In order to understand some medical issues that our dogs face in their lives, we need to ensure we are aware of what to be on the look out for. Dogs are capable of getting many of the same illnesses that humans get, and yet we don’t always realize what they are. When it comes to life threatening serious illness that can affect our dogs I want to know as much as possible so hopefully I can catch the warning signs early enough.
Our dog BOO first was diagnosed with pancreatitis when he was about 8-9 years old.
The first reaction we had was, what is the story with dogs and pancreatitis. I had never even heard about a dog getting pancreatitis before. If I didn’t know what it is was, how the heck could we catch it early.
What is pancreatitis
To understand what pancreatitis is, we need to think about a dogs digestive system. The pancreas is a very important part of dogs endocrine system that plays an integral part in digesting food.
The pancreas is responsible for producing the enzymes that help digest food and produces insulin in the body. Insulin helps regulate the body’s blood sugar or glucose metabolism.
When there is a disruption in this process of the flow of enzymes, the pancreas becomes inflamed and this is called pancreatitis. This flow of enzymes is forced out of the pancreas and into the abdomen.
By the time this happens, the enzymes that are forced into the abdomen start to actually break down the fat in other organs. So effectively the body is in disarray and starts to digest itself. Close to the pancreas is the liver and kidney so when the enzymes are out of sync the entire abdomen can be inflamed. This can also cause an infection within the abdomen. At this point there can bleeding within the abdomen which can lead to shock and even death.
Once there is inflammation in the pancreas it can rapidly progress. If not caught early there can be severe damage to the organ. However if we are able to recognize the early symptoms it can be treated without having long term damage.
On the flip side of that if it is not caught early it can even cause brain damage.
There are two kinds of pancreatitis, acute or chronic. Acute means a sudden onset of symptoms with no previous history of pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis comes on very slowly.
Early detection is the key to avoiding any long term effects from pancreatitis. Some symptoms to be on the look out for are when your dog is experiencing a mild case of pancreatitis are: loss of appetite, lethargy, uncomfortable abdomen and diarrhea.
When there is an attack of the pancreas that is severe your dog may lift up his hind end, put their head and front paws down. Other symptoms that your dog may encounter are:
Fever, depression, vomiting, increased heart rate, fatigue, trouble breathing, mild to severe abdomen pain, dehydration, sepsis and even anorexia.
There is no certain dog breed, age or sex that has a predisposition for pancreatitis but smaller breeds seem to be more likely to get pancreatitis.
Now that we know what it is and the signs to watch out for, what causes pancreatitis?
Well to be honest, there is not just one cause that you can point to and say this and only this is the cause. Now in saying that, there are red flags of a few things that can have a direct cause.
A dog that eats a lot of table scraps, a high-fat diet or is obese can actually cause pancreatitis. Even giving a dog one meal of a very fatty content all at once can cause an attack. Dogs are not equipped to handle extremely fatty binge type eating. This would be an example of an acute pancreatitis as it comes on quickly and without warning.
There is also certain medical conditions like hypothyroidism which is an excessive adrenal gland disease like Cushing’s disease that can cause pancreatitis. Severe trauma, surgery, diabetes and even certain drugs can also cause this.
In BOO’s case the first time he had pancreatitis we never did find the real cause, he did however have two more occurrences in his life. Those two were caused by the fact that he was diagnosed with Cushings disease.
As we know a Cushing’s diagnosis can be one of the major causes of a serious pancreatitis attack.
When you take your dog to the vet with concerns about your dog, the first thing that they will do is take your dog’s history if they don’t already know it.
They will do a physical exam of your dog and will check your dogs abdomen for discomfort or swelling. They will then run some blood tests to test for the presence of pancreatic enzymes. An increase in white blood cells and elevated pancreatic enzymes can really help lead them to a diagnosis. Looking at the liver can also be an indication of a serious pancreatic problem.
Some other tests that they may want to do are x-ray’s and even do an ultrasound. Even doing a biopsy of the pancreas is something that may lead to helping with the diagnosis.
Our first situation with BOO were luckily on the milder side and were diagnosed by a blood test, x-ray and ultrasound. These few tests were able to give us his diagnosis.
When the Vet gives you the diagnosis of pancreatitis, they will start treatment right away. Depending on the severity of the pancreatitis there maybe some variation in the best treatment that your dog will need. In really severe cases your dog will have to stay in the hospital to make sure that your dog requires 24 hour medical care.
One thing that the Vet may want to do is give your dog IV fluids to help with the dehydration that your dog is likely suffering from. Giving your dog medication to help stop the vomiting and relieve the nausea.
If the pancreatitis is less severe, your dog will still likely require medication to help with the nausea or vomiting. Restricting the amount of food and water that your dog has will depend on how bad the vomiting is.
Extremely severe pancreatitis can occur if there is a blockage in the pancreas that is causing the inflammation, an accumulation of fluids or if part of it has been damaged beyond repair. Surgery will be needed to fix any of these serious issues.
For the less severe cases, once the medication for the vomiting has started doing its job, food maybe slowly introduced. Your Vet will likely change the food that you were feeding your dog prior to the attack and switch to low-fat food as well as low-fat treats.
Your Vet will also most likely prescribe an antibiotic to help protect your dog from getting an infection in the abdomen.
Keeping your dog hydrated is also something that is very important in your dogs life moving forward. Regular visits to your Vet maybe required to help make sure your dog is on the right path.
BOO’s treatment by the Vet was to put him on Medicam for the nausea and vomiting. He also was prescribed an antibiotic pill to ensure that he didn’t develop an infection from the pancreatitis.
There was also a very important change that we had to make was to switch him to a very low-fat diet and literally limited any treats whatsoever for a while at least. When we did go back to giving him treats it was things like a small piece of cucumber, or a piece of tomato. Things that are healthy for them to have.
Preventing a reccurance
A dog that has had pancreatitis before has an extreme likely hood that they will encounter it again in their lifetime. These recurring episodes can be mild to very severe.
There are some tips that can help you to ensure you can help prevent another pancreatitis attack or episode. Ensuring your dog eats a low-fat diet with little to no treats. Do not feed your dog table scraps at anytime if they have had a pancreatitis attack or episode.
Switching to smaller meals more frequently can also help. I know for BOO we switched to the smaller more frequent meals and it really was super successful.
If the cause of your dogs pancreatitis is due to their weight, then the most important thing would be help your dog lose the excess weight. Regular exercise will be a key element to the weight loss. Make sure that you don’t overdo it with your dog all at once, make the changes slow and steady. Overall keep your dog as healthy as you can.
The good thing about all these valuable tips that can help your dog from having another pancreatic attack is they are simple things that will really help protect your dog.
Watching the food that they eat, how much they drink and making sure they get enough exercise, are things that we should be doing everyday for our dogs anyway.