November 10, 2009

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is responsible for protecting the duodenum portion of the small intestine (the first portion of the small intestine). The small intestine is where the nutrients from food are absorbed into the body. This segment of the small intestine receives the extremely acidic stomach contents that flow in during digestion. The pancreas is responsible for producing digestive enzymes to further digest the proteins (protease), carbohydrates (amylase), and fats (lipase) of the stomach contents. The other important job of the pancreas is to produce bicarbonate, a substance that neutralizes the acid from the stomach and prevents it from burning the walls of the small intestine.

What happens when the pancreas malfunctions or becomes overloaded?
When the pancreas becomes overworked or irritated, it can become inflamed. Once the tissues of the pancreas become swollen, the pancreatic duct can become obstructed. The digestive enzymes continue accumulating within the pancreas, and the small intestine then triggers a signal for more production of the pancreatic enzymes due to their lack presence in the small intestine. As a result of the over-production and accumulation of enzymes in the pancreas, the enzymes now become active in the organ and begin to create havoc within the pancreas – creating further inflammation, self digestion and scarring.

While all this is occurring in the pancreas, the body’s digestive system begins working incorrectly. The small intestine is no longer able to recognize the undigested state of nutrients, and is therefore not able to absorb nutrients. This will lead to some of the visible signals that your dog has suffered an attack of pancreatitis. Vomiting partially digested food and or yellow frothy bile, mucous-coated loose stool, a painful to touch belly, loss of appetite, restlessness or inability to get comfortable are all signs of pancreatitis.

Though the exact cause for an attack of pancreatitis is not fully understood, some contributing factors are prior liver problems, Cushings disease, chronic bowel disease, diabetes and very rich, fatty meals (as well as gorging on trash can contents or other stolen foods). Pancreatitis is most common in overweight dogs who eat highly processed commercial diets, particularly foods with lower protein and higher fat and carbohydrate levels.

Pancreatitis can be an acute but mild situation, where you may not have even noticed, or it can be chronic and severe – resulting in days of hospitalization. To reduce the production of enzymes during an episode, the dog should have nothing by mouth other than water. Left untreated, pancreatutis has the potential to progress into diabetes.

Pancreatitis can be treated holistically with acupuncture, vitamin injections and herbs or conventionally with a hospital stay and IV therapy as well as antibiotics. Supplementation with digestive enzymes such as Prozyme are also recommended for dogs who are prone to pancreatic problems. Amendments to the diet are also an important part of therapy for pancreatitis, however it’s important to make dietary changes very gradually to avoid further complications. The amount of fat, fruits and grains in the diet should be gradually reduced to very moderate levels. Fresh leans meats and colorful vegetables should be gradually increased. Foods should be fed slightly warm or at least at room temperature.

A special note for the holiday season: Use caution when letting your dog celebrate with a very fatty meal of leftovers, especially older dogs or those with weakened systems. Though the liver provides the necessary enzymes to break down the fat, inflammation in the liver can lead to the pancreas overuse resulting in a holiday case of pancreatitis.

References:
Dogs, Diet, and Disease, Caroline D. Levin RN
The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care, CJ Puotinen
Restoring your Digestive Health, Jordan S. Rubin, N.M.D.