Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreatic organ. It can either be a sudden onset disease which can be life threatening or a slow progressive disease.
What are the signs of pancreatitis
dogs- gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, pain)
cats- vague, non specific signs
Often animals will be lethargic, depressed and anorexia(not eating). Weight loss is common in cats.
There are other signs that your animal might display.
How will the vet know if my pet has this disease
The most common way of diagnosing pancreatitis is with a blood test. There is a specific blood test that looks at the pancreas and can tell if it is inflammed. Your vet will most likely run a comprehensive blood test to ensure that there are no complicating problems. The more information your vet has about what is going on inside your pet, the more effectively he or she can be treated.
Based on clinical signs, blood tests and ultrasonography your vet may be able to diagnose this disease. It is sometimes quite difficult to diagnose even with the results of blood tests, so occasionally a biopsy of the pancreas may be performed to confirm a diagnosis.
Image from ACVIM annual proceedings.
What will be done to my pet in hospital
Animals that have been diagnosed with pancreatitis will be admitted to hospital. It is a very serious condition and can be life threatening
Usually animals are placed on intravenous fluids (a drip) and not given any food or water. This can be for up to 3-4 days to give the pancreas time to recover. Remember, everytime you eat or drink the pancreas works to release digestive enzymes to help absorb what you have ingested. By starving the animal, it allows the pancreas time to "rest".
Your animal will be given drugs to stop vomiting. Vomiting is one of the most common signs seen in an animal with pancreatitis.
As this disease is very painful, your animal will be placed on pain killers.
Antibiotics may be given if abscessation or infection is suspected
Other medications may be added to the "drip bag" to maintain the correct acid/base balance within the body
If the pancreas has abscessed, your animal may required surgery to remove abscessed or devitalized tissue.
(there are many complicating factors and associated conditions that may require multiple monitoring blood tests, so be prepared).
How long will my pet be in hospital
This is a very difficult question to answer and depends on the severity of the disease and also the individuals response to treatment. Despite good treatment and care some animals unfortunately do not survive this disease. Some animals will be in hospital for a week, others may only stay for several days. Your vet will be able to give you daily updates and progress reports but may not be able to give you a definite discharge time.
What happens when my pet comes home?
Once animals have recovered from this disease they will be sent home with a brand new diet. It is really important to feed your pet a very low fat diet. This will need to be for the rest of their life to try to prevent any reoccurence of the disease. There are prescription foods available and the we usually send animals home with WD food from Hills Prescription Science Diet. It is low fat, usually well tolerated and also helps with weight loss. (A large number of animals who get this disease are overweight).
It is more expensive that regular food, but we usually encourage people to stick with it as the cost of treating animals who are suffering from pancreatitis is very high. They need intensive care and are constantly monitored and this comes at a price.
However, if the food is just too expensive you can make a home made diet. Stick to low fat, high fibre, highly digestable foods.