Reprinted with permission from Hindy Pearson, Caring for a Senior Dog. Copyright February 20, 2016.
If your dog has lost interest in food and is vomiting, often it’s just a passing thing. He may have picked something up out of the grass outside, or found something on your kitchen floor that seemed like a good idea at the time, but is now making him ill. On the flip side, it could also mean pancreatitis.
What function does the pancreas serve?
The pancreas sits behind the stomach, and produces and secretes digestive enzymes, essential for food digestion. It also produces insulin, which helps control metabolism and blood-sugar levels.
What is pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. Digestive enzymes, which usually lie dormant until they reach the small intestine, are activated prematurely in the pancreas, and start digesting it.
It can come on suddenly (acute), or keep reappearing (chronic). Basically, chronic pancreatitis is multiple attacks of the acute form.
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting/projectile vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Stomach ache
- Swollen abdomen
- Elevated heart rate
The exact cause of your dog’s pancreatitis may not be known, but there are several known causes that include, but are not limited to:
- a side effect of medication
- result of eating fatty/greasy foods
- high amounts of lipids or calcium in the blood
- Cushing’s Disease
- Trauma to the pancreas
- Older dogs
- Overweight dogs
What is interesting, and what also makes watching what your dog eat even more important is – even if your dog does not ordinarily eat a high fat diet, just eating a large amount of fatty food in one go can cause acute pancreatitis.
Dogs can usually recover from mild cases, but severe cases are more worrisome, and can lead to the death of your dog, as it did to one of mine.
Your vet can get a pretty good indication of whether or not there is a possibility of pancreatitis, based on what you tell him about your dog’s condition, and symptoms.
He will perform blood tests and urinalysis, and other tests such as ultrasound, x rays… are a possibility.
If it is a side effect of medication, your vet will discontinue the medication immediately.
Even if the exact cause is not known, your vet will still:
- Treat dehydration
- Provide pain relief
- Provide anti vomiting medication
- Take him off food to allow the pancreas to rest (how long is up to him – could be 2 or 3 days)
- Withhold water if still vomiting
- IV fluids
- Electrolyte therapy
- Possibility of antibiotics to fight infection
Depending on the severity of the attack, all this can be done in a few hours at your vet’s office, then your dog will be able to go home with some medication/electrolytes… (whatever your vet recommends).
A low fat, bland diet will be prescribed, the length of time to be determined by your vet, depending on your dog’s condition. It may be just until he recovers, or a permanent move.
If you follow a more natural or holistic diet, and the recommended diet is not, voice your concerns, learn what ingredients should be avoided and why. Bring the packaging of the food you prefer, to see if it’s suitable.
Your vet may want to repeat some of the initial tests, to monitor recovery and progress.
You won’t necessarily be able to prevent pancreatitis from ever happening, but there are precautions you can take to minimize the likelihood:
Don’t let anyone give your dog human food or table scraps
Make sure your garbage is out of reach
Be sure your vet is aware of all medications your dog is taking, to ensure none of them could potentially cause another episode
Many cases happen over the holidays, when rich fatty food is in abundance. Be extra vigilant about what your dog is putting in his mouth, and keep an eye on anyone slipping him food. If after repeated warnings no one is listening, put your dog in another room. Better safe than sick.
Pancreatitis can be very unpredictable. I’ve known dogs who have had it most of their lives, but a strict diet kept it pretty much under control.
In my dog Bailey’s case I think his death was caused by a combination of factors that created a perfect storm – my amazing vet was away, not thinking it was pancreatitis at the first sign, too many people involved at the clinic I went to, and a seemingly obsessive desire on the part of one vet to euthanize my dog.
Bailey was finally treated by my vet, but sadly by the time he got to him, it was too late. He was kept comfortable on fluids for 3 days, but he was never going to recover.
Mild cases, or dogs that had a “one off” episode don’t typically require more than a good diet, and diligence on the part of the family.
Chronic pancreatitis can lead to other more serious issues, so you want to be very strict in following all recommendations made in your dog’s treatment to avoid going down that very slippery slope.
Pancreatitis Fast and Furious – Conclusion
Sometimes your dog being sick, is just your dog being sick, and other times it is much more serious. If your dog is vomiting, call your vet’s office immediately. Let them know of your concerns, and be sure to mention anything your dog may have eaten. Pancreatitis can attack fast, and attack hard, so the sooner you start treatment, the better your chances of a positive outcome.
Hindy Pearson is dedicated to creating as complete a resource as she can, for people who share their lives with seniors. She is a Pet Care Consultant, offering in home consultations to people who are looking for behaviour and training advice. Hindy Pearson runs The Saffy Pearson Resource Centre, a mobile resource offering the same advice as her pet consultancy business, only this service is free when at various locations. Her dream is to open The Saffy Pearson Retirement Home for Abused and Abandoned Animals.