Canines suffering from pancreatitis are going to suffer some level of discomfort, but the severity will depend on whether the dog experiences the acute or chronic form of the disorder. Both types can be life-threatening, but the acute form makes it obvious your dog has something seriously wrong with him. In the chronic form, pain might be moderate enough that it's hard to pinpoint a problem.
The Pancreas' Function
Your dog's pancreas, located beneath his stomach, produces insulin and enzymes necessary for food digestion. If it becomes inflamed, resulting in pancreatitis, these enzymes don't flow into the digestive system as they normally would but instead head into the abdomen. Because they are digestive enzymes, they start breaking down other organs. That's potentially deadly and extremely painful.
Pancreatitis Symptoms and Diagnosis
Many pancreatitis symptoms resemble those of other gastrointestinal disorders. Affected dogs might vomit, stop eating and drinking, and experience diarrhea. In dogs with chronic pancreatitis, such symptoms might come and go over long periods. Because of abdominal pain, dogs often appear hunched over. In severe cases, breathing difficulties and heart arrhythmias occur. Because symptoms are general, diagnosing pancreatitis isn't easy, especially in the milder form. Routine tests such as complete blood counts and serum chemistry won't reveal whether pancreatitis is the specific culprit. Your vet must perform a lipase test specific for the pancreas to measure blood enzyme levels. As the California-based Mar Vista Animal Medical Center website warns, "In some cases, surgical exploration is the only way to make the correct diagnosis."
Breed and Other Predispositions
Although any dog can come down with pancreatitis, certain breeds are more at risk. These include miniature schnauzers, cockers spaniels and miniature poodles. If your dog already has diabetes or hypothyroidism, his hormones are out of whack, which predisposes him to pancreatitis. Certain medications, such as antibiotics containing sulfa, can cause pancreatitis in vulnerable canines. Chemotherapy for treating some cancers can trigger the disease. Pancreatitis also strikes fat canines more often than those at a healthy weight. The dog most likely to suffer from pancreatitis is an overweight, senior female.
Treatment Over Time
There's no magic pill to cure pancreatitis, although your vet can prescribe medication to control pain. Dogs in severe pain usually receive intravenous painkillers. Once diagnosed, your dog will likely be hospitalized and given IV fluids, with food withheld for a few days to rest his digestive tract. Your vet can prescribe a lowfat diet for your dog that he will probably have to eat for the rest of his life. If your dog's pancreas has been badly damaged from his bout with pancreatitis, he's at a higher risk of becoming diabetic. You should take him to the vet for regular monitoring.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.