Pancreatitis is a a sudden acute onset of inflammation of the pancreas. This disease is most commonly seen in toy to small breed dogs, but is not uncommonly reported in larger dogs and in cats. The cause of pancreatitis is not truly known; however, there may be several contributory factors. It is often associated with ingestion of a rich, fatty meal. In some cases, it may be associated with the administration of cortisone; however, some dogs and many cats with pancreatitis do not have exposure to either.
Under normal conditions, digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas are activated when they reach the small intestines. In pancreatitis, these enzymes are activated prematurely in the pancreas instead of in the small intestines. This results in digestion of the pancreas itself, resulting in severe abdomenal pain, anorexia, vomiting, fever and dehydration.
Pancreatitis is diagnosed through history, physical examination, and observation of a three fold increase of pancreas enzymes on a serum biochemistry blood profile, and positive pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (PLI) test. Pancreatitis is treated by resting the pancreas by fasting the patient for a minimum of two days, while providing the patient with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, anti-nausea medication, and pain medication (if necessary). The patient can resume feeding gradually with a low fat diet, once clinical symptoms resolve and serum pancreas enzymes levels return to near normal. Pancreatitis is rarely fatal with treatment and good post treatment owner compliance.
Prevention of pancreatitis consists of feeding a low fat, protein restricted diet, such as Hills W/D, Hills I/D or Purina EN, and refraining from feeding table food or other items that are rich in fat. Prognosis is fair to good when treated and proper preventative measures are taken. Pancreatitis can recur, therefore, I usually recommend semi-yearly blood analysis of the patient’s pancreas enzymes.
A history of pancreatitis in dogs and cats predisposes them to two diseases, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and diabetes mellitus. For this reason, when owners are able to afford it, I recommend doing a complete blood chemistry and CBC semi-yearly, rather than just testing the pancreas enzymes. I also pay close attention to the canine or feline patient’s weight, as both diseases cause weight loss.