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Acute Pancreatitis

Randy Walker DVM

About Pancreatitis...

Acute Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas with a sudden onset.

Briefly, Describe The Normal Pancreas And How The Pancreas Is Different In A Case Of Pancreatitis.

The normal pancreas lies alongside the first part of the small intestine near the stomach. The two main duties of the pancreas are (1) to produce insulin and glucagon (two hormones) which control blood sugar and (2) to produce enzymes that help digest food. In a case of pancreatitis the tissues are inflamed with damage to (and sometimes even the death of) these cells.

What Are The Clinical Signs In A Case Of Pancreatitis?

Classic signs of pancreatitis include vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea, lack of appetite, depression, restlessness, tenderness of the abdomen, and fever. Most pancreatitis patients will show some or all of these signs. Complications with pancreatitis include septicemia (bacteria in the bloodstream) and shock, sometimes leading to death.

How Is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

Pancreatitis is diagnosed on the basis of physical exam findings and appropriate blood tests. Radiographs (x-rays) are also helpful in many cases.

What Causes Pancreatitis?

In many cases the exact cause of pancreatitis is unknown. Any condition of inflammation of an organ near the pancreas has been known to sometimes lead to pancreatitis. This includes inflammation of the stomach, intestines, liver, and other regional organs. On occasion certain drugs have been shown to spark pancreatitis. Also, a high fat and/or rich meal can trigger it.

What Factors Predispose A Patient To Develop Pancreatitis?

Risk factors include obesity and being fed a high fat diet. Although any breed can be affected at any age, the most commonly affected group is middle aged female dogs. Cats can sometimes develop pancreatitis but not often.

How Is Pancreatitis Treated?

The choice of treatment often depends on the severity of the disease. In most cases pancreatitis is quite severe and the patient must be treated promptly with intravenous fluids and antibiotics to prevent septicemia (bacteria in the bloodstream), cardiovascular shock, and death. Most cases of pancreatitis must be treated promptly and aggressively in order to insure the survival of the patient. This usually involves several days stay in the hospital.

What Is The Prognosis For Pancreatitis?

With proper treatment many patients make a complete recovery from pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can be a fatal disease in some cases, however. The main factors that affect the outcome of treatment are the length of time the disease is allowed to progress before treatment is begun, the aggressiveness of treatment, the degree of obesity if any, the patient's age, and other factors. In some cases the patient can experience diabetes after recovering from pancreatitis (due to damage to the cells that secrete insulin) but this is uncommon.

What Is The Best Way To Help Prevent Pancreatitis In The Future?

For patients who are susceptible to pancreatitis it is advisable to stay on a bland, low fat diet. Also, obesity should be corrected and avoided. Sometimes patients develop chronic pancreatitis and must stay on medications to quiet the GI tract but this is uncommon.


- Randy Walker DVM
Sun Lakes Animal Clinic
May 12,2004

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
- Anatole France, 1921 Nobel Prize Speech -

Titlebar Image: The Gentle Doctor, 1937-38 by Christian Peterson (U84.179) - Iowa State University