Pancreatitis: Official Veterinary Killjoy Of The Holidays

by Dr. Greg Magnusson, DVM

The breeds particularly predisposed to pancreatitis are
Schnauzers and Yorkshire Terriers.
The pancreas is a squishy, pink, nebulous little organ that lives alongside the section of intestine that’s just past the stomach. The pancreas in dogs serves an odd combination of functions: it produces digestive enzymes that help digest fats, and oh by the way, the pancreas is also the organ that makes insulin, which allows all the cells in your body to use the glucose you absorb from your food. Far be it to question the design of the inside of your dog, but from a veterinary standpoint, it probably would have been better if those two functions had been separated into two different organs. Anyhoo…

Anything that annoys the pancreas causes vomiting. 

Lots and lots of vomiting.

Pain in the abdomen, patches of inflammation that sort of do, sort of don’t show up on x-ray, thickening of the pancreas that can sometimes be seen on ultrasound, and very few changes on blood tests. Back in the day, vets used to use amylase and lipase tests to diagnose pancreatitis in dogs, because amylase and lipase are those enzymes mentioned above that digest fats, and presumably, if there’s a bunch of free floating enzyme in your blood, it’s because bits of the pancreas were leaking enzymes.

Unfortunately, half of dogs with high amylase and lipase do NOT have pancreatitis, because there are a ton of other causes of enzyme leakage besides pancreatitis. 

Whoops! Worse yet, half of dogs that really, truly do have pancreatitis, do not have elevated Amylase and Lipase. D’oh! So Amylase and Lipase are more… suggestive of pancreatitis, rather than diagnostic.

Therefore, mad props to the Idexx Veterinary Laboratory people for coming up with a “SNAP” test for canine pancreatitis (Spec cPL or SNAP cPL)! These geniuses isolated the pancreas specific component of lipase in the blood, then made a handy little plastic test I can run table-side, that is 95% sensitive and specific for pancreatitis. Woohoo!

So now that we can diagnose pancreatitis, what can we do to treat it?

Well, not much unfortunately. 

There is no wonder drug that cures pancreatitis. Even though inflammation is involved, anti-inflammatories have been proven ineffective (and might actually make things worse). Fluid therapy is a must, often requiring hospitalization.

We used to encourage not feeding a dog with pancreatitis, but now we’ve decided that was bad advice. 

Veterinarians now encourage feeding a low-fat food as soon as the dog is able to keep it down, sometimes even using surgically implanted feeding tubes to get food from bowl to belly.

Nausea drugs sometimes help, and the best ones are injectable, again requiring hospitalization.

Because nothing we give patients with pancreatitis is actually speeding healing, and recovery depends 100% on the body’s ability to heal itself, the duration of hospitalization may be up to several days ($$$).

Worse yet, a dog that gets pancreatitis once, might get it again and again. 

Worst of all, sometimes pancreatitis is fatal. 

Oh, and remember that other function of the pancreas, producing insulin? Some dogs who survive an episode of pancreatitis become diabetic.

Basically, pancreatitis sucks. It’s best not to get it in the first place.

How do we prevent pancreatitis in dogs?

Which brings me to the holidays. Why, you ask? Because the most common predictable, preventable risk factor of pancreatitis in dogs is feeding an unusually high-fat meal. That turkey skin and drippings you figured couldn’t hurt your dog, or that piece of fat off your T-bone or pork chop, or that bacon grease you randomly decide to add to her kibble, or even a few slices of bologna, might end up causing pancreatitis and kill your dog. No joke. Just don’t do it.

TODAY’S CONCLUSION: A consistent, quality diet is critical for preventing pancreatitis in dogs.

Don’t be tempted to tempt Fido with Fat.

Reprinted with permission from Leo's Pet Care, 10598 N College Ave # 200, Indianapolis, IN 46280 | |

Greg Magnusson, DVM describes himself as Leo's daddy. Public educator, mender of wounded bodies, healer of troubled souls, veterinarian in Indianapolis at Leo's Pet Care - out to change the world for one little boy...
Contact Dr. Magnusson via his Leo's Pet Care Facebook Fan Page or @IndianapolisVet on twitter.

Articles by Dr. Magnusson:
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Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Anal Glands 
What Causes Bladder Infections in Dogs?
Indianapolis Vet On The Nose Bleeds Nightmare
Why Does My Vet Want To Xray My Dog?
Natural Home Remedies For Hot Spots 
When To Take A Vomiting Dog To The Vet 

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