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Dog with tongue out

The Real Reason not go give begging pets those table scraps: Pancreatitis

By Kearney Hub

During the holidays, it is easy to indulge in all the rich foods everywhere one looks. Pet owners feeling the holiday spirit may feel the urge to let their pets share in the feast, but even a little bit of gravy or a scrap of ham can lead to pancreatitis in dogs and cats.

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, that little digestive organ tucked under the start of the small intestine. The pancreas’ normal job is to secrete enzymes into the gastrointestinal tract that are used for digestion. In a bout of pancreatitis, those digestive enzymes are leaking within the pancreas and causing the pancreas to swell.

Pancreatitis causes severe abdominal pain in cats and dogs. Pets may tuck their abdomens when standing and be reluctant to partake in their normal activities. Vomiting is common in dogs but less so in cats. Diarrhea may be profuse to intermittent in dogs. Cats are less likely to exhibit many of the outward signs an owner would notice immediately. Instead, a cat is more likely to be lethargic and show a decrease in appetite.

Acute pancreatitis is triggered by the ingestion of too much fat. Many owners are surprised by the small amount of food that is capable of triggering such an acute reaction.

The amount is not standard for every pet. Animals receiving steroid therapy are more prone to developing pancreatitis, as are those with Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism), hypothyrodism and diabetes mellitus. Dogs with idiopathic hyperlipidemia, a condition seen most commonly in schnauzers, are also at high risk. Pets that are already overweight and eating high-fat diets are the most likely to suffer from this disease.

Diagnosis requires blood tests.

A pet’s digestive enzymes, called amylase and lipase, will likely be elevated in blood samples. In cases where the initial blood tests cannot confirm pancreatitis, further laboratory tests are available. Often, pancreatitis can be diagnosed by imaging the organ via ultrasound. The pancreatitis is too small and shows too little contrast on an X-ray to be of much help, but shows up well on ultrasound. An X-ray may still be recommended to evaluate the length of the intestines for any obstructions or foreign bodies.

Treatment varies with the severity of the disease. Most acute cases will require intravenous fluid support in the hospital to correct or prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Antibiotics may be used to ward off any secondary bacterial infections. Pain control is a must. Symptomatic treatment of vomiting and diarrhea may be needed.

The pet is restricted from ingesting anything — food or water —for a period to allow the organ to rest. In more advanced stages of the disease, some patients will require plasma transfusions to replace quickly diminishing amounts of blood protein.

Pancreatitis can be fatal in severe acute forms. Permanent damage to the pancreas can result from any form of the disease, leading to diabetes mellitus or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Most importantly, any pet that has suffered from pancreatitis in the past is subject to a recurrence if receiving table scraps.

Tracy Kelliher, DVM, is the veterinarian at the Kearney Area Animal Shelter, 3205 W. Highway 30, where her goals include improving the health and conditions of Kearney’s pets, educating their owners about proper care, and improving the human-animal bond.

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