Pancreatitis is a disease caused by inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ located next to the small intestine, that assists in the digestion of food. The pancreas provides enzymes that help breakdown the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that make up food. These enzymes are normally stored within the pancreas and cause no problem. However, when the pancreas is inflamed, these enzymes leak into the surrounding tissue and begin to digest it. This leads to the symptoms that we see associated with this disease which are:

  • Nausea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Listlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration

Pancreatitis can be quite painful, and many pets will appear to have a painful belly. Pancreatitis presents to us in varying degrees of severity. It can range from just mild lack of appetite to severe uncontrollable vomiting and dehydration. If left untreated, pancreatitis can be fatal.

What causes pancreatitis?

We do not know all of the factors that contribute to the development pancreatitis in pets or in people. The most common cause of pancreatitis is the sudden addition of fatty foods into the diet. Sometimes pancreatitis has been associated with stress, administration of certain drugs, and in association with any disease that can cause vomiting. Often times, we cannot find the precipitating cause for pancreatitis in your pet.

How do our veterinarians diagnose pancreatitis?

The diagnosis of pancreatitis is not always simple. In the dog, there are enzymes that can be tracked in the blood that are fairly accurate diagnosing pancreatitis. However, these enzymes are not always elevated even in animals that have confirmed pancreatitis. In cats, the diagnosis of pancreatitis is more difficult. The enzymes that we track in the dog I’m not necessarily reliable in the cat. Newer tests for enzymes specific to the dog and cat are now readily available and are highly specific.

X-rays and ultrasound can be used to help confirm a diagnosis of pancreatitis and help rule out other problems that could be contributing to or causing the pancreatitis. Sometimes, the combination of clinical signs, and the lack of other specific diseases present, lead us to the diagnosis of pancreatitis by exclusion.

How does our veterinary team treat pancreatitis?

There are no specific drugs at this time that can be used to cure pancreatitis. Our goal in therapy is to support the pet while the pancreas has a chance to settle down. Because eating stimulates the pancreas, we must prevent the pet from taking anything by mouth until the urge to vomit has subsided. Generally this can take from 2 to 6 days of hospitalization during which time your pet will be maintained on intravenous fluids and injectable drugs to control nausea, vomiting, and pain. Once your pet has stopped vomiting and is willing to drink, eat and hold the food down, we can generally discharge him or her.

In general, our veterinarians will discharge your pet with any combination of the following drugs:

Anti-Nausea: Reglan, Famotidine, Ondansetron

Antacids: Ranitidine, Famotidine, Omeprazole

Antibiotics: Metronidazole,Augmentin, Baytril, Amoxicillin

Low-fat diet is one of, if not the most important part of therapy and long-term prevention of this disease. We recommend Hill’s W/D diet in general. Be sure to avoid all treats and snacks, in particular any foods containing fat for the foreseeable future.