. This test helps identify the pancreatic immuno-reactivity or lipase levels which cause pancreatic inflammation.
Causes of Pancreatitis
There is no one cause of pancreatitis, although the condition is not contagious. Some common causes of pancreatitis in dogs include:
- A diet with too high of a fat content
- Metabolic disorders
- Bacterial infection
- A direct injury to the pancreas
- Certain medications
There are a few common medications which are known to sometimes interfere with pancreatic functions. Be sure and tell your vet if your dog takes any of the following:
- Potassium bromide
- Corticosteroids (such as Prednisone)
- Diuretics (such as Lasix or Furosemide)
How is Pancreatitis Treated?
There are various treatments available and the proper course of treatment depends on the severity of the pancreatitis. Your vet will be able to determine the severity of the attack and recommend the proper treatment protocol.
For mild cases, all food and water are withheld for 24 – 48 hours and subcutaneous (under the skin, can be done at home) fluids are administered to prevent dehydration. Your vet may also prescribe some medication to stop any vomiting and reduce the pain. All of this gives the pancreas a chance to rest and begin the recovery process. If your pup’s symptoms start to improve over the next few days then you may begin to re-introduce small portions of low-fat food. Mild cases of pancreatitis can generally be treated at home.
For moderate to severe cases of pancreatitis, you will probably need to hospitalize your pup for administration of IV fluids (intravenous), pain medications and antibiotics which may be necessary to control any secondary infections caused by the pancreatitis. After the first 48 hours, and as your pup’s symptoms begin to improve, your vet will begin to administer nutrition either orally or, if your pup is still feeling nauseous and refusing to eat, through a tube placed in the nose, esophagus or stomach.
Chronic pancreatitis is most often treated with a low-fat diet and pain meds for comfort and to assist in the recovery process.
While not every case can be prevented, you can adjust your dog’s diet to help reduce the risk of pancreatitis. This can be especially effective in dogs prone to chronic, reoccurring pancreatitis.
Foods to Avoid:
Foods high in fat and protein can place a heavy burden on your dog’s pancreas. You want to avoid feeding your dog anything which contains vegetable oils, butter and similar fatty foods.
Diabetic dogs run an increased risk of pancreatitis. You want to avoid feeding your dog anything with a high sugar level. This includes certain fruits (e.g. grapes, figs, mangoes), honey and grains (except rice, which is generally okay). You also want to avoid high sugar vegetables such as corn and parsnips. Check out the Onpets diabetic pup friendly recipes here.
Many commercial kibbles don’t contain enough natural enzymes which means that your pup’s body has to work hard in order to produce food digestion enzymes. Adding probiotics and digestive enzymes to your canine fur baby’s food can be helpful but be sure to check with your vet first if your pup is suffering from acute pancreatitis.
What to Feed Your Dog:
If your pup has chronic pancreatitis, you may decide to cook for her every day, thereby controlling exactly what she is consuming. If this isn’t possible, you want to find premium, well-balanced, high quality dog food. Many vets also sell foods specifically designed for pups suffering from chronic pancreatitis.
Natural foods which will help your dog prevent pancreatitis include the following:
- Boiled chicken with rice or potato
- No-fat cottage cheese
- Turkey baby food
- Grated cabbage
- Uncooked broccoli
As you can see, these are bland, low-fat foods. They’ll reduce the burden on your dog’s pancreas. This can help your dog recover from acute pancreatitis, prevent chronic pancreatitis and generally keep your dog’s pancreas healthy.
Natural Supplements which Help Treat and Prevent Pancreatitis
To be clear, if you suspect your dog has pancreatitis immediately take her to the vet. Pancreatitis is not a problem you can treat entirely on your own. But there are some herbal remedies and supplements you can give your dog which will help treat and prevent pancreatitis.
Herbal remedies which can help prevent pancreatitis:
- Milk Thistle – Helps repair and improve liver
- Dandelion / Burdock – Increases bile and enzyme production. Decreases stress on pancreas.
- Echinacea – Boosts immune system
- Yarrow – Improves blood circulation to the pancreas
Supplements which can help treat pancreatitis:
- Digestive enzymes – Helps reduce pancreatic flare-ups
- Probiotics – Helps balance gut flora in the digestive systems.
- Vitamins C and E – Reduces frequency and severity of flare-ups.
Pancreatitis is a serious condition but it is both treatable and preventable. Proper food, supplements and herbal remedies can prevent pancreatic problems and also reduce the frequency of chronic flare-ups. By following these simple tips, your dog can live a long and healthy life.
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