( Artemis )
Ah, the holidays. ‘Tis the season to relax with friends and family, to share good cheer, to
reflect on life’s blessings. And, for some, it’s also the season to rush a vomiting dog to
the emergency clinic.Gravy, turkey skin, cookies, creams - all that rich holiday fare may make human bellies shake like a bowl full of jelly, but it can kill dogs by triggering acute pancreatitis. The
life-threatening condition is a severe inflammation of the pancreas. The glandular organ,
nestled beneath the stomach and the small intestines, aids digestion and regulates blood
sugar by pumping out enzymes and insulin. The condition develops when the enzymes
responsible for fat digestion are released prematurely and start to autodigest, or digest
the cells of the pancreas.“Acute pancreatitis can be very serious. It in fact can be fatal, resulting in fluid buildup in the abdomen and thorax, the development of acute kidney failure, and disseminated
intravascular coagulation, an inflammation that triggers clotting factors and uses them up
to the point where spontaneous bleeding occurs,”
said Mary Labato, DVM, clinical as sociate professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Although there are many suspected triggers for an attack, including certain medications, pesticides and trauma, pancreatitis that occurs suddenly is most commonly associated with dietary indiscretion - a raid on the garbage can or a big steak dinner, said Dr. Labato.
Veterinarians say they see many more cases of pancreatitis around Thanksgiving and the
December holidays, brought on by high-fat table scraps. Even owners who are diligent
about protecting their pets from other holiday hazards, such as tree tinsel, chocolate
Santas and turkey bones, may be unaware of the dangers a lipid overload can pose to
their pets. One very sick mixed breed drove this point home to Bonnie Beaver, DVM,
professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University and immediate
past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Her patient had been on a fishing trip with his owners when he started vomiting violently.
Dr. Beaver asked if he had eaten anything that may have upset his stomach. At first the
owners said no. Then almost as an afterthought, they remembered a dietary indiscretion
earlier in the day. “Oh yeah, they said. I forgot to tell you he ate a pound of bacon. Could that make a difference?” recalled Dr. Beaver. The dog recovered but only after a lengthy and expensive
hospital stay. A pound of bacon doesnít have to be the culprit. Even a small amount of
fat can cause pancreatitis in an animal prone to it.
Unfortunately, thereís no way to predict if an individual dog has such a predisposition.
There is a lot of variation in fat tolerance from one dog to another. Obese dogs appear to
face the highest risk, said Dr. Labato. Middle-aged and older females also have a greater
tendency to develop the condition.Among breeds, miniature Schnauzers are known to have a higher risk, but scientists are not sure why. Researchers have been looking for the gene, but have not yet found it. A few other breeds, including miniature Poodles, Cocker Spaniels and some terriers also
appear to be prone to it.
Symptoms of the condition are non-specific and can be mistaken for a host of other
gastrointestinal disorders. Vomiting is the major sign, but some dogs vomit often for all
kinds of reasons. It can be hard to say if the problem is an upset stomach or pancreatitis,
which means a trip to the veterinarian is essential.
As a general rule, if a dog vomits several times in a 12-hour period, pancreatitis should
be suspected. A single, severe episode of vomiting will warrant medical attention if the
owner knows a dog ate a fatty food. Other symptoms include weakness, abdominal pain
and dehydration. Diagnosing the condition can be tricky.
“It can be very difficult to distinguish pancreatitis
from other gastrointestinal disorders. Both can cause very severe and refractory [uncontrollable] vomiting and an extremely painful abdomen,” said Dr. Labato. “Pancreatitis is
often diagnosed by excluding other causes and seeing evidence of inflammation in the
pancreas.” Veterinarians use imaging techniques and blood tests of pancreatic enzymes to make a
diagnosis, said Dr. Labato. “Abdominal ultrasound is perhaps the best way that we have
here for identifying pancreatitis.” Testing pancreatitic enzymes are helpful, but many
arenít specific or sensitive enough for a firm diagnosis.
Treatment is mostly supportive, resting the pancreas until the inflammation subsides.
“When the animal is vomiting frequently and severely, there should be nothing by mouth
for 24 to 48 hours until the vomiting comes under control,”said Dr. Labato. Then it’s important to provide nutritional support through a feeding tube and intravenous fluids. The
dog may also need medication for nausea and pain. Severe cases may require plasma
or whole blood transfusions. In rare cases, a single bout of the disease may so badly damage the pancreas the dog may become diabetic. Most of the time, patients will recover and have no long-term
consequences. Nevertheless, “it can be expensive and require a lot of hospitalization and good quality
patient care,” Dr. Beaver said. “Prevention is much better than trying to cure it.