Pancreatitis is a condition that leads to the inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis refers to a glandular organ that produces important hormones including insulin and glucagon, and other components that help with the breakdown of food and with general digestion. Pancreatitis can be either acute or chronic, meaning that it may present itself either with no previous symptoms, or can develop slowly over time and flare up repeatedly as a recurring condition. Whilst not massively prevalent within the canine population, it is nevertheless a relatively common condition that can affect dogs and cats, and can range in severity from quite mild to serious. The condition is seen in vet practices more and more often, and more commonly in older pets.

It is more common in pets eating processed (kibble) and cooked (Tins/trays) pet foods, but rarely seen in pets that eat a raw food diet.

Do you know the signs and symptoms of pancreatitis, how to minimise the chances of your dog contracting the condition, and how it can be treated?

The causes of pancreatitis in dogs and cats
Pancreatitis can flare up without warning, and the exact causes for the condition and the full range of potential risk factors are not fully understood. Some studies suggest pancreatitis is due to a result of an extremely high fat diet, that causes “auto-digestion” and acute inflammation of the pancreatic tissue . another study suggests that pancreatitis could actually be triggered by pancreatic “exhaustion” Some studies show, that the levels of enzyme production slowly degraded by the daily process of digestion during ageing. Nevertheless, there are a range of elevated risk factors that are considered to contribute to the development of the condition:

Obesitycan lead to strain being placed on the pancreas, especially in dogs/ cats that are fed a high-fat diet. Make sure that your pet stays at a healthy weight and is not given a lot of fatty foods. Metabolic problems can lead to a condition known as hyperlipaemia, which means that fat cannot properly be broken down in the bloodstream. This in turn can lead to pancreatitis. Bacterial or viral infections, especially when left untreated for long time, can lead to pancreatitis. A physical trauma to the abdomen or area surrounding the pancreas may trigger pancreatitis. Existing medical conditions including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, epilepsy or Cushing’s disease may lead to higher risk factors for pancreatitis in dogs.

Symptoms of pancreatitis
Pancreatitis in pets may be chronic or acute. The acute form of the condition is more common for a first attack, and symptoms may develop quickly in affected animals. Some of the main signs of pancreatitis to be on the lookout for, especially if your pet has a heightened risk of contracting the disease due to one of the factors described include:

  • Nausea and vomiting ·
  • Diarrhoea ·
  • Loss of appetite·
  • Excessive water consumption, especially if followed by vomiting ·
  • Abdominal pain or tenderness ·
  • Weakness and lethargy ·
  • Dehydration ·
  • Sunken eyes

Diagnosing pancreatitis
If you think that your pet has pancreatitis or is showing a combination of some of the above symptoms, it is important to seek vet treatment and get an oddicial diagnosis for them as soon as possible. Your pet will get a physical examination and clinical evaluation, taking into account your pet’s general health and history. If your vet considers that pancreatitis may be likely, they will then take a blood sample for analysis of the digestive enzymes present within the blood and white blood cells to reach a definitive diagnosis. 

Treating pancreatitis
The first step in treating pancreatitis, is to place your pet on an enforced fast (removing food and water) to immediately reduce the strain placed on the pancreas. This is usually done on an inpatient basis, as IV fluid therapy is required in order to avoid dehydration. This enforced fast may take place for anything from two to five days, and understandably, will make your pet rather unhappy. Various medications may also be given in order to treat infections of the pancreas or reduce inflammation or pain, and ongoing monitoring of the condition is vital in order to establish how your pet is coping and assess the efficiency of the treatment used

Dietary management for pets with pancreatitis
Once a pet has contracted pancreatitis, they will become more prone to developing the condition in the future, so it is important to monitor your pet carefully after successful treatment so that you will be able to spot any potential recurrence of the condition. Feeding a good, nutritionally complete diet that is not high in fat can help to keep any future flare-ups under control, and can help to prevent recurrences of the condition. If we can accept that the pancreas does have a finite level of function, which is not greatly different to that of any other organ, than the type of food eaten, and the level of pancreatic output required to digest that food, will have a long term impact on the longevity of that organ.

Studies have shown that cooked foods do require a higher enzyme output from the pancreas to effectively digest the food. Studies on laboratory rats demonstrated that rats fed a cooked food vs raw food shown a 20% increase in pancreatic hypertrophy (pancreatic weight) when fed cooked meals. If we accept that raw food does contain enzymes that assist food breakdown (compare what happens to a raw steak and a cooked steak when left at room temperature over 7 days), then it makes sense that cooked food actually does need a higher pancreatic output to effectively digest, and that an animals pancreatic function will be more quickly exhausted when fed a cooked meal.

The prognosis for pets with pancreatitis
Pancreatitis is usually a manageable condition, although it does tend to flare up and recur periodically throughout the life of an affected pet. Up to 60% of pets that are treated for the condition have a higher risk from future flare-ups over the course of the rest of their lives, although this does of course vary from case to case. Try to minimise the risk factors for your pet contracting pancreatitis in the first place, and always seek veterinary advice promptly if you suspect that something is wrong, to give your pet the best chances of recovery from the condition and to help to keep them healthy and well for life.

Given that dogs and cats have evolved over millions of years eating raw food, is it surprising that changing their diet to a fully cooked meal could be A if not the cause of an increased risk of pancreatitis. Pets that are raised on a raw food diet are less likely to have to deal with pancreatitis, or other chronic degenerative diseases that can be linked to poor nutrition.

A diet change (to a raw food diet) will make a huge difference in the long run. A dog with pancreatitis may benefit from being fed pancreas, but it should not have any effect on a dog with no health issues.Pancreas  should only be fed to a dog that is fully transitioned on to a raw diet at 5%. In combination with a change to raw food, adding pancreatic enzymes to the diet (like Enzyplex powder) can help to create a “reverse” effect on the pancreas, and effectively supplement a failing organ.

Some references and several other sources