The pancreas normally gets little notice, but it can cause big problems when it becomes inflamed
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
No one gives the pancreas much thought until it causes trouble. But when it does, watch out!
Pancreatitis -- the “itis” suffix indicating that the organ is inflamed -- is a common occurrence in dogs. When it’s happy, the pancreas works quietly in the background, but when aggravated, it becomes angry and temperamental.
My dog Keeper is currently fighting his second bout with the fleshy-looking endocrine organ, which produces the hormones insulin and glucagon, as well as digestive enzymes that break down carbs, proteins and fats so the body can use them.
The reasons it becomes inflamed are unclear, and signs of inflammation -- vomiting, appetite loss, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever -- are also common to many other diseases. Pancreatitis should be considered, though, in dogs with vague but recurring digestive or intestinal problems.
Clinical signs, lab test results and imaging findings are all important in diagnosing pancreatitis, but even then the answer may not be clear.
Blood work alone is not sensitive enough to render a diagnosis, says veterinary internal medicine and critical care specialist Tony Johnson, and enzyme tests can have false positives. “A negative will tell you it’s probably not pancreatitis, but you can still see a positive with non-pancreatitis diseases,” he says. “Ultrasound will pick up about 70% of cases. There are some signs on X-rays that you can pick up, and those are commonly done when you’re working up a vomiting dog.”
The combination of diagnostic techniques also aids in gauging the severity of the condition and the dog’s prognosis.
Pancreatitis is unpredictable in the way it progresses. Its effects may be limited to the pancreas and liver, or it may cause tissue damage and inflammatory response throughout the body. Some cases are mild while others are life-threatening or even fatal. Some dogs have a single acute case while others may develop low-level chronic pancreatitis.
While any breed or mix can develop pancreatitis, studies show that cavalier King Charles spaniels like Keeper are at higher risk for chronic pancreatitis, as are collies and boxers. Cocker spaniels have increased risk for both acute and chronic pancreatitis. Dr. Johnson has seen a large number of schnauzers with pancreatitis.
“Any schnauzer that comes in with abdominal pain and vomiting puts it up the list a little bit for me,” he says.
Breed is not the only factor. Excessive fat intake, getting into garbage, surgery in the area near the pancreas, trauma such as being hit by a car, and hormonal imbalances can also trigger this sensitive organ. Other contributing factors include obesity and age -- middle-aged and older dogs are more at risk. Keeper has never been overweight, but he is about 13 years old.
Dogs with pancreatitis can experience severe abdominal pain. Keeper is normally a chowhound, so it was a red flag when he didn’t want to eat. Medication to treat nausea and pain helped reignite his interest in the food bowl, which, filled with a bland, low-fat, easily digested diet, aided his recovery as well.
In addition to medication and supportive care such as IV fluids, a restricted-fat diet is the mainstay of treating pancreatitis, says Lindsey Bullen, DVM, DACVIM (Nutrition), who practices at Blue Pearl in North Carolina. That’s because it helps to give the pancreas a break.
“With pancreatitis, high dietary fat stimulates the pancreas to release digestive enzymes, but because of the inflammation, the inappropriately activated digestive juices leak out and potentiate the inflammation associated with the pancreas.”
Because each dog is an individual, it’s a good idea to work with a veterinary nutritionist to choose a commercial diet or formulate a home-prepared recipe suited to a particular dog’s case.
To help prevent a recurrence, talk to your veterinarian about a weight loss plan if your dog is overweight. Preventing access to garbage or fatty foods is important, too. Avoid anything that can anger the gut, such as abrupt changes in diet, Dr. Johnson says.
like to drink
Q: Does my cat really need a water fountain? Why can’t he just drink out of a bowl?
A: The body needs water to flush wastes, lubricate joints, transport nutrients through the bloodstream and help regulate body temperature. A fountain might not be a necessity for your cat, but it has benefits. Here’s why it’s something to consider.
Depending on age and species, water is a major component -- 60% to 80% -- of a cat’s body. Cats need more water when they’re active, when it’s warm or hot in their environment, and when they’re on medications that can cause thirst, such as alprazolam for anxiety or steroids for skin problems.
Fountains encourage pets to drink more water. Cats, in particular, become dehydrated easily. The more water they drink, the healthier they are. The splash and burble of fountains attracts their interest, unlike bowls of flat water. It’s difficult for cats to see water that’s not moving, so they’re less likely to lap at it.
A fountain allows you to track how much water your cat is drinking, which helps you keep tabs on health. At our house, we fill the fountain with a large measuring cup so we can track the cats’ intake. This way we’re more likely to notice if we’re having to fill it up more often or if remaining water is at a lower level than normal. Monitoring water consumption lets us recognize sustained changes that might indicate medical issues such as diabetes, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism or Cushing’s disease.
If your budget doesn’t allow you to spring for a fountain, try leaving a faucet on to drip just a little at a time. Your cat will be attracted by the movement of the water and can dabble in it and drink from it as much as he wants. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
dog entry rule
-- An update to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule allows dogs vaccinated in the U.S. by a U.S.-licensed veterinarian to reenter the United States from high-risk rabies countries if they have a valid U.S.-issued rabies vaccination certificate, proof of a microchip, are at least 6 months old, are healthy on arrival and enter through an approved port of entry. Approved ports of entry are the 18 airports with CDC quarantine stations: Anchorage (ANC), Atlanta (ATL), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Detroit (DTW), Honolulu (HNL), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), Minneapolis (MSP), New York (JFK), Newark (EWR), Philadelphia (PHL), San Francisco (SFO), San Juan (SJU), Seattle (SEA) and Washington, D.C. (IAD). Dogs whose U.S.-issued rabies vaccination certificates have expired will not be accepted, and owners must apply for a CDC dog import permit. Dogs who have not been in a high-risk country in the previous six months do not require a rabies vaccination certificate or a CDC dog import permit. They must be healthy on arrival and vaccination against rabies is recommended.
-- Holidays have inspired many pet names, according to Embrace Pet Insurance, which raided its files to come up with a cornucopia of hundreds of dogs and cats with seasonal names: Ginger, Cookie, Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, Angel, Joy, Noel, Snow, Mittens, Frosty, Comet, Dasher, Blitzen, Vixen and Rudolph. The most popular name is Buddy, with more than 1,000 pets named after everyone’s favorite elf, and there are even five named Santa -- no doubt to ensure that they stay on the Nice List.
-- The dogue de Bordeaux is named after the capital city of the region in France where the dogs originated. They are also sometimes called French mastiffs or Bordeaux dogs. The DDB became widely recognized in 1989 after one appeared in the Tom Hanks movie “Turner and Hooch.” -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.