Overweight pets, and those who are fed or steal table scraps, are at higher risk for pancreatitis, which can lead to several problematic, and possibly life-threatening, conditions. Our team at Colony Veterinary Hospital wants to explain why you should be concerned if your pet develops pancreatitis. 

#1: Pancreatitis is painful for pets

The pancreas is composed of two parts. The exocrine part secretes digestive enzymes that are transported to the small intestine to aid in digestion, and the endocrine part secretes hormones that help regulate blood glucose levels. 

Pancreatitis occurs when the digestive enzymes secreted by the exocrine part are activated before they reach the small intestine. Early activation causes the enzymes to begin to digest the pancreas and surrounding tissue, an extremely painful process. Common signs include a hunched back, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.

#2: Pancreatitis can cause disseminated intravascular coagulation in pets

Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a significant, life-threatening complication that can occur secondary to conditions that cause sluggish blood flow, blood vessel wall injury, and the presence of inappropriate matter in the bloodstream. 

Pancreatitis causes tissue necrosis, resulting in toxins circulating through the bloodstream, which can trigger DIC in pets. In healthy pets, clot formation and clot breakdown are well balanced, but in DIC, this balance is disrupted, and exaggerated clotting occurs. Anti-clotting properties are depleted by the exaggerated clotting, causing inappropriate bleeding throughout the body. DIC can also cause small blood clots to form in blood vessels supplying major organs, such as the liver, brain, and kidney, and  multiple organ failure can occur.

#3: Pancreatitis can cause sterile nodular panniculitis in pets

Pancreatitis can trigger sterile nodular panniculitis (SNP), known as Weber Christian syndrome in people. This sterile inflammatory process involves the subcutaneous tissue, causing the subcutaneous fat to undergo hydrolysis, followed by the production of glycerol and free fatty acids, which are highly inflammatory. 

Affected pets typically have single or multiple skin nodules, primarily on their trunk. In the early stages, the lesions are firm, but as the fatty tissue becomes liquefied, they become soft and fluctuant. The nodules may regress, rupture, and ulcerate, or develop draining tracts that produce an oily or bloody discharge. Open lesions are prone to developing secondary infection. Other signs include fever, appetite loss, lethargy, vomiting, abdominal pain, and joint pain. Dachshunds, miniature poodles, and collies are at increased risk for developing SNP.

#4: Pancreatitis can cause pancreatic encephalopathy in pets

The exact mechanism behind pancreatitis encephalopathy is unclear, but the most common theory is that phospholipase A (PLA) activation plays a role. In pets suffering from pancreatitis, PLA is the primary factor causing pancreatic digestion. PLA damages fatty brain cell components, and breaks down fatty tissues protecting nerves, leading to brain swelling. Signs include disorientation, agitation, confusion, and convulsions.

#5: Pancreatitis can cause diabetes in pets

If the digestive enzymes activated in pancreatitis damage the endocrine pancreas significantly enough to inhibit insulin production, the affected pet can develop diabetes mellitus. Insulin is needed by the body to use glucose, which is the main energy source for the body’s cells. When food is digested in the intestines, the by-product glucose is absorbed in the bloodstream and circulated throughout the body. Insulin is required for glucose transfer from the bloodstream to the cells. 

Without enough insulin, the glucose accumulates in high levels in the blood. When this occurs, cells throughout the body are starved for the fuel they need for energy, and the body starts to break down fats and proteins to use as alternative fuel. In addition, the high glucose levels in the bloodstream can damage multiple organs, including the kidneys, eyes, heart, blood vessels, and nerves. 

Diabetic pets show signs including excessive thirst and urination, increased appetite, and weight loss. If your pet develops diabetes, they will need daily insulin injections and careful blood glucose monitoring for the remainder of their life.

#6: Pancreatitis can cause exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in pets

If the digestive enzymes activated during pancreatitis damage the exocrine pancreas significantly enough to inhibit digestive enzyme production, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) can result. Typically, the digestive enzymes made by the pancreas are transported to the small intestine, where they help break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. If not enough enzymes are made, the nutrients cannot be broken down, or absorbed appropriately. Signs include weight loss, increased appetite, foul-smelling or greasy diarrhea, and poor hair coat. If your pet develops EPI, they will need lifelong pancreatic enzyme supplementation, and a specialized diet. 

#7: Pancreatitis can recur in pets

If your pet is affected by pancreatitis, they are at increased risk for recurring bouts. Steps can be taken to prevent the condition, but recurrence is still a possibility. Steps include:

  • Weight loss — If your pet is overweight, consult a veterinary professional to develop a weight loss program, to return them to their ideal weight.
  • Table scraps — Avoid feeding your pet people food.
  • Garbage — Ensure your pet cannot raid the garbage can and accidentally eat something inappropriate.
  • Prescription food — Low- or ultra-low fat prescription diets are often recommended for pets who have recovered from pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis has several concerning consequences, but you can minimize your pet’s risk by keeping them trim, and avoiding high-fat foods. If your pet is exhibiting possible pancreatitis signs, contact our team at Colony Veterinary Hospital as soon as possible.