What is Pancreatitis?
Before we can fully understand what pancreatitis is, it helps to know a little more about the pancreas. The pancreas is a glandular organ situated just under the stomach and duodenum in cats and dogs. It plays two important functions, it produces enzymes needed for the digestion of foods, particularly fats and proteins, and it produces the hormones such as insulin which are necessary for the metabolism of sugar and amino acids.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas and it is a condition that can either be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (developing over time). When the enzymes become activated within the pancreas, they begin digesting the actual glandular tissue, creating inflammation, or pancreatitis. In severe cases, pancreatitis can lead to irreversible changes in the pancreas and long-term complications such as recurrent chronic pancreatitis and diabetes.
The symptoms of pancreatitis vary greatly between vague signs of digestive upset to severe pain where your pet actually collapses. Chronic pancreatitis, often affecting cats, is generally more difficult to recognize and symptoms may come and go.
Symptoms of pancreatitis may include:
- lack of appetite
- abdominal pain
What Causes Pancreatitis?
In many cases the cause of the pancreatitis remains unknown; however there are a number of known risk factors:
- hyperlipidemia – elevated fat levels within the blood
- a high fat diet or high fat meal which can trigger hyperlipidemia
- contaminated food or water
- build up of toxins in the body (often from pesticides, house-hold chemicals, and certain medications including antibiotics)
- other illnesses such as Cushing’s disease or kidney disease
- trauma to the pancreas or abdomen
- obstruction of the pancreatic duct
The symptoms of pancreatitis are not specific to pancreatitis alone and may be indicative of a number of other conditions. Your pet’s veterinarian should perform a thorough physical examination and gather a detailed history from you, the pet-owner.
Remember to discuss your pet’s diet and eating habits as fatty meals are a common trigger of the condition. Blood tests will pick up any pancreatic enzymes and your vet may also recommend a radiograph to rule out other gastric conditions or diseases.
Help for Pancreatitis
Treatment of pancreatitis is usually supportive, meaning that there is no medicine that will cure it, but certain measures can be taken to allow the pancreas to heal on its own. As enzymes are produced whenever the stomach receives food or water, your vet will probably suggest that your pet receives no food, water or medication for a period between 2-5 days.
During this time, nutrition and fluid intake will be done intravenously as will any pain or anti-vomiting medication. In some cases a course of antibiotics is also given. Pets that do not show improvement may require surgical exploration of the abdomen. Your vet will also investigate the possible cause of the pancreatitis and aim at treating that.
While veterinary treatment is always required to treat pancreatitis, herbal and homeopathic remedies can be used as a preventative program or alongside conventional treatment. Certain herbs and homeopathic ingredients have been identified as having excellent tonic properties for the liver, pancreas and gallbladder. Milk thistle is one such herb which acts as a powerful antioxidant and helps to remove toxins at a cellular level.
Burdock is another herb that can be taken to prevent pancreatitis or assist in the treatment of chronic forms of the condition. This herb has antibiotic properties and works as a blood purifier. The bio-chemic tissue salt Nat phos is also recommended as it helps break down and assimilate fats, while Nat sulph helps to detox the liver and promote pancreatic health.
More Information on Pancreatitis
Tips for preventing pancreatitis
- Healthy eating is key! A low-fat, high-fiber diet is usually recommended for the prevention of pancreatitis. If your pet has chronic pancreatitis, a single fatty meal can be enough to trigger an episode.
- Obesity should always be avoided. Aim at keeping your pet at his or her ideal weight! With a healthy low-fat diet and adequate exercise this should not be a difficult goal to reach.
- Stress is a possible cause for pancreatitis so try keeping your pet stress-free. Some pets are simply more anxious than others so they may need a little extra reassurance and care, especially during times of change.
- Avoid toxins. Your pet’s health may be affected by toxins such as pesticides, medications and house-hold clearers. Limit environmental toxins as much as possible, and when conventional medications are necessary, then consider a detox for your pet.