Lying just under the stomach and along the beginning of the small intestine, known as the duodenum, the pancreas is a small pink glandular organ. Its main responsibilities include digestion of fats and starches through secretion of enzymes called amylase and lipase and also the regulation of blood sugar levels through secretion of hormones known as insulin and glucagon.
Whatever the inciting cause, the inflammation in the pancreas causes the digestive and metabolic enzymes that are usually stored inside to be released too early. Then they actually start digesting the organ itself. They can get out into circulation and cause inflammation in neighboring organs like the liver. In acute cases, the pancreas can recover and repair. In chronic cases, scar tissue replaces the cells and the pancreas loses the ability to function normally, which can lead to other diseases like diabetes.
The usual signs in dogs with pancreatitis are a loss of appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting and/or diarrhea, and fever. The diagnosis comes from combining the clinical signs together with blood tests. Historically the levels of amylase and lipase (the digestive enzymes of the pancreas) have been the mainstay but they can be elevated for other reasons so other tests such as the PLI (pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity) and the SPEC cPL (Specific Canine Pancreatic Lipase) have been developed. The veterinarian will decide which tests would be best for the patient. Lastly radiographs and an ultrasound can aid in making the diagnosis and also rule out other causes for the clinical signs.
The patient is usually placed on supportive care, such as intravenous fluids, anti-nausea medications and pain medicine, to control the clinical signs. Nutritionally, the dog will be placed on a fat-restricted diet to ease the burden on the pancreas. If the case is chronic, the patient will be on the special diet long term. Other possible interventions include antibiotics and plasma transfusions depending on the severity of the inflammation.