The pancreas is an organ with dual functions. It has both endocrine (hormonal) and exocrine (digestive) functions. Pancreatitis is a condition in which the exocrine, or digestive function of the is compromised. Digestion of food begins in the mouth through saliva and chewing. The food moves into the stomach where further digestion occurs with stomach acid. The much smaller almost liquid food particles empty into the small intestines where the pancreas secretes its own digestive enzymes to further break down food particles. Food is the obvious stimulus for the pancreas. Therefore, certain types of food often stimulates the overproduction of digestive enzymes and inflammation of the pancreas. The usual culprits are pork products followed by beef products. Any greasy or fatty substance can initiate this. This excess enzyme is very irritating to the lining of the upper small intestines which can lead to vomiting and diarrhea that often has blood associated with it.
Diagnosis occurs with a thorough history and physical examination along with blood tests looking for elevated pancreatic enzymes. Radiographs are beneficial in some cases but are fairly insensitive for the pancreas. It is a valuable test to rule out other possible abdominal conditions.
Treatment involves dietary management/restriction, fluid therapy, and possible antibiotic therapy. Any vomiting and diarrhea would be addressed as well. Interestingly in dogs, food is restricted for 24-48 hours to give the gut time to heal. In cats, food is encouraged and often forced.
With chronic pancreatitis, the endocrine function can be slowed. The pancreas is responsible for creating insulin which is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. If this capability is decreased, diabetes mellitus can result.
In order to prevent pancreatitis, diets low in fats and higher fiber have been shown to be beneficial. It is very important to feed only the recommended food for your pet.