Q: What is pancreatitis?
A: Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ situated in the abdomen close to the stomach and has two major functions. Some cells within the organ produce enzymes which empty through a duct into the intestines where they help digest food. Other cells produce the hormones – including insulin – that control the levels of glucose in the blood.
Pancreatitis can affect animals in two ways. Firstly, as an acute disease, it can cause severe abdominal pain – animals are usually very sensitive about being touched, and will often vomit. Pancreatitis can also occur in a more chronic form where the symptoms relate more to the failure of the body to properly digest food – animals lose weight, despite an increase in appetite, produce large amounts of fatty faeces, and may have swollen abdomens.
Q: How does it develop?
A: The cause of pancreatitis is unclear, though it is certainly more common in overweight animals. It can occur in animals that are fed after a long fast or after having been severely malnourished. Meals containing a high level of fat have also been associated with the development of the disease.
Q: Does it affect only older dogs?
A: No, it can strike dogs of any age. Cats can also be affected but less commonly.
Q: Is it curable?
A: Acute pancreatitis is a serious disease and can be fatal. Animals that do recover – and those that have the chronic form of the disease – often have permanent damage resulting in substantial loss of function of the pancreas. This means they may never again produce enough enzymes to ensure good digestion of their food, and will need to have those enzymes replaced in tablet form with every meal for the rest of their lives.
More serious may be the loss of the ability to produce insulin, resulting in diabetes. Once again, this can be treated, but involves owners in careful monitoring of their pets’ diet and sugar levels, as well as in giving them daily injections of insulin.