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, which is a vital gland in the abdomen, near the stomach, liver, and intestines. When a dog or cat is suffering from pancreatitis, an animal owner may notice a loss of appetite, pain after eating, vomiting and diarrhea. A dog may stand in a “prayer position” by stretching the body out to decrease pressure on the abdomen and may have a yellow tint to the gums, whites of the eyes, or skin, which is jaundice. Cats with pancreatitis show a more subtle set of signs, such as a stop in eating and an increase in hiding. Jaundice can also occur in cats.
“If your animal shows signs of pancreatitis, it is critical that a veterinarian assesses your animal quickly,” says Courtney North VMD, Diplomate ACVIM (SAIM). “The 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.” North is a board-certified veterinary specialist in internal medicine.
Your veterinarian may describe two main types of pancreatitis, though there is often overlap between the two forms.
- 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.
Pancreatitis can be extremely dangerous, even terminal, so it is critical to seek out care when you notice potential signs.
What might cause pancreatitis?
Causes of pancreatitis can include:
- 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.”
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)
- Abdominal ultrasound
- 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.
If you have concerns about your dog or cat, and you need to locate a board-certified internal medicine veterinarian, use the VetSpecialists.com search tool on the website’s homepage. The tool allows you to search for a veterinary specialist then select the type of animal along with your location by zip code or city name. Contact the hospital of your choice to discuss your pets’ symptoms and to review whether there is a need for a referral from your primary care veterinarian.