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Could my Dog or Cat Have Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis, an inflammatory condition of the exocrine pancreas, occurs frequently in both dogs and cats. While the true prevalence of pancreatitis in dogs and cats is unknown, recent studies would suggest that pancreatitis is a rather common and underdiagnosed condition in both dogs and cats.

In a large retrospective study of necropsy findings 1.5% of 9,342 canine and 1.3% of 6,504 feline pancreata showed important pathological lesions. Pancreatitis can be difficult to diagnose. This may be due to the non-specific clinical signs commonly displayed by pancreatitis patients. However, there also has been a lack of diagnostic tests for pancreatitis that are both sensitive and specific for pancreatitis.

Clinical picture

Clinical signs of dogs and cats with pancreatitis depend on the severity of the disease. Mild cases may remain subclinical while more severe cases may present with a wide variety of clinical signs. In a recent retrospective study of 70 dogs with fatal pancreatitis the following clinical signs were reported: anorexia in 91% of the cases, vomiting in 90%, weakness in 79%, abdominal pain in 58%, dehydration in 46%, and diarrhea in 33%. These findings are somewhat surprising as abdominal pain is the key clinical sign of pancreatitis in human patients. Thus, the question arises whether dogs with pancreatitis have abdominal pain less frequently than humans, or more likely, whether we fail to correctly identify abdominal pain. It also should be recognized that retrospective studies could underestimate the true prevalence of abdominal pain due to lack of reporting, difference in investigator, or other factors. Classically, diarrhea has not been described as a typical clinical sign of pancreatitis. However, with 33% of dogs with pancreatitis in this study having diarrhea it would seem prudent to assess any dog presenting with diarrhea for potential pancreatitis during a systematic work-up.

Cats, even with severe pancreatitis, present with less specific clinical signs than do dogs. In a recent review of a large number of cats with pancreatitis the following clinical signs were reported: anorexia in 87%, lethargy in 81%, dehydration in 54%, weight loss in 47%, vomiting and hypothermia in 46%, icterus in 37%, fever in 25%, abdominal pain in 19%, diarrhea in 12%, and a palpable abdominal mass in 11%. Especially remarkable in this report is the low incidence of vomiting and abdominal pain in cats with pancreatitis.

Read more of this excellent article from the Texas A & M veterinary school.

NB: In my clinical experiene, this disease is best prevented by fostering a strong and well-balanced gastrointestinal tract. I use a fresh food diet and homeopathic treatment for this dis-ease. Read my 10/30/13 Ask the Vet reply at Dog’s Naturally for more information about my approach.