Pet411: Helping your pet cope with pancreatitis

ST Meeks Blog Logo Image 2016 01 28It can be so frustrating to be a pet owner sometimes. It may be obvious that your dog or cat is not feeling well, but finding the source of the problem can occasionally prove difficult.

That’s especially true for pancreatitis, which can be serious if left untreated but can be tricky to diagnose. I’ve heard from a couple of different Pet411 readers who have pets struggling with pancreatitis, so I wanted to do what I could to shed some light on this troubling condition.

In a nutshell, pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, the organ that helps pets (and people) digest their food properly. Once inflamed, the pancreas no longer functions properly and the digestive enzymes  become overactive. These enzymes will still do what they are designed to do which is break down fats and proteins. But in addition to digesting food, they’re now digesting the actual pancreas. If it isn’t caught, the disease can ultimately result in severe organ damage and even death.

So how will you know if your dog or cat has pancreatitis? As I said earlier, it can be really difficult to know, which is why you should err on the side of caution and contact your family veterinarian if your pet begins exhibiting common symptoms. These may include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and a painful abdomen.

Unfortunately, even your family veterinarian might not be able to tell for certain whether your pet has pancreatitis. There is a blood test for the disease, but it can’t rule out other possible conditions. An ultrasound can show whether there is significant inflammation of the pancreas, but this won’t show up until the disease is quite advanced.  In most cases, pancreatitis is diagnosed based on a combination of symptoms, a positive blood test result (PLI), and an abnormal pancreas on ultrasound.

There is no specific medication to cure pancreatitis. What your veterinarian will do is help treat the symptoms your pet is experiencing.  Medicine can help relieve your pet’s pain, vomiting and diarrhea, while appetite stimulants can encourage eating.  Giving your pet plenty of fluids will also counteract any dehydration experienced as a result of the condition.  In most cases, your pet will not be able to drink fluids as this may result in more vomiting so it may be imperative to rehydrate with fluids at the veterinary clinic.

If the disease is serious enough to warrant hospitalization, the veterinarian will carefully monitor your pet’s electrolytes, albumin (a type of protein) and other organs for signs of damage.

Unfortunately, no matter how careful you may be, there’s no guarantee that a pet who experiences pancreatitis won’t suffer a relapse. That’s why it’s very important to try to manage your pet’s diet. Talk to your veterinarian about transitioning to a low-fat pet food formula and stop giving people food as treats. You’ll also want to do everything you can to help your pet stay at his or her ideal weight.

To those readers with pets who have experienced pancreatitis, I hope that your furry friends are back to their old selves by now. For those who would like more information, I encourage you to click here or talk to your family veterinarian.  

Have a question about your pet that you’d like answered? Write to Dr. Cathy Meeks at She’d love to hear from you, and your letter may be picked for an upcoming Pet 411 column.