Pancreatitis is a common disorder among dogs–and can become life threatening if left untreated–but the good news is–it’s normally fairly easy to control. Pancreatitis is basically severe inflammation of the pancreas, a gland located in the abdomen that aids in metabolism of sugar and digestion of nutrients. This article will focus on symptoms to look for, possible causes and treatments for canine pancreatitis.
1. Look for the signs of canine pancreatitis which may include: lack of appetite or “picky” eating, vomiting, gagging, an oily, gray stool or diarrhea (that may contain blood), depression, weakness, excessive or little water drinking and abdominal tenderness.
2. Observe your dog’s dietary habits, which can aid your vet in making a diagnosis. For instance, does he eat a lot of table scraps or get into the the garbage? Eating “off limit” foods may bring on pancreatitis.
3. Bring your dog to the vet for a physical examination and blood panel if you suspect pancreatitis. The pancreas enzyme “numbers” will help your vet to make a diagnosis.
4. Feed your dog an easily digestible, low-fat diet if the diagnosis is pancreatitis. Cooked or boiled chicken (no skin or bones) and rice is a safe choice to start out with. To ensure your dog gets additional nutrients many vets recommend mixing in a small amount of Hill’s Prescription Diet w/d or i/d canned formulas. There are other veterinary diets such as Royal Canin that have foods formulated for pancreatic health as well. After feeding the special diet for a week or two (depending on the severity of the pancreatitis) you can gradually work in your dog’s regular food. If it’s chronic pancreatitis your vet may recommend keeping your dog on the prescription dog food, or if you prefer, a low-fat homemade diet. If you choose the prescription dog food diet, you can gradually work in the dry version of the prescription formula and continue to feed canned mixed with dry or switch to solely dry. If your dog is obese your vet may prescribe a special dietary formula.
For dogs prone to food allergies, a lower-fat, limited ingredient allergy formula like Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Fish and Potato, Duck and Potato or Venison and Potato or perhaps the vegetarian formula may work better than Hill’s Prescription Diet, which contains corn and chicken meal, both known to cause allergies in dogs.
5. Give your dog small amounts of water frequently, especially if there’s vomiting. Fluid therapy may be necessary if your dog becomes dehydrated.
6. Administer any medication prescribed by your vet. If your dog has been vomiting, the vet will likely prescribe an antacid and/or medication such as reglan along with an antibiotic such as cephalexin, and perhaps a pain medication if necessary. Metronidazole is a weaker, secondary antibiotic that may be prescribed and is often an ongoing treatment for dogs with chronic pancreatitis.
7. Return to your vet for repeat blood work and an examination after a round of medication is completed. Your vet may want to do a pancreas-specific blood panel. If the results are still not normal, your vet will likely prescribe further medication and possibly X-rays to detect a cause such as blockage. The vet might also want to do an abdominal ultrasound to eliminate the possibility of a pancreatic tumor (which is considered rare in dogs).