My Dog Has Stomach Pain. Could it Be Pancreatitis?

Diagnosis, Dogs

Pancreatitis is a painful condition that afflicts some dogs. There are quite a few different causes of pancreatitis: Trauma, cancer, breed-specific conditions, and diet are all known causes. For the purpose of this post, we will focus on dietary related pancreatitis.

First of all, What is the Pancreas?

The pancreas is a digestive organ that is situated right next to a dog’s stomach and small intestine. One of its main functions is to aid in digestion by releasing chemicals called enzymes that break down different components of food.

Examples of some enzymes that are released by the pancreas are lipase which digests fat, and amylase which digests sugar. With normal feeding, the body recognizes there is food within the GI tract and it signals the pancreas to release digestive enzymes so that the body can absorb nutrients from the food.

How Changes in a Pet’s Diet Can Cause Pancreatitis

When a dog is fed anything outside of its normal diet, its body senses the composition of this new food item and tells the pancreas how to respond. With certain food items, however, the pancreas can cause more harm than good. For example foods that are high in fat, protein, or sugar pose the greatest risk.

Take, for example, a piece of steak fresh from the grill. When a dog is given this meal, it’s body recognizes the high fat and protein composition and tells the pancreas to release copious amounts of lipases and proteases to aid in digestion. This exuberant release of enzymes begins to digest not only the piece of steak but also the tissues around where it was secreted. The result is widespread inflammation affecting several different organs including the pancreas, small intestine, stomach, liver, and mesentery.

Signs of Pancreatitis

This inflammation can cause several different clinical signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and inappetence. Mild cases may only cause loose stool for several days while more severe cases result in all of the above and can lead to death. Although many cases occur and resolve in a matter of days, some dogs may develop chronic (long-lasting) pancreatitis.

Your Veterinarian’s Approach to Diagnosing Pancreatitis

Many times your veterinarian can correlate clinical signs with recent history of ingestion of a rich food item and make the diagnosis of pancreatitis. There are also several lab tests that can be performed to confirm that diagnosis. Imaging, such as abdominal x-rays and ultrasound, can be useful tools in making this diagnosis. Additionally, there are specific tests that measure the amount of lipase within a dog’s body to directly confirm pancreatitis.

Common Treatments for Pancreatitis

Although pancreatitis generally causes similar signs, no two cases are the same. As such, treatment will be tailored to the clinical signs affecting the dog. In general treatment is aimed at keeping the patient hydrated and restoring any fluid lost with vomiting and diarrhea, controlling pain and nausea, and treating any diarrhea that may occur. Dogs diagnosed with pancreatitis also need low fat easily digestible food to allow the pancreas and stomach to rest. In general, most patients do quite well with symptomatic treatment of pancreatitis and time.

Preventing Diet-Based Pancreatitis

The majority of dogs are fed a consistent diet of commercially available dog food. With consistency, the dog’s body can anticipate the chemical composition of its food and respond with the appropriate digestive enzymes.

If you have questions about what is and is not safe for you to feed your dog please contact us at EMRVC. In general, high fat food items such as steak, bacon, pork, and other red meats should be avoided. With this information, we hope you can make smart and educated decisions about what to give your fluffy friend this summer.

– Dr. Wesley Leggett

Essex Middle River Veterinary Center provides medical and surgical care for cats and dogs at our animal hospital and veterinary clinic in Essex, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. Our services include preventive wellness care exams, vaccines, spays/neuters, and a variety of specialized care. Our state-of-the-art veterinary offices are conveniently located near I-695 where we see pets from Towson, Honeygo, White Marsh, and other neighboring Baltimore areas.

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