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Canine Pancreatitis

By Sarah A. Santiago, DVM, MS

Pancreatitis simply means inflammation of the pancreas yet there is nothing simple about this complex disease process.  Pancreatitis is one of the most prevalent canine diseases that small animal veterinarians treat.  Obtaining a thorough history is one of the most important aspects in trying to arrive at a diagnosis of pancreatitis.

Dogs often present with a history of not eating, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and overall just not acting like themselves.  Oftentimes there is the additional history of the dog recently getting into the trash or being fed something new or very rich.  The incidence of pancreatitis tends to rise tremendously around the holidays due to this very same reason.  On physical examination the veterinarian often finds that the abdomen is particularly tender to very painful in the forward section around where the pancreas lives.

The pancreas is a thin flimsy organ that lives attached to a section of the stomach and the beginning of the small intestines in dogs.  While important for its endocrine functions such as the control of blood sugar, its exocrine function is also extremely vital as it aids in the digestion of different food components.  For this reason dogs are fasted for a select period of time after being diagnosed with pancreatitis essentially to allow the organ to rest.

Pancreatitis is rarely diagnosed via a pancreatic biopsy which medically speaking would be the gold standard.  A thorough history from the pet owner, a thorough physical examination by a veterinarian, specific blood tests, and at times radiographs or even ultrasonography together are used to make the diagnosis.  Pancreatitis treatments can vary, and include anti-nausea medications, pain medications, intravenous fluid therapy, gastric protectants, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and a bland low-fat diet once feeding is resumed.

The prognosis for dogs with pancreatitis can vary depending on the underlying cause.  Many canine patients make a drastic improvement in their overall condition after even the initial few hours of treatments.  Once a canine companion has had a bout of pancreatitis they are more susceptible to developing the disease in the future so dietary vigilance and maintaining an ideal body weight is of utmost importance.