As the seasonal schedule of holiday parties get underway, sharing food with family and friends is tradition. And while it’s tempting to share with our pets, it’s not a good idea to let them indulge in many of the foods we enjoy, especially rich or fatty foods like bacon.
In fact, any high-fat table scraps, like turkey skin or fat trimmed from your steak can cause more harm than good. If your pet consumes food with a high fat content, it can cause pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas that can be life-threatening.
The pancreas is a crucial organ that sits near the stomach in the abdomen, producing digestive enzymes (like lipase which aids in food digestion), as well as hormones (like insulin which regulates blood sugar).
When the pancreas is working normally, pancreatic enzymes travel to the small intestine, where they are activated to start digestion.
In a pet with pancreatitis, the enzymes are activated in the pancreas as they’re released and begin digesting before reaching the small intestine. This results in damage to the pancreas and even digestion of the pancreas itself, an extremely painful condition.
Pancreatitis is often acute (appearing suddenly, over a short period of time) but can also become chronic, especially if a pet has previously had acute pancreatitis.
What causes pancreatitis in pets?
Experts don’t know the exact cause of pancreatitis, but we do know that it can be triggered by fatty foods. At Mt. Shasta Animal Hospital (MSAH), most of the patients we see with pancreatitis are because they enjoyed (temporarily) a high-fat meal. Some breeds may be more prone to pancreatitis because of their metabolism. Pancreatitis in cats may occur spontaneously without any obvious trigger or accompany conditions like diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease.
Signs and symptoms of pancreatitis in pets
The clinical signs of pancreatitis vary. Common symptoms in pets that may be mistaken for other conditions include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Bloated appearance (abdominal distention)
- Lethargy or weakness
- Loss of or decrease in appetite
- Vomiting (often repeatedly)
Some dogs with pancreatitis may hunch over or assume a “praying position,” in which their hind end stays in the air, with their front legs and head on the floor.
If you notice any of these potential signs of pancreatitis in your dog or cat—and especially if they show more than one sign—call us immediately. If your pet has been vomiting, has had diarrhea, or hasn’t eaten for more than 24 hours, be sure to let us know.
What are the risks?
Pancreatitis can lead to dehydration, diabetes, organ damage, and even death. Early intervention and prompt veterinary treatment can make a difference in the successful management of pancreatitis in dogs and cats.
Diagnosis of pancreatitis in pets
Besides performing a physical exam of your pet, your MSAH veterinarian can run a number of laboratory (blood) tests to help determine whether your pet has pancreatitis. In some cases, we may need to perform an abdominal ultrasound or take radiographs (x-rays).
Treatment of pancreatitis in pets
Successful management of pancreatitis depends on early diagnosis and prompt medical therapy. Hospitalization for several days is usually required.
During your pet’s stay at in hospital, we will provide supportive treatment and allow the pancreas to rest. This often involves controlling vomiting, providing intravenous (IV) fluids and pain medication, as well as giving other medication to reduce systemic (body-wide) inflammation and control any diarrhea. Once vomiting is under control, an ultralow-fat diet will be fed to keep the pancreas from being stimulated (i.e, we want to keep it resting). Antibiotics may be needed if the pet has an infection.
How can I prevent my pet from getting pancreatitis?
One of the best ways to help prevent pancreatitis in your pet is to keep them away from high-fat foods, including:
- Bacon grease
- Fat trimmed off meat or bones
- Ham drippings
- Turkey or chicken skin
- Turkey, chicken, or other meat that’s been seasoned
These foods contain a lot of fat and salt. At the very least, these foods will cause digestive issues in both dogs and cats, never mind their risk of causing more severe pancreatitis. Be mindful, especially around the holidays, as most birds have been brined, deep fried, and contain butter and seasoning—sounds delicious but can come with a big serving of pancreatitis for pets.
Keep it out of reach!
Remember that even normally well-behaved dogs and cats may not wait for an invitation to snatch up a tasty-looking treat from a countertop or off a guest’s plate. Help keep your pet safe by:
- Covering food if it’s sitting out.
- Covering or putting away food right after a meal to prevent your pet from getting into leftovers or table scraps.
- Warning guests to keep their plates out of your pet’s reach and not to feed them.
If your pet tends to countersurf, be especially careful to not leave whole birds or hams out on the countertop—the temptation will be too much for them. Ask us for tips on what people foods are safe for your pet to have as an occasional treat. We know you don’t want to deprive them, but we also want to make sure your pet stays safe.
If your pet is showing signs of pancreatitis, call us right away at (530) 926-5266.