Resisting your pet’s begging eyes as you take your last bite of bacon, or when you happen to walk by their cookie jar, can be so difficult. Pet owners frequently show their furry pals love by giving them a tasty treat or sharing a meal. These treats are appreciated and loved by pets, as evidenced by their slobbery kisses, cuddles, and wagging tails. However, too much, or only a little of a good thing can be dangerous for your pet. Pancreatitis is a dangerous medical condition that can affect cats and dogs. Our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team answers common questions about pancreatitis in pets. 

What is pancreatitis in pets?

Pancreatitis is a painful and potentially life-threatening inflammatory condition of the pancreas that can occur in pets. The pancreas is a small glandular organ near the stomach that secretes digestive enzymes to help break down nutrients in the small intestine. The pancreas also secretes the metabolic hormones insulin and glucagon, which regulate how ingested nutrients are used throughout the body. A disruption in normal pancreatic activity can lead to abnormal release and activation of digestive enzymes, which can cause inflammation in the pancreas and other organs such as the liver, in addition to other parts of the body. Pancreatitis can also cause disruptions in insulin production, leading to diabetes. Additionally, pets with pancreatitis have increased risk for abnormal bleeding, clotting problems, and brain damage. Often, there is no definitive cause for pancreatitis in pets; however, there are many risk factors. The most common culprit in dogs is the sudden ingestion of a fatty meal, which many pet owners have experienced during holidays or celebration times when mischievous pets investigate the garbage. Certain breeds, such as miniature schnauzers, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, and Yorkshire terriers also have increased risk of developing pancreatitis. Other risk factors may include:

  • Hormonal imbalances (i.e., hypothyroidism, diabetes)
  • Trauma to the pancreas 
  • Pancreatic tumors
  • Insecticide exposure (i.e., organophosphate)
  • Certain medications (i.e., chemotherapy agents, sulfa drugs)
  • Irritable bowel disease in cats
  • Toxoplasmosis in cats
  • Feline distemper infection

What are pancreatitis signs in pets?

Pancreatitis signs can vary from mild to severe depending on the underlying cause and duration. Recognizing pancreatitis signs in cats can be especially difficult, since 90% of affected cats will never show obvious signs. Common signs may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Low temperature in cats

How is pancreatitis diagnosed and treated in pets?

Bring your pet for a veterinary exam immediately if they have any pancreatitis signs. Pancreatitis is extremely painful for pets and can be deadly without treatment. Many pets will require a hospital stay for about a week to provide them with intravenous (IV) medication and close monitoring. Your veterinarian will perform a nose to tail exam and may recommend a specialized blood test to diagnose pancreatitis. Additional tests may include blood work to check for systemic inflammation and overall organ function, and imaging such as ultrasound or X-rays to examine the size, shape, and function of the pancreas. Once your pet is diagnosed with pancreatitis, treatment may include:

  • IV fluid therapy to flush the pancreas and correct dehydration 
  • Pain medication
  • Anti-nausea support
  • B12 vitamin injections
  • Special low-fat diet

Fortunately, with aggressive medical care, most pets with pancreatitis will recover. However, many pets will require a special low-fat diet for several weeks and follow-up veterinary checks. 

How is pancreatitis prevented in pets?

Because the cause of pancreatitis cannot always be identified, pet owners may not be able to fully prevent this painful disease from occurring in their pets. However, important steps can decrease your pet’s risk of developing pancreatitis.

  • Weight Ensure your pet maintains a healthy weight, and use this chart as a guide to monitor your pet’s overall body condition. Generally, you should be able to easily feel, but not see, your pet’s ribs. During your pet’s preventive care exams, your veterinarian will weigh them and discuss ways to ensure they maintain a healthy weight.
  • Blood work — Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend annual or more frequent blood work to monitor your pet’s organ health and to check for metabolic disorders that can increase your pet’s risk of developing pancreatitis.
  • Diet — Ensure your pet has a complete and balanced diet that meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials standards for their species and life stage. Additionally, use caution when feeding your pet treats, and ensure treats do not make up more than 10 % of their daily calorie intake. Avoid feeding your pet any people food, and always consult with your veterinarian before changing or adjusting your pet’s diet.

Our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team hopes you never have to experience the stress and worry of a pet being diagnosed with pancreatitis. Regular preventive care visits are vital to identify pancreatitis risk factors and ensure your pet remains healthy. Call our office if you have any questions about pancreatitis, or schedule an appointment if you are concerned your pet is showing pancreatitis signs.