If you own a smaller dog breed such as a miniature schnauzer, miniature poodle, or cocker spaniel there’s a good chance our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team has seen your furry pal before for this particular condition—pancreatitis. Although breeds such as miniature schnauzers are the poster children for this painful gastrointestinal condition, and often experience multiple bouts of pancreatic inflammation, no breed of dog is without risk of developing pancreatitis. But, what causes this disease, and how can you prevent its frequent occurrence in your pet? Let’s learn more about pancreatitis and the steps we take to battle this organ’s irritation.

What is pancreatitis in pets?

Pancreatitis is the most common pancreatic disease in dogs and cats. The pancreas is an integral part of the digestion process, and is responsible for producing digestive enzymes and insulin. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the normal flow of digestive enzymes into the gastrointestinal tract can be disrupted, forcing the enzymes out into the abdominal cavity. 

If the enzymes are not contained in the digestive tract, they will begin to break down fat and proteins in the pancreas and other organs. Essentially, the body begins to digest itself, which is incredibly painful. After the pancreas, the kidneys and liver are the next organs attacked, because of their proximity to the pancreas. If additional organs are affected, the abdomen will become inflamed, and can become infected. If the pancreas becomes so inflamed that bleeding occurs, shock and death can follow. Pancreatitis, which often progresses rapidly in dogs, can be treated without permanent damage to the organ. Left untreated, however, severe organ damage and death can occur.

What causes pancreatitis in pets?

For most pancreatitis cases, no specific cause can be identified, and the cause is deemed “idiopathic.” In some instances, the disease can be linked to a trigger, such as:

  • Eating trash, large amounts of table scraps, fatty foods, or other inappropriate foods 
  • Severe blunt trauma, such as a car accident, or high-rise syndrome in cats
  • Surgery
  • Some medications
  • High blood level of triglycerides
  • Excessive adrenal gland function (i.e., hyperadrenocorticism)
  • Some infectious diseases, such as Babesia canis or Leishmania in dogs, or Toxoplasma gondii, Amphimerus pseudofelineus, and feline infectious peritonitis in cats

Regardless of the underlying cause, some risk factors may predispose your four-legged friend to pancreatic inflammation. Pancreatitis has been reported in the following pets:

  • Miniature schnauzers, Yorkshire terriers, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, poodles, and sled dog breeds
  • Overweight or obese pets
  • Female pets
  • Elderly pets

Although you can’t change your pet’s gender, breed, or age, you can keep them at an ideal, healthy weight, to reduce a potential pancreatitis attack. 

What are pancreatitis signs in pets?

Pets with pancreatitis may show gastrointestinal distress, along with several other vague illness indicators. Depending on the severity of your pet’s pancreatitis, and whether it’s an acute attack or chronic condition, you may notice the following signs:

  • Anorexia (inappetance)
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Mild to severe abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Icterus or jaundice (a yellow appearance to the eyes, mouth, or skin)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dehydration

How is pancreatitis diagnosed in pets?

In dogs, a history of dietary indiscretion, combined with vomiting and abdominal pain, is an important clue for diagnosing pancreatitis. Cats are more tricky, as they often present with non-specific histories and clinical signs. To diagnose pancreatitis in your pet, we may perform the following diagnostic tests:

  • Complete blood count
  • Serum biochemistry panel
  • Abdominal X-rays
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Pancreas-specific blood work

We cannot diagnose pancreatitis in your pet based on any single test, but an accurate diagnosis can be made when multiple indicators are combined with a suspicious history. Watch Dr. Man’s blog about how he uses Spec cPL testing, in combination with other diagnostics, to help differentiate pancreatitis from other causes of abdominal discomfort.  

How is pancreatitis treated in pets?

The earlier we diagnose pancreatitis in your pet, and begin appropriate, aggressive medical treatment, the better prognosis for your best friend. As soon as we have a diagnosis, we immediately work to reduce the pancreas’ inflammation, since untreated pancreatitis can kill your pet. If we know the specific cause, we will take steps to remedy that condition, while treating pancreatitis signs. 

Hospitalization with an intravenous (IV) catheter is often required for fluid therapy and electrolyte replacement, as well as injectable medications, to provide the most rapid form of relief for your pet. IV fluids are needed to rehydrate your pet and anti-nausea and anti-emetic medication to halt vomiting, as well as pain medication to relieve abdominal discomfort. If your pet has been vomiting, we will allow time for anti-emetic medication to take effect, and then offer a prescription diet. We feed an ultra-low-fat diet to dogs, and a moderately fat-restricted diet to cats. Watch Dr. Man’s blog about Bailey, a patient with pancreatitis, to learn how we resolved his painful condition.

Resolving pancreatitis successfully relies heavily on early diagnosis and treatment, to correct the inflammation before widespread organ damage occurs. At the first hint of illness, schedule an appointment with Dr. Man

If you couldn’t turn down your miniature schnauzer’s begging for bacon, and you now notice vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, and lethargy in your best friend, call us.