The summer weather is perfect, your patio is all set to go and the BBQ is lit. It’s the perfect day to have a few friends over. Right as you turn back to the BBQ to flip your quarter pounders you realize about half of them are missing. Some rustling in the nearby bushes tells you that you’re not alone…as you approach slowly you see evidence of your big beige golden doodle munching on some leftover burgers. He has managed to eat almost a dozen! You are most likely thinking, ‘my friends will arrive any minute, what will I make for everyone to eat on such short notice?!’ BUT, what you should be thinking is, ‘are all of those burgers going to harm my dog and how sick could he possibly get?’ The answer to this is: very sick! He could end up with an illness called pancreatitis.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: What is the Pancreas?
Before pancreatitis can be understood, you must first understand the pancreas itself. The pancreas is an organ which lies below the stomach and next to part of the small intestine. It is a very important organ to every living creature and carries two main functions:
1/The first function is that it helps you to break down the food you’ve eaten by secreting digestive enzymes.
2/ Secondly, it helps to control your body’s blood sugar levels.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING PANCREATITIS?
During pancreatitis, the pancreas becomes inflamed and swollen. This inflammation will actually stop the pancreas from working properly and results in digestive enzymes being released when they’re not supposed to be. This causes even more inflammation which can sometimes also carry over into the adjacent liver. Toxins are then produced which causes an inflammatory response throughout the entire body.
As if this weren’t bad enough, the pancreas’s ability to control sugar levels are also sometimes affected. This can result in diabetes for the patient! Sometimes diabetes may only be temporary, but it can also end up being permanent.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR? Symptoms:
Dogs who develop pancreatitis usually exhibit several classic symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea. As well he or she will have a general lack of appetite and an increase in body temperature (fever).
Furthermore, pancreatitis is an extremely painful ailment and therefore your dog will normally show signs of pain or discomfort in the abdominal area. He or she may not want their stomach area touched or handled, and they may resist being picked up. *When animals experience abdominal discomfort, they may also change the posture of their bodies by hunching their back.
UPSET STOMACH OR PANCREATITIS? The Diagnoses:
If your dog happens to get into the trash or steals what’s left of your butter dish, he or she may end up with nothing more serious than an upset stomach. An upset stomach usually results in vomiting or diarrhea, which also happens to be a prominent sign of pancreatitis. So, the big question is, how can you tell the difference?
Your veterinarian must make the diagnosis! The clinic will take a history and perform a physical exam on your pet, noticing any discomfort in areas such as the abdomen. During the physical exam, the animal’s temperature is also taken, which will determine any rise in body temperature. If there is any suspicion that your dog may have pancreatitis, your vet will then perform a quick blood test. Many clinics, such as the Lansdowne Animal Hospital, will perform this simple blood test in a very short period of time while you wait! If the results come back abnormal, your pet will then be treated accordingly.
NOW THAT I KNOW WHAT IT IS…What is the cause?
The cause isn’t always known, but occasionally there are conditions which can predispose animals to this ailment. These conditions are as follows:
-Imbalances which alter the breakdown of fat within the body (Ex: diabetes)
-Eating large quantities of fatty foods: This can cause a condition called Hyperlipidemia. Hyperlipidemia means that there are high levels of fat circulating in the blood stream. This condition can be brought on by consuming high fat table scraps or getting into things such as the garbage.
-Any trauma to the pancreas
-Tumours of the pancreas
-Specific breeds, such as miniature schnauzers (due to differences in their genetic make-up).
-The use of certain medications or exposure to chemicals (some insecticides) can make an animal more susceptible to pancreatitis.
Because the pancreas is stimulated by food passing through the body, the pancreas needs to be given a break. Therefore, the patient will not be allowed to consume food or water for a few days. He or she will also be placed on IV fluids during this time to allow adequate hydration and electrolyte balances within the body.
Once the animal is given the ok to eat again, they should be placed on a low fat diet. Less fat reduces the amount of pancreatic stimulation. Because of this, the animal may be put on a low fat diet long term. This long term dietary management may prevent future pancreatic flare ups.
Pain medications are also a very critical factor in treating pancreatitis, as it can be a very painful disease. If the animal is in less pain they will also recover much quicker!
Additional medications include: anti-nauseants to prevent vomiting, and prophylactic antibiotics. Pancreatitis is not bacterial but bacterial infections from affected intestines can occur commonly with this ailment.
Although, even once the inflammation has cleared, the animal may have some pancreatic scarring. In some cases, the pancreas may no longer be able to produce insulin anymore (regulates blood sugar levels) and the animal goes on to develop diabetes. This can be temporary or permanent depending on the amount of damage done and the ability for the pancreas tissue to recover itself.
In conclusion, pancreatitis is a very serious disease which can affect several areas of the body. Keep an eye out for your pet and the classic symptoms of pancreatitis, if un-sure; please speak to your vet. A proper diagnosis can normally be made through your pet’s veterinarian in a quick and accurate blood test, sometimes performed right in office. Until then, keep a close eye on your BBQ and enjoy the rest of your summer!