Avoiding Pancreatitis this Christmas

Written by Dr Michelle Trevan

Over the summer months, the warmer weather often means more social gatherings.  

The barbeques get fired up, and as a result, more titbits and food scraps are on offer to our pets.  

Although many animals can handle these extra treats, just as many dogs (and sometimes cats) can become very sick from eating these “fattier” foods and can develop a condition called pancreatitis.

The pancreas is a small organ that sits in the front part of the abdomen, near the stomach and liver. 

It plays an incredibly important part in the healthy function of the body as a whole. 

Its major roles include secreting digestive enzymes into the small intestine, to help with breakdown of foods, and to keep blood sugar levels stable, by secreting insulin. 

If the pancreas becomes inflamed, these digestive enzymes leak into the pancreas instead, often causing a lot of pain and discomfort. 

In more chronic cases (those animals with repeat bouts of pancreatitis) the pancreas can become so shrivelled and scarred that insulin secretion ultimately becomes affected – resulting in diabetes.

Other risk factors for pancreatitis (apart from eating fatty foods) can include infection, obesity, ingesting certain toxins or medications, or having other underlying diseases such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease or Cushing’s disease.

Symptoms to watch for vary between dogs and cats.

Dogs with pancreatitis will often stop eating and drinking and start vomiting. 

Other common symptoms include abdominal pain, being quieter than normal, diarrhoea, hunching of their back and a fever.

Cats on the other hand are instinctively hard-wired to hide any signs of pain and discomfort.  

They may show more vague signs like weight loss, changes in behaviour, inappetence and sometimes vomiting.

Along with a thorough clinical exam, blood tests and abdominal ultrasound are usually required to get a diagnosis. 

There may be other testing recommended to rule out any other underlying diseases.

Treatment usually depends on how severely your animal is affected. 

Many animals require hospitalisation until they are well enough to keep foods down and the pain is controlled; for some animals this can involve quite a lengthy stay.  

If hospitalised, your pet will be placed onto intravenous fluids which helps with rehydration, be given anti-vomiting drugs, strong pain relief and antibiotics via injection. 

In some cases, nutritional support is required (using a feeding tube) until your animal is well enough to start eating again.

When your pet is able to go home, we will often recommend staying on a low fat diet and limiting fatty treats, as subsequent bouts of pancreatitis become much more likely once an initial episode has occurred.