Pancreatitis is a potentially life threatening condition caused by inflammation of the pancreas which is situated in the front right side of the abdomen.
The pancreas has two functions:
- It produces the hormones insulin and glucagon which regulate blood sugar
- It produces inactive pro-enzymes – once released into the upper small intestine they are activated to digest dietary fat and starch
What goes wrong?
There are several protective mechanisms that prevent these enzymes being activated while within the pancreas itself. Through disease processes largely unknown, these can be overwhelmed and the prematurely activated enzymes start to ‘digest’ the pancreas and destroy it.
Overweight animals, animals with a hormonal condition (Cushings disease), and some breeds that seem to have a genetic predisposition are most often affected by pancreatitis. A bout of pancreatitis is nearly always triggered by an excessively fatty meal or treat.
What does this do to my pet?
Severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting develop. The severity is variable with some pets only experiencing mild but recurrent bouts of discomfort. In severe cases, complications can include shock, infection, bleeding disorders, haemorrhagic diarrhoea, liver disease due to bile duct obstruction and diabetes mellitus.
What will the vet do to treat my pet?
Pancreatitis is suspected based on history, the signs your pet is showing and a physical examination. Blood tests confirm the diagnosis, characterise the severity of the attack, determine involvement of other organs and alert us to any complications that may be occurring.
In severe cases treatment must be rapid and vigorous – administration of intravenous fluids (via a drip), antibiotics, pain relief, and drugs to reduce enzyme production. No food or water via the mouth for the first 2-3 days is very important to ‘rest’ the pancreas and prevent release of further enzymes – your pet must be adequately supported with fluid therapy during this time. Close monitoring of the patient is vital as deterioration can occur rapidly – hydration, kidney function and blood sugar levels must be monitored via regular blood sampling. Very severe cases may require blood or plasma transfusions.
Mild to moderate cases will require fluid therapy, antibiotics, pain relief and nil by mouth for a few days with a slow re-introduction of very bland prescription diets to facilitate recovery. Some very mild cases have responded to nil by mouth for a day and but these are quite rare. The severity of the disease is determined with blood tests.
What about when my pet is feeling better?
After the acute episode is over, dietary management is very important – a bland, low fat prescription diet, complete in nutrient requirements, will be needed initially to smooth recovery. In some cases this diet may be needed indefinitely to prevent recurrence. Although we don’t know the exact causes of pancreatitis, we do know that being overweight and eating fatty meals predisposes to its occurrence.
Please feel free to discuss any queries with our health care team.