Certain factors, including dietary indiscretions, obesity, and your pet’s breed, can predispose pets to pancreatitis. As the holidays approach, pancreatitis cases typically increase. Therefore, our team at Animal Medical Hospital of Naples wants to provide information about this painful, potentially life-threatening condition, to help decrease your pet’s risk.

Normal pancreatic function in pets

The pancreas is a small organ that plays a significant role in ensuring your pet remains healthy. Sitting under the stomach, adjacent to the duodenum (i.e., a part of the small intestine), the pancreas’ two sections have different jobs.

  • Glucose regulation — The endocrine pancreas secretes hormones, including insulin and glucagon, that regulate glucose. Glucagon promotes glycogen breakdown to glucose in the liver, and insulin is needed to transport glucose from the bloodstream to the cells, to be used for fuel.
  • Digestion — The exocrine pancreas produces digestive enzymes, which are transported to the small intestine, where they are activated and help break down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

Pancreatitis in pets

Normally, the digestive enzymes produced by the exocrine pancreas are not activated until they reach the small intestine. When these enzymes are prematurely activated, they begin to break down the pancreas and surrounding tissue, resulting in inflammation. This process is called pancreatitis. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, lethargy, and abdominal pain, often presented by your pet as a hunched posture.

Pancreatitis causes in pets

The trigger for pancreatitis cases is not always known, but several circumstances can be causative.

  • Obesity — Overweight pets are at higher risk, because they have an altered ability to metabolize fats.
  • High-fat meal — Pets who ingest a high-fat meal are at higher risk, because their pancreas secretes excess digestive enzymes to break down the fats.
  • Breeds — Certain breeds, including miniature schnauzers, terriers, domestic short-haired cats, and Siamese cats, are at increased risk.
  • Trauma — Trauma from a car accident or surgery can cause inflammation to the pancreas, and result in pancreatitis.
  • Medications — Certain drugs, including anti-seizure medications, sulfa-containing antibiotics, and chemotherapy agents, can put your pet at higher risk.
  • Endocrinopathies — Hyperadrenocorticism, hypothyroidism, and diabetes mellitus put your pet at higher risk. 
  • Tumors — Pancreatic tumors can cause localized inflammation, resulting in pancreatitis.
  • Reflux — Small-intestinal fluid contains enzymes that activate the digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. The digestive enzymes can be prematurely activated, if the small intestinal fluid refluxes up the pancreatic duct.

Treating pancreatitis in pets

Treatment for pancreatitis is supportive, because no cure is available. The exact treatment course will depend on your pet’s condition severity. Therapy involves:

  • Intravenous fluids — If your pet is dehydrated, fluid therapy is typically started as soon as possible, to help return normal blood flow to the pancreas, and other body tissues. The severity of your pet’s dehydration will determine whether fluids are administered intravenously or subcutaneously (i.e., under the skin).
  • Pain relief — Pancreatitis is a painful condition, and your pet will need medications to help manage their pain.
  • Antiemetics — Pancreatitis frequently causes nausea and vomiting, which will require anti-emetics to control.
  • Antibiotics — Antibiotics may be needed, if secondary bacterial infections occur.
  • Diet change — We recommend switching pets who have had pancreatitis to a low fat formula, such as Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Low Fat, Hills I/D Low Fat, or ProPlan Purina EN Low Fat.  

Preventing pancreatitis in pets

Although not all pancreatitis cases can be prevented, you can decrease your pet’s risk by taking a few precautions.

  • Weight — Keep your pet at an ideal weight. Ensure they are fed an appropriate food at an appropriate amount, and exercise them regularly.
  • Treats — Limit your pet’s treats. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that treats comprise no more than 10 percent of your pet’s diet.
  • Table scraps — Never feed your pet table scraps, and especially avoid high-fat foods.
  • Garbage — Prevent your pet from scavenging in the trash.

Following this advice can help decrease your pet’s pancreatitis risk. Keep these tips in mind as the holidays approach, to ensure your pet doesn’t end up in the emergency room on Thanksgiving day. If your pet is having gastrointestinal issues, contact our team at Animal Medical Hospital of Naples, so we can determine what is causing their distress.