First things first, you’re probably wondering what the pancreas actually is. The pancreas is an important internal organ in your dog’s body (as well as ours) near the stomach, it releases enzymes, which help to digest food and control blood sugar.
What is pancreatitis in dogs?
“Pancreatitis is inflammation of your pet’s pancreas that can disrupt its normal functions. This is often a serious issue, as the pancreas has two vital functions: it secretes insulin, which balances blood sugar, and it secretes digestive enzymes -- amylase, lipase and proteases,” says Dr Becker, to Healthy Pets.
When the pancreas’s normal functions are disrupted, the digestive enzymes could cause damage to both the pancreas and the surrounding tissue - and in serious cases, other organs. In severe cases, pancreatitis can lead to organ failure and consequently, death.
Acute vs chronic pancreatitis
Dogs can suffer from two major forms of the disease - acute or chronic.
When there were no obvious warning signs or symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs and the condition develops suddenly, the condition would be defined as acute. In these cases, if treatment is obtained promptly, a full recovery can be made.
Acute pancreatitis can be triggered by diabetes, infection, an abdominal injury, kidney problems and medication reactions, amongst others - keep a close eye on your pooch if any of these attributes apply.
If the symptoms developed over a long period of time, you’re looking at chronic pancreatitis. Though the condition can be managed in these cases, it’s likely that your pooch will need palliative care and maintenance for the rest of their life.
Chronic pancreatitis is common in older dogs, female dogs and those with bad eating habits. It can also be brought on by epilepsy, obesity, digestive problems and thyroid problems.
Whether pancreatitis is acute or chronic, it can be extremely painful. Therefore, it’s essential to get them checked out at the earliest opportunity if you notice any of the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs.
Symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs
“Pancreatitis often first appears as a sudden, severe condition usually seen in over-weight, middle-aged dogs,” explains Dr Pitcairn, author of Complete Guide to Natural Care for Dogs & Cats.
“The severity of the attack can vary from a mild, almost unnoticeable condition to a severe shocklike collapse which can result in death.” Sadly, pancreatitis can easily go undetected for a while. The first symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs are often subtle; such as behavioural changes or an increase in fatigue - but over time, they will develop. Therefore, if these changes are noticeable to you, proceed with caution and head to the vets to investigate further.
Make sure you’re aware of the following signs and symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs:
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden vomiting
- Shaking or twitching
- Anxiety or depression
- Reluctance to move or exercise
- Crying or whimpering
- Pain when touching the abdomen
- Regularly vomiting after consuming food
- Loss of appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
- Depression or general mood changes
- Low body temperature
- Dry mouth
- Undigested food in faeces
- Irregular heartbeat
- Breathing difficulties
Risk factors of pancreatitis in dogs
As well as understanding the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs, it’s important to decipher whether your pup is particularly at risk of developing the condition.
“Knowing the risk factors that are associated with pancreatitis can help veterinarians have an appropriate index of suspicion for the disease in high-risk patients,” says Hugh Bilson Lewis in Risk Factors for canine pancreatitis.
Certain medications - potassium bromide in particular - can trigger pancreatitis in dogs. However, your vet will be aware of this and will work with you to monitor your pup for the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs. Dogs who suffer from metabolic disorders such as hyperlipidemia and hypercalcemia see higher than average levels of pancreatitis. This is the same for hormone-related conditions such as thyroid issues, diabetes or Cushing's disease.
If your pup has been involved in an accident affecting the abdomen or any other trauma which could affect blood flow to the pancreas, they could also be at risk of developing pancreatitis.
The big risk factor for pancreatitis in dogs: diet
Obesity, excess weight or an unhealthy diet are perhaps the biggest risk factors when it comes to pancreatitis in dogs. This is because the high levels of fat in a dog’s blood is very likely to lead to inflammation of the pancreas.
Though it’s tempting to feed your pooch human leftovers or scraps after dinner every night, greasy ‘people’ food is not dog food. It could contain high levels of fat which could trigger an acute pancreatitis attack. It’s best to avoid treating them to processed, fatty or greasy leftovers if you can.
If your pooch has been fed a high-fat diet for a long period of time, you should be checking them for symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs regularly - and, of course, switching up their diet as soon as possible.
Your dog should be consuming a high-protein, low-fat diet to ensure their optimal health and prevent disease. Making your food at home is a great choice. Aim for half starchy carb and half low-fat protein (mostly chicken, turkey, goat or venison) ratio.
Now that you're aware of the different risk factors and symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs, you can get your pup to the vet at the earliest opportunity and help them to make a full recovery.