Tech Talks by Emily Harbury, LVT
During the holidays a lot of food will be available to both two legged and four legged celebrants.
This abundance of food and the variance of our schedules during the holidays sometimes give our dogs’ access to foods they wouldn’t otherwise get. Canine food binges may result in GI upset, toxic reactions, or even Pancreatitis – the subject of this article.
Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas. In a pancreatitis episode, the enzymes that digest food are activated in the pancreas instead of the small intestine. This causes inflammation and swelling of the pancreas accompanied by severe pain. Classic signs of pancreatitis are: appetite loss, vomiting, diarrhea, painful abdomen and fever. If you see these signs in your pet and especially if you remember him getting into unusual or fatty food, get him to your veterinarian for testing. Pancreatitis can be very painful and life threatening if not treated.
The most common cause of pancreatitis is ingesting a large amount of fatty foods. The fat content overwhelms the pancreas, and it starts activating enzymes to digest the influx of fat prematurely. Although any dog can develop pancreatitis, genetics may play a factor. Certain dog breeds, such as Miniature Schnauzers, are more likely to develop pancreatitis. Older dogs and overweight dogs are also prone to the condition. Pancreatitis can also be idiopathic; no real causation factor can be found.
Treatment needs to be started quickly to avoid tissue damage and involvement of the adjacent liver. The ability to produce insulin can be disrupted, leading to temporary or permanent diabetes. Most veterinary hospitals can run a very reliable blood test called spec cPL (specific canine pancreatic lipase) in their office which tells whether the pancreas is working normally or abnormally. An abnormal reading is enough to start treating your pet. Other blood tests can determine the specific lipase enzyme level but have to be sent out and results won’t be known for 24 hours. Treating pancreatitis is straightforward. The pancreas needs to rest, meaning no food for several days. The dog will need to be hospitalized during this time so he can be monitored, given IV fluid support to prevent dehydration, and anti-nausea medicine. A low fat diet will slowly be reintroduced.
Most patients will fully recover after pancreatitis and be able to return to regular food, but those who have chronic ongoing pancreatitis or who are prone to frequent flare ups will likely require a fat restricted diet for life. Fat restriction is important in both treatment and prevention.
Have a wonderful, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving.