Fatty Holiday Foods Can Give Your Pets Pancreatitis

Oct 27, 2019 | Cats, Dogs, Nutrition

The holiday season is upon us and it is time for celebration! Like most pet owners, I love to include my pets in the festivities of the season. This tends to mean I slip them some of the delicious food my family and I are enjoying. However, I am very cautious in what foods they get because I want to avoid the infamous pancreatitis — a debilitating and sometimes fatal condition.

During the holidays VETSS sees a significant increase in the number of pancreatitis cases. Follow these instructions you’ll be more likely to save your pets from a trip to the hospital.

What is Pancreatitis?

The pancreas is an organ that lives in the right upper side of the abdomen and produces things like insulin and digestive enzymes. The body has a defense system that prevents the digestive enzymes from “eating” the pancreas, but sometimes this system fails. When this system fails, the digestive enzymes start to eat the pancreas. The pancreas becomes inflamed in self-defense, which is pancreatitis. This inflammation mainly affects the GI system, but can impact the heart, liver, lungs, and even cause blood clotting.

Which Foods Cause Pancreatitis?

The most common cause of pancreatitis for our pets is eating fatty foods. Around the holidays this includes turkey (especially the skin), fat scraps, gravy, bacon, or items with lots of butter.

Other Causes of Pancreatitis

Other causes may be genetics. For instance, miniature schnauzers and poodles are more prone to pancreatitis. A pet with high cholesterol and obesity is also more likely to get pancreatitis. Finally, infections like toxoplasmosis, or inflammations in the liver or intestines can cause the pancreas to malfunction, too. And sometimes the cause of a bout of pancreatitis is never discovered.

What are the signs of pancreatitis?

For dogs, the most common signs are an upset GI tract. This may include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. For cats, the signs may be vague. Other signs may include lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, and jaundice (where the skin turns yellow).

How is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosing pancreatitis is a physical exam.

A physical exam may include:

  • A complete blood count — which helps evaluate dehydration, infection, inflammation, and potentially problems with clotting
  • Biochemistry — which evaluates problems with the liver, kidneys, and blood proteins
  • An electrolyte test — these are commonly imbalanced when an animal has been vomiting or having diarrhea
  • A cPLI/fPLI — This specifically tests for pancreatic enzymes.

Depending on your pet’s history, physical exam and diagnostic findings your veterinarian may recommend additional testing. For example, if your pet is a senior and has an abnormal result on its pancreatic enzyme test (cPLI/fPLI), but hasn’t eaten anything unusual, your veterinarian may recommend radiography or an ultrasound to check for other causes, such as cancer.

How is pancreatitis treated?

The physical exam gives veterinarians important information on where to start testing and treatment plans. The most common way to treat pancreatitis is to hospitalize and administer IV fluids and symptomatic care. IV fluids allow dehydration to be corrected quickly and help restore electrolyte balance.

Most patients will also need pain medications and anti-nausea medications. Most patients are hospitalized for 24-48 hours or until their symptoms resolve and they start eating. In very rare and special cases, patients may have out-patient therapy where medications are sent home. The course of treatment will be recommended by the veterinarian based on physical exam and diagnostic findings.

Are there ways to avoid pancreatitis?

In most cases: Yes!

Avoid giving your pet high fat, rich foods, no matter how much they beg for it. For some pets, especially ones that are genetically more prone to pancreatitis, low fat diets will be required for their lifetime. For others like animals more prone to GI inflammation, such as pets with food allergies or irritable bowel disease, keeping these diseases under control will help reduce the chances of pancreatitis. Even if steps are taken to prevent pancreatitis, there is no guarantee that your pet will not develop it.

Most pets suffering from a bout of pancreatitis will survive. In very rare cases it may result in death. No matter what, it’s best to get it diagnosed or treated. If you suspect that your pet may have pancreatitis, please call us and come in for a visit. VETSS wishes everyone a happy holiday season!

— Dr. Garza

For more information, contact our team at VETSS, a Charlottesville VA urgent care animal hospital!

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