Acute Pancreatitis in Dogs

The pancreas is a V-shaped gland found within the abdomen along the area between the stomach and the first stretch of small intestine. The primary job of the pancreas is twofold insulin (to produce the endocrine function) and to secrete inactive digestive enzymes and the chemical bicarbonate (the exocrine function).Insulin, which is secreted into the blood in response to carbohydrate and protein ingestion, is one of the hormones implicated in diabetes and administered therapeutically to diabetics to ensure the body can process digested sugars.

When released into the intestines, digestive enzymes help to break down ingested food. The pancreas also secretes bicarbonate that neutralizes the stomach acid that enters the small intestine from the stomach. The digestive enzymes and bicarbonate are delivered to the intestine via ducts leading from the pancreas.The vast majority of cases of pancreatitis are a result of sterile inflammation, which is brought on by the body alone, and occasionally of secondary infections caused by microorganisms.

The pancreas becomes inflamed when the pancreas fails to stop activation of the digestive enzymes while they are still within the gland. In cases of pancreatitis, the digestive enzymes are released into the pancreatic tissue and the surrounding tissues within the abdominal cavity, usually because the outflow duct is not functioning properly.

Additionally, some of these digestive enzymes and other chemicals found naturally in the pancreas are released systemically into the bloodstream where they can affect multiple organ systems. In normal body function, there are a series of inherent defense mechanisms that prevent this from occurring; however, once pancreatitis occurs, these backup systems become overwhelmed and break down. This leads to a snowball effect, and the gland’s situation only worsens.

Pancreatitis may be acute, with no long-term effects, or chronic, involving a permanent abnormality of the gland.

Acute pancreatitis is defined as reversible pancreatic inflammation. In cases of chronic pancreatitis, which usually involves recurrent flare ups of acute illness, permanent changes occur in the pancreatic tissue. Your veterinarian can’t tell the difference between these two types of the disease, although symptoms of acute pancreatitis are usually more severe than those seen with chronic form. Acute pancreatitis can quickly lead to systemic inflammation, shock, and even death, and thus should be taken with utmost seriousness and be treated aggressively.

Some common causes of pancreatitis include obesity, elevated levels of lipids in the blood, ingestion of a very fatty meal, other diseases, and steroids. Numerous cases of pancreatitis are diagnosed after holidays, during which dogs often are given meat or fat scraps. This can be a one-time occurrence due to a dietary indiscretion or be a cumulative development in at-risk dogs. Concurrent diseases such as high-serum triglycerides may make pancreatitis more likely in some dogs.

Unfortunately, in many cases of pancreatitis no clear cause can be determined. This is because symptoms associated with the disease may be either obscure and mild or very clear and severe. Some dogs recover completely with appropriate medical therapy and dietary modifications, whereas others die from severe illness and secondary complications.

The course of pancreatitis is usually unpredictable and may be slow. Complications and severe consequences of the disease can include shock; inflammation and fluid accumulation within the abdomen; sepsis; respiratory problems; irregular heartbeat; liver and kidney failure; and abnormal bleeding and clotting.

Additional results of chronic pancreatitis can include recurrent pancreatitis, pancreatic pseudocysts, pancreatic abscesses,diabetes, and insufficiency of pancreatic enzyme secretion. Systemic manifestations, such as systemic inflammatory response syndrome, may lead to multiple life-threatening complications within the lungs; blood clotting system; and liver and kidneys. The presence of one or more of these problems along with pancreatitis complicates the chance of full recovery, as your pet’s body can become overwhelmed trying to compensate for and correct several ailments at once.

Whenever your pet is showing signs of a health issue your first step is to contact your primary care veterinarian. If it is indicated that your pet may suffer from pancreatitis or other serious condition, a veterinary specialist is available at an ExpertVet certified or affiliated hospital.