By: Dr. Hilary Slaven
One disease that we veterinarians notoriously see around the holidays is one that seems to come on quickly and is quite serious. It is classically characterized by loss of appetite, painful belly, listlessness, and vomiting hours after a rich fatty meal.
Pancreatitis (Pronounced “Pain-cree-uh-ti-tis”) is a swelling of the pancreas, which is a small organ that lives near the stomach and liver in the front of the abdomen (nearest to the diaphragm and chest). It’s normal function is to provide enzymes (proteins that break down food in the intestine) and hormones for normal body functions.
The cause for this disease is largely unknown. It is a complex disease to diagnose and to treat, and can potentially become a chronic (long term) illness. Veterinarians do have blood tests that can help diagnose the disease, along with a good history from an owner and physical exam. Often imaging such as an x-ray and/or an ultrasound can help narrow down the diagnosis as well as look for other potential causes for stomach pain and vomiting, such as an obstruction in the intestine, masses, etc.
Often dogs and cats that present with this disease have little to no appetite and are listless, not drinking, and may or may not have vomited.
The mainstay of treatment for this disease is supportive care, which typically involves staying in the hospital overnight (perhaps for multiple nights) with fluids given through an IV catheter and pain management. Anti-nausea medication can be important as well.
This is a complex disease and there are many variations as to treatment plans and recovery. It is not uncommon to take several days to weeks to get back to normal exercise and activity level. In some cases, the pet must change some habits in order to prevent recurrence of pancreatitis. This can include a diet change to a lower-fat, more ‘pancreas-friendly’ diet.
While eating your yummy Thanksgiving dinner this week, remember to keep your furry friend from eating table scraps and instead give them a rationed amount of pet-friendly treats so that you all can celebrate in good health.