The Edmond Sun


June 28, 2010

Pancreatitis can be lethal

EDMOND — Q: My miniature poodle, Pip, died last month with pancreatitis. She was only 3 years old. We had her spayed when she was just a puppy and she was on heartworm preventative, had all her shots and was otherwise a happy, healthy little girl. We had a barbecue and people threw partially eaten ribs into the trees where unknowingly she found every one. By evening, she was vomiting and very sick. We took her to the vet and he hospitalized her on fluids and kept her sedated. I checked on her every day, but on the third day he called to say “she was gone.” I asked what that meant and he said she had died. I felt the blood drain to my feet and became light-headed. He had never told me she could die. I just thought it would take time for her to heal and get well. Is this common and why didn’t he tell us she might die?

A: I am very sorry for your loss. I know how hard it is to have to give up these wonderful bundles of love.

It is not common for dogs to die from pancreatitis, but it certainly can happen.  This is a serious disease.

The pancreas lies in the abdomen just under the liver and in a V-shaped area between the beginning of the small intestine and the angle it forms with the curve of the stomach.

The pancreas has an endocrine or hormonal function, in that it produces insulin that is necessary in making sugar available for use in the body. It also produces another hormone, glucagon, that also is involved in glucose metabolism.

The pancreas also has an exocrine or enzyme function. Enzymes are manufactured and bundled within the pancreas. They eventually pass out of the pancreas into the small intestine where they are unbundled and become active.  They mix with the stomach contents as they move into the small intestine and play an integral role in digestion.

The fact that in a healthy pancreas they are all bundled up, keeps them from digesting the pancreas itself. However, when the pancreas gets sick and becomes inflamed they do leak out and eat on the pancreatic tissue. Then they can leak out into the abdomen. Since the liver sits on top of the pancreas, they begin to digest parts of the liver and make it very unhappy. As you might guess, this is a painful process. This is why we utilize injectable pain meds from the outset, IV fluids, IV antibiotics and a lot of prayers and TLC.

Pancreatitis is somewhat easier to diagnose now than it has been in the past.  We now have a specific in-clinic bedside test that is more accurate. We know pancreatitis tends to occur more in overweight and middle-aged dogs. It is also more common in certain smaller breeds such as cockers, miniature schnauzers, poodles and Yorkies. It can, however, occur in almost any dog. A sedentary lifestyle rather than being athletic also contributes.

We know very little about the actual causes of pancreatitis other than a fatty meal. We are sure of this as a cause. Things such as fat from a piece of meat, ham or a ham bone (fatty marrow) frequently have been fed within the last 24 hours prior to developing pancreatitis. Certainly also trauma to the abdomen such as a blunt force from being hit by a car, having a serious fall or being kicked can cause a leakage of pancreatic enzymes and full-blown pancreatitis can follow.

Things to look for when a dog is developing or has pancreatitis are vomiting, abdominal pain, lethargy, weakness and loss of appetite. Abdominal pain may be indicated by the dog doing a puppy bow, rolling on the floor or licking at the upper belly area.

The examination for a diagnosis will entail a thorough physical exam and history, bloodwork, X-rays and ultimately an ultrasound.

Yes, some dogs can and do die from pancreatitis. Once well, the down side is that it can recur. Owners have to be diligent in not feeding fatty foods or anything else such as a previous type of diet. They must follow the doctor’s recommendations and take-home instructions.  

Pancreatitis also can become chronic, flaring up periodically for no apparent reason. Many dogs get over it and do fine if fed higher fiber, lower fat food.  Exercise and proper diet can go a long way in preventing a recurrence. It is hard, if not impossible, to predict which route a dog will follow. As a pet owner you should be told up front that your pet might die from this condition, it is that serious.     


DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, send them to 1900 S. Bryant, Edmond, OK 73013.

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