What is it?
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is an important organ that is located next to the duodenum (part of small intestine). The pancreas has many important roles in the body. It produces many digestive enzymes and hormones such as insulin and glucagon that are both involved in the regulation of blood glucose.
Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. Necrotising pancreatitis presents the worst form of pancreatitis and treatment can be complicated and often unsuccessful. It causes severe damage to the pancreas and its adjacent structures.
What causes pancreatitis?
The precise cause is still unknown. When pancreatitis occurs the pancreas “self digests” or “self destroys” as a result of the premature activation of the pancreatic enzymes it contains. Suspected causes of the disease are sudden changes in food, genetic predisposition, immune mediated disorder and penetration of bacteria from the small intestine through the pancreatic duct into the pancreas itself. Medications and pancreatic trauma can also cause it. Obese pets, pets having hormonal disorders such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease or hypercalcaemia are more likely to develop pancreatitis. Cats with liver disease may develop pancreatic disease since the pancreatic and hepatic ducts are in close proximity to each other.
Which breeds are usually affected?
Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles, Cocker Spaniels and Siamese cats are more often affected then others. Female mid age dogs and cats are the prime candidates for pancreatitis.
What are the symptoms?
Severe abdominal pain and vomiting are the most common symptoms. Diarrhoea, lethargy, lack of appetite and jaundice in cats can be seen too. Sometimes the symptoms can be very vague, especially in cats. As a result of abdominal pain some animals may develop heart arrhythmia and take assume a “prone” position.
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
A clinical exam is usually not enough and a blood sample is often needed by your vet to confirm diagnosis. A severe increase in amylase and lipase is a reasonably good indicator of pancreatic disease. However, sometimes although the results are normal your pet can still have pancreatitis and a more specific test such as CPLI can be run. This is the most accurate test at present but it is still not 100% accurate. Cats are much harder to diagnose and an ultrasound is the tool of choice.
Treatment is possible and often successful...
Most dogs and cats with pancreatitis will pull through however hospitalisation and thorough treatment is required. Intravenous fluids, antibiotic, antiemetic (drugs to stop vomiting) pain relief and bland foods are cornerstones of the treatment. Once admitted to hospital your pet is put on fluids and starved for 24 to 48 hours in order to rest its pancreas. A small amount of water is offered first and if there is no vomiting a bland food is introduced. Once eating well and keeping the food down your pet is sent home on medications.
Not all pets have rapid recovery. Some of them who may end up with necrotising pancreatitis, abscess or blocked bile duct and may need extensive surgery. Luckily these complications do not occur frequently.
While staying with us your pet will be monitored 24 hours a day. Often we have to get additional blood samples to monitor the condition of the pancreas and its response to the treatment. We frequently check the levels of pancreatic enzymes, PCV, electrolytes (monitoring levels of potassium), blood protein and kidney function. Sometimes pancreatic or other enzymes may be re-evaluated after 3-7 days to make sure the values are back to normal. Our vets are going to advise you on all of these issues.
How can I prevent pancreatitis or recurrence of pancreatitis in my pet?
Obesity in pets must be avoided and it often goes hand in hand with pancreatitis. Therefore weight loss is an important part of the prevention of pancreatitis. Make sure your pet is fed a low fat diet and there are no changes to its diet. It is also important to advise your vet if your pet had a history of pancreatitis since some medications may contribute to pancreatic disease.
If you have any questions, please contact your local Vets4Pets practice.