Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, one of the primary organs of digestion. The pancreas produces and stores digestive enzymes which break down foods and nutrients during the digestive process. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the enzymes can leak out of the pancreatic tissue and cause damage to the structure of the organ.
Several factors can cause the initial inflammation of the pancreas, including high fat diets, obesity and trauma. Dogs which are on corticosteroids are also at risk of developing the disease. Miniature Schnauzers are more prone to developing pancreatitis, due to naturally occuring high levels of lipoproteins in their blood.
The most common clinical signs of pancreatitis include abdominal pain (which may make your pet assume a tucked up belly or prayer position), diarrhea, lack of appetite, vomiting, dehydration, lethargy and irritability.
Pancreatitis is possible whenever abdominal pain is a clinical symptom. Your veterinarian will often ask if your dog may have been in the garbage or may have eaten any fatty foods. On physical examination, pain will be evident during examination of the part of the belly where the pancreas lies. Blood tests can identify any abnormalities that may suggest other diseases, and to determine the levels of amylase and lipase in the blood stream.
Ultrasonographic tests and x-rays may also help your veterinarian determine the cause of pain and vomiting. Unfortunately, the clinical signs are common to several different diseases. Pancreatitis is often diagnosed based simply on ruling out other possible causes of these signs.
Pancreatitis can become very serious if not treated properly. Dehydrated and vomiting pets should be hospitalized to receive fluid therapy in combination with intravenous medications. Pain medications should also be given to manage the discomfort of the animal. Food intake is restricted for up to 72 hours to prevent stimulation of the pancreas to produce digestive enzymes which can worsen the condition.
Once the pet begins to improve, small amounts of water are given in the hospital. If no vomiting occurs in 12 to 24 hours, easily digestible foods are given in small quantities. Most pets can go home once they are willing to eat and drink again. Bland diets may be beneficial in some patients, although most pets return to their normal diet. Diets moderately high in fiber may be beneficial in lessening the number or severity of attacks in chronic pancreatitis. Weight loss and exercise are also helpful in preventing future attacks. Avoid feeding your dog table scraps or fatty foods.