Inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis, is a painful condition characterized by an overproduction of digestive enzymes by the pancreas, which actually begin to damage the pancreatic tissue itself.
This disorder can strike both dogs and cats with equal vengeance. In dogs, it is seen most often in middle-aged, overweight females. Cats that are fed poor-quality, high-calorie diets with or without table scraps are also at high risk of developing pancreatitis.
Heredity can also come into play with certain canine breeds, such as schnauzers, which are at greater risk than are some of their counterparts. Signs of a pancreatitis attack include loss of appetite, excessive salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and marked pain in the abdominal region on the right side just behind the ribcage.
With severe involvement, shock and death can result if the pain and inflammation are not relieved promptly. Diabetes mellitus can also be an unfortunate consequence with repeated bouts of pancreatitis as digestive enzymes destroy the insulin-producing cells within the pancreas.
Because of the similarity of the clinical signs, acute bouts of pancreatitis must be differentiated from other gastrointestinal disorders such as foreign bodies and intestinal obstructions. Dogs and cats suffering from mild flare-ups of pancreatitis will often recover spontaneously when food and water is withheld.
In fact, this is one method of diagnosing this condition. Measuring the blood levels of the pancreatic enzymes amylase and lipase can also be a helpful diagnostic tool, since both tend to be elevated during an acute attack.
Radiographs are useful for ruling out other potential causes of the clinical signs, such as intestinal obstructions. When treating pancreatitis, it is imperative that all food, water, and even oral medication be discontinued for a period of 48 to 72 hours.
This will help lower the amounts of digestive enzymes being produced by the pancreas. Intravenous fluids are required to prevent dehydration during this time of fasting. Pain relievers and medications designed to reduce pancreatic secretions are very important to prevent secondary complications from arising.
Since the gastrointestinal tract is involved, antibiotics are indicated as well to prevent secondary bacterial infections.
Pancreatitis is usually a recurring problem that can never be eliminated completely. However, there are certain measures owners can institute at home to protect pets from acute flare-ups and the health problems associated with them.
Dogs and cats with a history of this disorder should be fed lowcalorie, easily digestible diets that don’t require much pancreatic effort for their breakdown within the intestines. Such a diet, or a recipe for its formulation, is available from veterinarians.
All table scraps should cease; even sneaking a small treat from the table could result in a lifethreatening pancreatitis attack. Increasing exercise levels and promoting weight loss will also serve protective functions against recurrence of this disorder.