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Pancreatitis in dogs and the risk of fatty festive foods

What exactly is pancreatitis?
Basically its inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas contains lots of enzymes for digesting the food we eat but in pancreatitis these enzymes start to digest the pancreas itself.

Why do these enzymes suddenly start to digest the pancreas?
The enzymes in the pancreas are usually inactive and only become activated once they are secreted into the intestines. In pancreatitis however these enzymes become activated whilst they are still in the pancreas and start to digest it.

What causes pancreatitis?
We don’t know for sure but its related to several risk factors including obesity and fatty foods. Skinny dogs on low fat foods can get pancreatitis but they are at lower risk.

Ah so with Christmas coming up people need to be cautious about feeding fatty left overs.
Fatty left overs should be avoided all year round really but I think people are more likely to give fatty treats at Christmas time. Its ok to give table scraps that you yourself would eat but if its all the fatty bits covered in gravy and maybe even butter then don’t be tempted to load them all into the dogs bowl.

How serious is pancreatitis?
Its very serious. It can be life threatening.  It can affect the whole body. It can cause liver damage and kidney failure and heart failure.

Is it treatable?
There is no specific treatment. We treat the symptoms and try to keep them alive until the pancreas has chance to settle down again. They need to be hospitalised for several days on intravenous fluids and pain relief and in the mean time are allowed nothing by mouth.

Is there any permanent damage caused?
If its a mild case then probably not but certainly in severe cases the dog may be left with permanent kidney damage and sometimes may end up with diabetes and need daily insulin injections for life.

How do people know if their dog has pancreatitis? What are the symptoms?
It will look like a severe tummy upset with vomiting and severe abdominal pain. They often drink lots of water too and are off their food. They are all pretty non specific signs really and blood tests are needed to make the diagnosis.

Can anything be done to prevent pancreatitis.
We don’t fully understand what causes it and so the only advice we can give is to avoid very fatty meals. Certainly dogs that have had pancreatitis will need a special low fat diet for the rest of their lives to prevent it recurring.

So  go easy on the Christmas left overs for your dog this year
Yes thats the take home message for today.

Do cats get pancreatitis?
Yes they do but its quite rare and its usually due to a specific disease in cats rather than diet so its not quite the same as in dogs.
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