Pancreas is a vital organ in a dog’s body. It is located near the dog’s stomach, and its two main functions are exocrine and endocrine. Exocrine part is responsible for secreting bicarbonate to buffer stomach acid, and for producing enzymes to digest complex carbohydrates, proteins and triglycerides. Endocrine part is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels through production of insulin and glucagon hormones.
It's not unusual for dogs to have a malfunctioning pancreas, and it's important for dog owners to be informed about possible pancreas issues and how to spot them right away. Below are the most common signs of pancreas problems in dogs, associated diseases, their causes and ways to treat this health issue.
Common Symptoms of Pancreas Problems
The symptoms of pancreas problems in dogs can easily be mistaken for other digestive problems because most of the digestive issues come with the same or similar symptoms. However, there are other signs you may notice as well that may clearly indicate an issue with the dog's pancreas.
1. Digestive Problems
Digestive problems and issues with bowel movement are the most noticeable signs of potentially unhealthy pancreas. These include stomach pain, loss of appetite, swollen abdomen, vomiting and diarrhea. While most of the time these symptoms indicate a short-term stomach issue, if they last more than a couple of days, take your dog to the vet to check on a potential pancreas problem.
2. Changes in Temperature
Temperature changes are also common. Normal temperature for dogs falls in the range between 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If your pooch has a fever or low body temperature, that may indicate a problem with his pancreas, and possibly even pancreatitis, which is a dangerous health condition.
3. Breathing Problems
Your pup may have respiratory issues. In most cases, such breathing problems usually indicate a potential problem with the dog’s lungs or airways. However, in combination with other symptoms mentioned on this list, canine's breathing difficulties can also signal pancreas problems.
4. Other Symptoms
There's a number of other lesser known signs to watch out for. Pay attention to behavioral changes your dog might exhibit, especially if he becomes lethargic and has no energy or desire to engage in his usual activities. Your dog may also become dehydrated or experience irregular heartbeat if he has an unhealthy pancreas.
Causes of Pancreas Problems in Dogs
While there is no definite answer to what causes dog's pancreas irritation, some of the commonly suggested causes include old age, obesity and high-fat diets. The inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) is the most common pancreas problem in dogs and the increase of pancreatitis cases is always evident around the holidays.
The increase can be attributed to the fact that many people share their holiday meals with their dogs and those table scraps are usually very high in fat. Even if you don’t feed your pooch a high-fat diet regularly, his pancreas can still get overwhelmed and then inflamed if you give him too much of fatty foods at once.
Dogs that go through the garbage and eat trash are more likely to suffer from pancreatitis, according to vets, so make sure that your dog doesn’t have access to trash, both in your home and outside.
Endocrine conditions like hypothyroidism can also contribute to pancreas problems, as well as severe trauma or surgery. Some medications can predispose dogs to pancreas issues, especially anti-seizure drugs like Potassium Bromide or Phenobarbital.
Some breeds are at higher risk of having issues with their pancreas, including Miniature Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Yorkshire Terriers and Poodles. Female dogs are at a greater risk of pancreatitis than male dogs.
How to Prevent These Problems
Healthy diet and exercise play the largest part in preventing pancreas issues, especially pancreatitis. Feed your dog a well-balanced diet that is low in fat, stick to a regular diet schedule and feed your pooch in smaller, more frequent meals, if needed. Keep the pet away from trash and table scraps.
Avoid too much starch and grains in your dog’s diet because they can be hard to digest in large amounts. Add some supplements, like fish oil or vitamin B. Antioxidants like vitamins C and E, selenium and carotene can reduce the risk of pancreatitis. Probiotics can be helpful because they increase the number of good bacteria in the pet's intestines.
How Pancreas Problems Are Diagnosed
Getting your pooch diagnosed with any pancreas problem as soon as possible can help with the prognosis. This is especially true when it comes to pancreatitis because dogs are likely to recover from mild cases without any long-lasting damage to the pancreas or other organs. However, severe cases of pancreatitis can be fatal.
As soon as you notice any of the signs, bring the pet into the clinic. Your veterinarian will run blood tests to diagnose pancreatitis. He may also order additional tests, like abdominal X-rays or ultrasound. Tissue biopsies of the pancreas are sometimes taken, especially when pancreatic cancer is suspected.
Treatment of Dog Pancreas Problems
Treatment can be anything from a small adjustments in the diet and rest, to something more serious in case of severe inflammation or pancreatitis. It will all depend on the specific pancreas problem, and there are four most common pancreas related health problems that have their own specific treatments.
Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis is usually more severe because the onset is immediate and the condition can be extremely painful for your Fido. Managing the pain is the first thing your vet will do, and then they will try to prevent any additional complications.
Hospitalization is often necessary in severe cases and the treatment starts with restrictions of food and water for the first 24 hours, which will provide some rest for the pancreas and help it recover. If your dog is vomiting uncontrollably, he may be put on food and water restrictions for longer, usually 2-3 days.
After the hospital stay, your vet may prescribe medications to stop vomiting and help with nausea, as well as pain medications to relieve your dog of abdominal pain. Dogs with severe pancreatitis will be given IV fluids to prevent dehydration. Your vet will try to discover the cause of pancreatitis and treat it.
In chronic or mild cases of pancreatitis, vets usually prescribe a low-fat diet and additional medications if needed. Monitoring of the progress is necessary to avoid any potential further complications like exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is usually caused by an irreversible loss of pancreatic tissue, which means that this condition can’t be cured. However, this problem can be managed with supplementation of pancreatic enzymes. Follow your vet’s instructions carefully so you don’t give too little or too much of these enzymes to your dog since it can lead to additional problems.
Pancreatic cysts or pseudocysts often appear as a result of pancreatitis complications. They are a collection of pancreatic fluid found in a wall of tissue and they are treated by drawing the fluid out of them. Surgery can sometimes be necessary if the problem persists and the cysts don’t decrease in size after a period of treatment.
Pancreatic cancer is often hard to detect until the condition is at advanced stages, which is why the prognosis for dogs with this type of cancer is usually dire. Treatment for pancreatic cancers involves surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, as well as some combination of these treatments.
Pancreas problems in dogs can be vary from mild to very severe, some of which endanger your dog’s life if they are not addressed on time. Some of those cannot be cured but only managed, and some rare ones are fatal. To reduce the chance of these issues, feed your pup a healthy, low-fat diet and exercise him regularly to prevent pancreas issues.
Pay attention to the signs like weight loss, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing problems, lethargy, fever and irregular heartbeat, and your pup's behavior changes. Take the dog to the vet if you notice any of the symptoms.