We adore our pets and want to share everything with them. At mealtimes, this might include scraps off our dinner plates. But it comes with risks. High-fat table scraps, like slices of bacon, turkey skin, or fat trimmed from your steak, even letting them lick a pat of butter or leftover bacon grease, can cause more harm than good.
If your pet consumes food with a high- fat content, it can result in pancreatitis, a painful, potentially life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas.
Pancreas and Pancreatitis Basics
The pancreas is a crucial organ that sits near the stomach in the abdomen, producing enzymes, like lipase, that aid in food digestion, as well as the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar.
When the pancreas is working normally, pancreatic enzymes travel to the small intestine, where they are activated to start digestion.
In a pet with pancreatitis, the enzymes are activated in the pancreas as they’re released and begin digesting before reaching the small intestine. This results in damage to the pancreas and even digestion of the pancreas itself, an extremely painful condition.
Pancreatitis is often acute (appearing suddenly, over a short period of time) but can also become chronic, especially if a pet has previously had acute pancreatitis.
What Causes Pancreatitis in Pets?
Experts don’t know the exact cause of pancreatitis, but we do know that it can be triggered by fatty foods, especially in dogs. Most canine pancreatitis patients we see are a direct result of eating a food high in fat. It’s also worth noting that some dog breeds may be more prone to pancreatitis than others.
Pancreatitis in cats may occur spontaneously without any obvious trigger, or it may accompany conditions like diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease.
Signs and Symptoms
The clinical signs of pancreatitis vary. In fact, pancreatitis can cause symptoms in pets that may easily be mistaken for other conditions, including:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Bloated appearance (abdominal distention)
- Lethargy or weakness
- Loss of or decrease in appetite
- Vomiting (often repeatedly)
Some dogs with pancreatitis may hunch over or assume a “praying position,” in which their hind end stays in the air, with their front legs and head on the floor.
If you notice any of these potential signs of pancreatitis in your dog or cat—and especially if they show more than one sign—call us immediately. If your pet has been vomiting, has had diarrhea, or hasn’t eaten for more than 24 hours, be sure to let us know.
What Are the Risks?
Pancreatitis can lead to dehydration, diabetes, organ damage, and even death. Early intervention and prompt veterinary treatment can make a difference in the successful management of pancreatitis in dogs and cats.
Diagnosing Pancreatitis in Pets
Besides performing a physical exam of your pet, our veterinarians can run laboratory (blood) tests to help us determine whether your pet has pancreatitis. In some cases, your pet may need radiographs (x-rays) or an abdominal ultrasound.
How Will My Pet Be Treated if They Have Pancreatitis?
Successful management of a pet’s pancreatitis depends on early diagnosis and prompt medical therapy. In some cases, we may refer a pet to a specialty facility for further diagnostic tests or treatment. In some cases, hospitalization for several days may be required.
During your pet’s stay in hospital, we provide supportive treatment and allow the pancreas to rest. This often involves providing intravenous (IV) fluids and pain medication, as well as giving other medication to reduce systemic (body-wide) inflammation and control any vomiting or diarrhea. Once vomiting is controlled, affected dogs are fed an ultra-low fat diet like Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Low Fat. Antibiotics may be needed if the pet has any underlying infection.
How Can You Prevent Pancreatitis in Your Pet?
One of the best ways to help prevent pancreatitis in your pet is to keep them away from high-fat foods, including:
- Bacon or bacon grease
- Fat trimmed off meat or bones
- Ham or ham drippings
- Turkey or chicken skin
- Turkey, chicken, or other meat that’s been seasoned
These foods contain a lot of fat (and salt) and can cause digestive issues and pancreatitis in both dogs and cats. Especially around the holidays, most meat served has been brined, deep fried, and contain butter and seasoning, which can also result in pancreatitis in pets.
Keep It Out of Reach!
Remember that even the most well-behaved dogs and cats may not wait for an invitation to snatch up a tasty-looking treat from a countertop or off a guest’s plate. Help keep your pet safe by:
- Covering food if it’s sitting out.
- Putting away food right after a meal to prevent your pet from getting into leftovers or table scraps.
- Warning guests to keep their plates out of your pet’s reach.
If your pet tends to counter-surf, be especially careful to not leave food out on the countertop, where they may be too much temptation. Ask us for tips on what people foods ARE safe for your pet to have as an occasional treat. We want to make sure your pet stays safe, but you don’t feel like you’re depriving them!
If your pet is showing signs of pancreatitis or you’re concerned that your pet might have pancreatitis, call us right away!