When I was just a young boy growing up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, it was customary in our house after dinner, to scrape your dinner plate off into a pot on the stove. From a very early age, it was one of my many chores to take the pot from the stove and distribute the table scraps to all of our dogs in the back yard.
Since my mother had once owned a restaurant and always cooked in large amounts, we never had a shortage of scraps to feed the dogs. Furthermore, my mother cooked with old timey country cooking ingredients, which means she added lots of salt, pepper, spice and even lard to enhance the taste.
Just like Pavlov’s dog, our dogs would start salivating and wagging their tails when I started down the steps leading to the back yard with the pot of scraps in my hand. Obviously, they loved everything my mother cooked, especially biscuits and gravy. Amazingly, back in those days, dogs seemed to be more resilient than the pampered pooches of today. Certainly, there were not as many viruses prevalent back then, but they also could eat a wide variety of food without becoming ill. If Jazz, our Golden Retriever, or Marlo, our Yorkshire terrier, gets the slightest morsel of food, usually dropped by one of the kids, they will definitely suffer from some gastrointestinal upset.
In today’s time, a change from one dog food to another often causes vomiting and diarrhea. Even worse, a rich, fatty meal may cause pancreatitis. The pancreas is a very fragile and friable organ located next to the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine, where the stomach empties into the intestines. It is an extremely vital organ with two basic functions. It produces digestive enzymes to aid in digestion of food. It also produces insulin which allows the body to properly utilize sugar.
Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed. Basically, dogs can have acute or sudden onset, pancreatitis or a more chronic, relapsing pancreatitis. It is a very serious and sometimes life-threatening disease. Pancreatitis may occur without any known cause, however, there is no doubt that the majority of cases are due to eating table scraps.
Pork such as bacon, ham and pork chops are definitely some of the worse culprits. There is a wide range of severity of illness depending on the type of food and amount ingested. Furthermore, some dogs are simply more susceptible because some individuals have more sensitive gastrointestinal organs.
Symptoms of pancreatitis are primarily nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. In severe cases, acute shock, depression and even death may occur. Typically, there is a history of the dog eating some type of table scraps or eating some unknown substance in the yard prior to these clinical signs. A definitive diagnosis of pancreatitis can be difficult since there is not one test that can be performed to confirm the disease. However, blood tests along with the history and clinical signs usually support the diagnosis. Blood tests usually reveal an increase in white blood cell count; however, an increased white blood count is common with many infections and diseases.
An increase of pancreatic enzymes called amylase and lipase is very helpful in diagnosing the disease, but some dogs with pancreatitis can have normal levels of pancreatic enzymes. Sometimes it is necessary to treat for pancreatitis strictly based on history and clinical signs. Obviously, since the severity of the disease varies, treatment varies upon how sick the dog is.
Basically, treatment consists of giving the pancreas a rest by withholding all food and water as well as any oral medications. Intravenous fluids are necessary to ensure the dog does not become dehydrated and to maintain normal electrolyte balance. Typically, dogs must be hospitalized for two to four days while intravenous fluids are administered and food is gradually re-introduced.
Antibiotics and medication for vomiting must be given by injection until the dog is well enough to eat and keep it down. Certainly, early diagnosis and prompt medical treatment is very important for the therapy to be successful! Dogs that present with shock and severe illness have a very guarded prognosis.
Fortunately, most cases of the milder forms of pancreatitis have a good prognosis and recover completely. However, some dogs that survive a significant bout of pancreatitis may develop secondary conditions. If enough of the pancreas is destroyed a dog may no longer have enough digestive enzymes for proper digestion called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. These dogs require daily medication of enzyme replacement. If enough insulin producing pancreatic cells are destroyed, the dog may become diabetic. Thankfully, the secondary conditions are not the typical situation. Again, most dogs recover without any long-term effects. Nevertheless, it is a very serious and sometimes life-threatening disease. Pancreatitis should never be taken lightly.
If your dog shows any symptoms of pancreatitis, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your dog lives a long, healthy and happy life.