The pancreas is a thin, elongated organ that is shaped a bit like a pounded piece of chicken tenderloin. The pancreas lies along the initial portion of the small intestine called the duodenum. As the bile duct leaves the gall bladder, it traverses the pancreas before it enters the duodenum. The pancreas is probably best known for producing insulin, the hormone deficient in patients with diabetes. The pancreas also produces digestive enzymes essential for breakdown of food into its nutrient component parts.
-itis = inflammation
When a body part is inflamed, the suffix “-itis” modifies the root word to indicate the disease process of inflammation. Tennis elbow is really inflammation of the elbow bone and in doctor speak is epicondylitis. Inflammation of the appendix is appendicitis. Inflammation of the pancreas is pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is the most common condition of the dog and cat pancreas.
Causes of pancreatitis in dogs
The exact trigger for pancreatic inflammation in dogs is elusive. High fat meals, such as one obtained illicitly from the kitchen trash can are often blamed. Miniature Schnauzers are a dog breed with an increased risk of pancreatitis. Some diseases, like diabetes, hyperadrenocorticism and hypothyroidism increase a dog’s risk for pancreatitis. Blunt force trauma, like an automobile accident or a fall from a height can injure the pancreas and set off the inflammatory cascade. Whatever the cause of the inflammation, it promotes release of the digestive enzymes from the pancreatic cells. The enzyme release worsens the inflammation and also the clinical signs.
Clinical signs of pancreatitis
Pancreatitis can be either an acute fulminant illness or a more insidious, chronic problem. The list of clinical signs attributed to pancreatitis is quite long: vomiting, anorexia, weakness, dehydration, abdominal pain and fever. Dogs may assume a “praying” position with their elbows on the floor and their rump held high. Veterinarians interpret this as a response of the dog to abdominal pain. Since the major signs of pancreatitis are nonspecific, vomiting and anorexia, a battery of blood tests, x-rays, and an abdominal ultrasound may be necessary to establish a diagnosis of pancreatitis.
Treatment of pancreatitis
There is no specific treatment for pancreatitis like there are antibiotics for bacterial infection. Veterinarians treat dehydration with fluids, control vomiting with anti-nausea medications, and manage pain with pain medications. We also rest the gastrointestinal tract of patients with pancreatitis by withholding food and water until the vomiting ceases, followed by a low fat, bland diet. Dogs may take several days to recover from a serious case of pancreatitis.
To help prevent pancreatitis, restrict your dog’s intake of human foods, especially fatty ones. There will be less dieting for him in the new year and hopefully no pancreatitis to spoil his fun.