Pancreatitis in Dogs. Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
One day you come home to find your dog obviously in pain. He is arching his back and not too interested in moving. What is going on? Do you need to rush to the emergency vet? Will your dog be okay?
Well, the above scenario could be pancreatitis. Pancreatitis often comes on suddenly and can be very scary and life-threatening. The faster you act the better the outcome you will have. So, let’s take a deeper look at what pancreatitis is, the symptoms, and the treatment options.
What Is Pancreatitis?
Well, first let’s explore the pancreas and what it does. The pancreas is a small but vital organ in the body. It creates an assortment of digestive enzymes to help with the breaking down of food. These enzymes travel to the small intestine where they become activated and help out with digestion. Without these enzymes, your dog will not get all the nutrients that he needs from the food that you feed him. So, this is a very, very important organ.
Pancreatitis is any kind of inflammation of the pancreas. This could be caused by trauma to the pancreas after some kind of accident or it can be caused by the pancreatic enzymes activating too soon. If the pancreatic enzymes activate before reaching the small intestines they will have no food to digest. This means that they will actually start to digest the pancreas. This is incredibly painful, imagine being eaten alive from the inside. This is one of the reasons that pancreatitis is a life-threatening situation.
Symptoms Of Pancreatitis
There are many different possible symptoms of pancreatitis. A dog suffering from pancreatitis may have only a few symptoms or it may have all the symptoms. So, here is a list of symptoms to keep an eye out for:
- Hunching or arching of the back, sort of like a surprised cat
- Repeated vomiting or diarrhea, sometimes with blood
- Pain in the abdomen
- Distension in the abdomen
- Disinterest in food and water, leading to dehydration, check for tacky or dry gums this is a sign of dehydration
- Little desire to move and/or restlessness
- Irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
If you see your dog displaying these signs get them to the vet immediately. Pancreatitis can lead to organ failure, shock, and death. So, please take these signs very seriously and get your dog to the vet. The sooner you can calm the pancreas, the less damage will be done.
Causes of Pancreatititus
There are many possible causes of pancreatitis. Here are a few of the more common causes:
- Meals that are very high in fat and/or carbohydrates. Especially if the fats are of poor quality. Use caution when feeding leftovers to your dog and make sure that he cannot scrounge around through the trash
- Eating a large number of bugs. Bugs of all varieties often contain toxins that can trigger pancreatitis
- Type one diabetes
- Endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism
- Some medications or other toxins
- Severe infections
- Autoimmune diseases
- Vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies
- Very high stress
Once you get to the vet they will run a few tests to make sure that they are indeed dealing with pancreatitis. First, a physical exam. The vet will often be able to tell right away that the pancreas is causing the pain. They will also check your dog’s gums to see if he is dehydrated. The vet will typically then go on to confirm pancreatitis with blood tests looking for elevated pancreatic enzymes.
Once the vet determines that your dog does have pancreatitis they will then move on to treatment. Veterinarians currently do not have any way to stop the pancreas, so treatment is aimed at reducing pain and keeping the dog hydrated. Thus, treatment starts with IV fluids and may include an anti-vomit medication. Pain medications are needed because the more pain there is the more inflammation there will be in the pancreas.
Some vets will rest the pancreas by not feeding the dog for 24 hours. Others are of the opinion that feeding the dog a small amount of food is helpful because then the enzymes have something to digest other than the pancreas itself. Your dog may have to stay at the vet office for a day or so.
The vet may send you home with pain medication and, possibly, anti-vomit medication. You will be given instructions to make sure your dog gets plenty of water and to feed him bland food for a few days. You will also be instructed to reduce fat to as little as possible, feed several small meals a day, and get regular checkups to be sure that the pancreas is staying in a safe range.
Additionally, a conventional vet will likely tell you that once the pancreas is inflamed it will always be looking for a reason to become inflamed again. Also, that the pancreas will never fully heal from pancreatitis. Basically, telling you that once your dog has had pancreatitis it will likely happen again, so you better follow all of their advice.
Natural Treatment and Management Options
Unless you catch pancreatitis very soon after it starts natural treatment options begin after the attack is over and under control. However, some holistic vets will use regular pain meds and then offer laser therapy as well to help calm the pancreas.
There are also homeopathic treatments that if used early enough during the attack of pancreatitis may save you a trip to the emergency vet. Depending upon the specific symptoms any of these remedies may do the trick: Pulsatilla, Arsenicum Album, Veratrum album, and Nux vomica. It is a good idea to have a homeopathic vet that you can consult, they will help you pick the best remedy for your dog's symptoms. If the pancreatitis is far enough along you may need to use the remedy on your way to the vet for other treatment.
After the attack is over and your dog is back home with you, this is where conventional and holistic treatment really starts to be different. Conventional vets will tell you to feed frequent small, bland meals typically boiled chicken and rice. Then once the pancreas has calmed down they typically recommend a low-fat kibble be fed for the rest of the dog’s life in order to avoid another attack.
Holistic vets know that this is not the best option. Yes, you should feed your dog frequent small meals and a bland diet after the attack. Bland meaning it is very easy for your dog to digest. Remember dogs are carnivores so low-fat proteins are the easiest thing for them to digest. Holistic vets often recommend starting with small amounts of bone broth or raw goat milk this gives hydration, amino acids, and other important nutrients. After that, you might add a small amount of lightly cooked or room temperature raw chicken or turkey breast. It is an important distinction that raw meat is about 10% more digestible to dogs than cooked meat, so it is easier on their system than cooked meat. Also, a holistic vet will talk to you about feeding a species-appropriate raw diet moving forward after the attack.
Another place where conventional treatment and holistic treatment differ is in their thought of long-term care. Conventional vets say ”no more fat ever!” This makes sense because conventional vets will recommend that you feed kibble and the fats in kibble are always rancid and combined with carbohydrates. But holistic vets know that a dog needs healthy fat in his diet to thrive. Fat is needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Plus, fat is essential for a healthy brain, skin, coat, and cell health. So, holistic vets like to reintroduce healthy fats to the diet.
A holistic vet will recommend that after the pancreas has had some time to heal you start to add in a little bit of fat. However, the type of fat is very important. It must be a healthy, non-rancid fat and it should not be combined with carbohydrates. For instance, you might feed chicken thighs instead of breasts. Slowly you will continue to add fat to the diet as the pancreas continues to heal until you reach a diet that has a normal amount of fat.
It is also a good idea to add in some health supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, pre and probiotics, antioxidants, and digestive enzymes. The digestive enzymes can be very helpful in relieving the pancreas of some of its duties, allowing it more time to rest and heal. If you can find it feeding a bit of raw pancreas with every meal is a great way to naturally add digestive enzymes to your dog’s diet. If you think about it, a dog in the wild catching and eating prey would always consume the pancreas of its prey. So, it makes sense that the pancreas of a carnivore is not actually made to have to do all the work. But rather made to eat raw pancreas as a part of the diet and thus get outside help for digestion. So, if you can find raw pancreas that is great!
Of course, it is also a good idea to avoid all the things that can cause pancreatitis. So keep your dog at a healthy weight, give him plenty of exercise, keep your dog out of the trash, protect him from toxins and stress as much as possible, feed a raw species-appropriate diet, and learn about the best ways to do all those things!
You may also want to look into finding a good herbalist who can help you find herbs that will help support the healing of the pancreas. Some options to discuss might be bilberry, slippery elm, dandelion root, black mulberry, European walnut, white birch, and milk thistle. A good herbalist will help you create an herbal regime that will help to prevent future bouts of pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis can be a life-threatening issue, so fast action is required. If your dog is showing symptoms of pancreatitis like vomiting, arched back, or others take them to the vet immediately. Conventional treatment aims to reduce pain, stop vomiting, and keeping the dog hydrated. Aftercare for conventional vets includes a bland diet and long-term fat reduction in the diet.
Several natural options can be used to stop an attack of pancreatitis if the attack is caught soon enough. Natural treatment offers many more options for after-care of pancreatitis. These options help to heal the pancreas as well as prevent future attacks. These options include homeopathy, herbs, a raw species-appropriate diet, and feeding raw pancreas. A more holistic approach also realizes that fat is essential to your pet’s health and should be included in the diet. A combination of conventional and holistic care is often the best approach for pancreatitis.