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Does your Dog or Cat have a Painful Abdomen? Speak to Your Veterinarian About the Possibility of Pancreatitis

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, a vital gland found in the abdomen, near the stomach, liver, and intestines. When a dog or a cat is suffering from pancreatitis an owner may notice a loss of appetite, pain after eating, vomiting and diarrhea.  Dogs often stand in a “prayer position”, stretching their body out to decrease pressure on the abdomen in an attempt to relieve the pain, and they may have a yellow tint to the gums, whites of the eyes, or skin, which is called jaundice. Cats with pancreatitis show a more subtle set of symptoms, such as a decreased appetite, vomiting, weight loss and hiding behavior. Jaundice can also occur in cats.

Pancreatitis can be extremely dangerous, even terminal, so it is critical to seek out care when you notice potential signs. Inflammation of the pancreas can have severe consequences, even life threatening, both short term and long term. This is because the pancreas makes insulin which controls blood sugar levels, and makes enzymes that help your animal digest food properly so that nutrients can be absorbed

There are two main types of pancreatitis: 

Acute pancreatitis – this form may allow the pancreas to heal completely Chronic pancreatitis – while your pet still has the potential to feel good and have a good quality of life, this form may cause long-lasting or permanent damage.

What might cause pancreatitis?

  • Genetics: Some breeds are much more likely to develop pancreatitis than others, including miniature Schnauzers, English Cocker spaniels, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, collies, and Boxers. Siamese cats are more likely to develop pancreatitis than other cat breeds. However, any breed can develop pancreatitis.
  • Diet: Eating something too fatty or even eating something that may not be unhealthy, but is different from your pet’s normal diet, can lead to pancreatitis.
  • Trauma: For example, being hit by a car can cause pancreatitis.
  • Medications: Some drugs, such as organophosphates (in older generation garden products), azathioprine, potassium bromide, L-asparaginase, cisplatin and thiazide diuretics, have been linked to pancreatitis. It is not possible to predict which animals will develop pancreatitis on these medications.
  • Infections: Bacterial abscesses in the pancreas are much less common in cats and dogs than in people. Other infections such as fungal disease, toxoplasmosis, flukes, Babesia, and viruses have caused pancreatitis, but these causes are often very specific to certain parts of the world.
  • Disease: Certain hormonal diseases, such as hypothyroidism, have been linked with pancreatitis, but the link isn’t always well understood. In addition, cancer of the pancreas can cause pancreatitis.

Cats have slightly different anatomy than dogs and commonly have pancreatitis associated with liver/gall bladder infections and/or inflammatory bowel disease, sometimes referred to as “triaditis.”

Tests

In addition to asking for the owner’s observations of signs, a veterinarian will likely require the following tests toward a diagnosis:

  • Basic and specific bloodwork, including a PLI (pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity)
  • Radiographs (X-rays) and/or Abdominal ultrasound with possible surgical biopsies

A combination of the above tests may be required to determine a diagnosis of pancreatitis or another disease that can cause similar clinical signs but may require different treatment. The objective of treatment is to keep the dog or cat hydrated while treating nausea, vomiting, and pain. The veterinarian will also discuss prevention of another bout of pancreatitis, which may include lifelong changes including diet, supplements or medications.

What to Expect After Treatment

Some cases of pancreatitis will heal completely, while others may show damage that accumulates over time, particularly if your pet has had multiple episodes of pancreatitis or particularly severe pancreatitis has developed. In exceptionally severe cases, long-term diseases such as irreversible kidney disease, diabetes mellitus or pancreatic insufficiency may develop and may require lifelong treatment. Even with excellent treatment, severe cases of pancreatitis can result in death. Your veterinarian’s goals are to help you, and your pet, do well during a flare up of pancreatitis and also to help prevent or minimize future occurrences.

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