Focus on Nutrition – Pancreatitis

What is pancreatitis?

The pancreas is a vital organ which lies within the abdomen.  It has two functions: 

  1. To produce enzymes which help in digestion of food and,
  2. To produce hormones, such as insulin.

When the pancreas becomes inflammed, digestive enzymes are allowed to spill into the abdominal cavity where they can attack body tissues and this can result in damage to surrounding organs, such as the liver, bile ducts, gall bladder, and intestines.  The release of these digestive enzymes causes acute abdominal pain which vets refer to as pancreatitis.

 It is a disease process that is seen commonly in the dog or cat of any age, sex, or breed. However, it is more commonly seen in overweight pets and/or pets on a high fat diet.  

What are the clinical signs?

Common clinical signs are; nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea. But these signs can also be typical of many other gastro-intestinal diseases so veterinary clinical examination and diagnostic testing is important. The diagnosis of pancreatitis is based on the clinical signs along with laboratory tests and/or ultrasound examination.   Bouts can become quite severe, especially if left untreated and can result in shock and depression. 

How is pancreatitis treated?

The mild form of the disease is best treated by resting the pancreas from its role in digestion.  The only way to “turn off” the pancreas is to withhold food.  Patients are usually hospitalized so they can be supported with intravenous fluids to maintain normal fluid and electrolytes whilst the pancreas rests, along with anti-inflammatory or analgesic medication.

Will my pet recover?

The prognosis depends on the extent of the disease when presented and a favourable response to initial therapy.  Most animals recover well if presented early in the disease and dietary intake can be controlled before more damage occurs. Animals can get repeat bouts of pancreatitis in their lifetime. Preventing future bouts depends on good nutritional management, including low fat diets and weight loss.