By Dr. Andrew Jones
The pancreas is one of the key organs responsible for digestion of food, as well as production of insulin, helping to regulate blood sugar. It is found next to the small intestine (duodenum), and up beside the stomach. It is the digestive enzymes which cause the problems in pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is described as inflammation of the pancreas. The digestive enzymes ‘ooze’ from the pancreas, as opposed to being released into the intestinal tract. These enzymes digest and inflame adjacent tissues, (i.e. liver, intestines, stomach wall) causing a variety of problems, and a severe inflammatory response. In some cases of pancreatitis, diabetes can also result.
Pancreatitis is one of the primary causes of a very serious condition called DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation). This leads to abnormal bleeding, and blood clotting at the same time, and often results in death.
Fortunately most cases of pancreatitis are localized, affecting the pancreas and liver, and do respond to treatment.
In dogs the classic signs are loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, painful abdomen, and fever. In cats, being lethargic and having a loss of appetite are the most common signs. Only a small percent of cats vomit with pancreatitis, while virtually all cats with pancreatitis lose their appetites. Nearly 1/2 of cats with a condition called fatty liver (hepatic lipidosis), have pancreatitis.
There is no specific cause. We see it more commonly in overweight dogs, in specific breeds, such as Miniature Schnauzers, Miniature Poodles, Cocker Spaniels and Siamese cats. The condition can happen quickly and be very severe (acute) or be an ongoing problem with mild flare-ups (chronic).
In dogs it is often happens after consumption of a high fat meal (i.e. bacon); the pancreas gets overworked in production of the enzymes to digest all the fat and becomes inflamed.
Some medical conditions predispose dogs to pancreatitis; hypothyroidism, and diabetes mellitus. Certain drugs can trigger the disease; the sulfa antibiotics, chemotherapy drug azathioprine, drug for epilepsy, potassium bromide and the diuretic, furosemide (lasix).
In cats it is associated with inflammatory bowel disease, and exposure to flea medications (organophosphates), and the previous mentioned medications.
The diagnosis of pancreatitis is based on clinical signs, along with blood tests assessing pancreatic function; newer tests that are pancreas specific are more effective (PLI test).
SEE YOUR VETERINARIAN. Pancreatitis can be life threatening, especially when it happens quickly. Your veterinarian can perform blood tests to determine if the pancreas is the source of the problem and discuss action steps. Severely affected pets need to be hospitalized and placed on IV fluids. Some of the chronically affected pets may respond to some of the following home treatments.
FLUIDS. Pets with pancreatitis frequently become dehydrated. Give them small amounts of water frequently. Giving them too much water all at once will stretch the stomach and trigger the pancreas to produce digestive enzymes. They often respond better when water is supplemented with an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte. Give a 10 lb dog or cat 1/4 cup every 3 hours, 6 doses daily.
SUBCU FLUIDS. The mainstay of treatment for pancreatitis is not giving your pet anything orally that inflames the pancreas and allows it to heal. In practice I often sent clients home with directions on administering subcutaneous fluids. This involves an IV Fluid pack, along with an 18-20 gauge needle; 100 ml per 10 lbs twice daily is an average amount given. Your veterinarian can give you specific instructions.
24 HOUR FAST. Along with fluids, this is the primary mode of treatment for dogs; for cats you want to encourage feeding, or force feed ASAP. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes in response to food entering the stomach. Stop all food intake for 24 hours. Then begin feeding bland cooked rice for the next 24 hours. Do not introduce regular food again until Day 3.
BLAND DIET. Prevent pancreatitis from recurring in your pet by altering the diet. Your dog should be on a lower fat, low carbohydrate diet. Your cat should be on a canned high protein, higher fat diet. Any cat with non-specific signs (such as occasional loss of appetite, fever, and intermittent vomiting) should be suspected of having pancreatitis. There are commercial higher protein diets for cats, but as of now none developed for dogs.
ANTIOXIDANT THERAPY. There are two antioxidants that seem to reduce the severity and frequency of pancreatitis. They even seem to speed recovery in an attack. They are Vitamin C and Selenium, and every pet that has recurring pancreatitis should be on them: give 100 mg per 10 lbs of body weight daily of Vitamin C, and 5 ug of Selenium per 10 lbs of body weight daily.
HOMEOPATHICS. Homeopathy is particularly helpful in that your dog or cat does not have to swallow the tablets to have the positive benefits. IRIS VERSICOLOR. These can be particularly helpful: give one 30C tab 3 times daily for 3-5 days during an attack. ARSENICUM. The major remedy for Garbage Gut, and food poisoning. Dose 30C every 2 hours for 1- 2 days.
Heal Your Pet At Home!
Dr Andrew Jones, DVM
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