The holiday season is all about familial gatherings that, let's face it, always include food. It is well known that pets are part of the family, therefore they very frequently get to enjoy the holiday goodies as well. This is a brief reminder to people who like to include and share their holiday dinners with their pets that some of the foods that we humans consume regularly bear danger to pets. Many of the traditional foods are very high in fat. Consuming high fat foods by pets can cause a condition called Pancreatitis. So, before you let your pet indulge on turkey and gravy please read further, and hopefully it will help you decide how to include your pet in the holiday festivities in a safe manner.
Understanding the physiology of the Pancreas may assist in avoiding Pancreatitis.
The Pancreas is an organ situated between the stomach and the intestine. The Pancreas' function is to secrete digestive enzymes into the first part of the intestine to allow digestion of food. The second function of the Pancreas is to secrete hormones that regulate the sugar in the blood, including Insulin.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. The enzymes that are secreted from the pancreas are in inactive form. When the enzymes reach the intestine they become active. The active enzymes are breaking down the food and allow digestion and absorption of the nutrients. Pancreatitis occurs when the enzymes become active while still in the pancreas, which leads to “self digestion” of the pancreas.
The exact cause of Pancreatitis is unknown, but there are few risk factors that might promote the condition. The most common include a high fat diet, obesity, certain drugs, secondary to viral/bacterial infections or secondary to trauma such as hit by car.
Pancreatitis can be either acute (sudden) or chronic (occurs over a course of time). The acute form tends to be more severe, however both forms are dangerous, can be life threatening and might result in long term damage. Pancreatitis can occur in both dogs and cats but is more common in dogs. Cats, if affected, tend to have the chronic form of the disease.
The symptoms of acute Pancreatitis are: vomiting, painful abdomen, decreased or absent appetite, diarrhea, depression, abnormal body temperature (too high or too low) and dehydration. The symptoms of chronic Pancreatitis are generally similar but are usually less severe and intermittent. If you suspect Pancreatitis in your pet you should take him to your Vet. The Vet will ask you some questions about the pet’s history, such as what is the pet’s normal diet, did it get into garbage, and so on. The Vet will also perform a physical exam on your pet. Pancreatitis is diagnosed by a few types of blood tests measuring the relevant enzymes. Your Vet might also suggest performing abdominal x-rays/ultrasound to rule out other cases of similar symptoms.
Pancreatitis is treated with supportive treatment. The key of the treatment is allowing the Gastro-Intestinal system and Pancreas to rest as much as possible. Hence the pet will probably stay hospitalized with intravenous fluid supplementation, and no food or water by mouth. When the pet no longer vomits a special diet low in fat and high in fiber will be offered.
Pancreatitis is a severe and life threatening condition. Chronic Pancreatitis can lead to long term damage such as diabetes (impairment of Insulin secretion). Because the cause of Pancreatitis is unknown it is hard to prevent it. Keeping your pet at a good body weight and avoiding a high fat diet will decrease your pet’s chances of developing Pancreatitis. You can also feed your pet a special diet which is low in fat and high in fiber in order to reduce your pet’s chances of developing the condition.