Keep a sharp eye for pet pancreatitis

Q: My poodle, “Missy,” got pancreatitis last Thanksgiving after she got into the trash and ate the leftover turkey. With the holidays coming up, I thought this might be a good opportunity to educate other pet owners.

-R.E., Farragut

A: Absolutely! A few days after Thanksgiving and Christmas, our office unfortunately sees several pets in Missy’s situation.

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a small, thin organ in the upper abdomen that secretes digestive enzymes that break down proteins, fats, etc. that the body needs. With pancreatitis patients like Missy, the pancreas gets overwhelmed by a recent fatty meal [such as turkey].

Diagnosis is generally made from physical examinations, symptoms, blood tests and occasionally

using ultrasound.

Affected dogs typically present with vomiting and abdominal pain, with possible secondary dehydration, lethargy and diarrhea. Clinical signs can vary greatly from mild to quite severe. Cats can get pancreatitis too, although their symptoms are often vague, and only a small percentage of cats will be vomiting.

Treatment of pancreatitis is based on severity of disease. Mild cases can often be treated as outpatients, with oral medications to control nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Bland diets for a few days are also helpful. Patients with severe pancreatitis are often hospitalized with IV fluids.

Medications for nausea, vomiting, and pain are also given IV, as these pets generally cannot hold down oral medications. Most dogs recover well from pancreatitis, but in rare, severe cases, it can be fatal.

Occasionally, dogs will develop pancreatitis without a history of a recent fatty meal. The reasons for this are not always understood. Owners should be more cautious with pets that have a history of pancreatitis, as it is more likely to recur.

Hopefully Missy will have a wonderful and healthy holiday season this year.

Do you have a question about your pet? You may e-mail your questions to Dr. Myers at