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Pancreatitis is inflammation of your pet’s pancreas that can disrupt its normal functions. This is often a serious issue, as the pancreas has two vital functions: it secretes insulin, which balances blood sugar, and it secretes digestive enzymes -- amylase, lipase and proteases.
Fever, lethargy, dehydration, abdominal pain, anorexia, vomiting and diarrhea in both dogs and cats can all have roots in pancreatitis.
What’s even more interesting about pancreatitis is that inflammation of the pancreas can be very, very mild or it can be extremely life-threatening and even fatal in some cases.
Inflammation of the pancreas is becoming more recognized as a problem in veterinary medicine and in fact brand new research states that up to 40 percent of cats that were autopsied had lesions of pancreatitis. Those cats didn’t die of a pancreatic problem, so we’re recognizing that the pancreas is not only a vital organ but one that may be increasingly prone to injury and damage secondary to other disease processes.
I think the increase in diagnosed cases is partly because vets are beginning to check for it more often, but there seem to be other factors contributing as well.
Why Pancreatitis Occurs
As a holistic veterinarian, I don’t think it’s a fluke or happenstance that the pancreas has become more and more attacked as an organ. We know that the high carbohydrate-based diets that most dogs and cats eat are extremely taxing to pets’ insulin levels, which are, in turn, taxing to the pancreas.
In addition, the foods that we feed our dogs and cats are entirely processed and devoid of natural enzymes, which help supplement your pet’s diet and reduce pancreatic stress. So, the pancreas really may live in a state of chronic inflammation and stress because the average American pet diet is dead (processed at high temperatures to create an extensive shelf life) and is therefore devoid of any naturally occurring amylase, lipase and protease enzymes that would naturally be found in raw foods. The canned or kibble (dry food) diet that you feed your pet causes the pancreas to have to secrete an abundance of digestive enzymes. If the pancreas fails to perform adequately, pancreatitis results.
There are also some drugs that are well known to incite episodes of pancreatitis. For instance, anti-seizure drugs such as Potassium Bromide or Phenobarbital are well known to predispose pets to pancreatitis.
Prednisone and other catabolic steroids are also well known to cause pancreatitis. Even the diuretic Lasix (Furosemide®), has been implicated in pancreatitis attacks in dogs and cats.
However, diet also plays into recurrent pancreatitis episodes. Many cats and dogs eat a diet that is much too high in fat and we know that fat is also an inciting cause of low-grade, recurrent pancreatitis.
Certain breeds, such as Miniature Schnauzers may also have a genetic predisposition to having recurrent pancreatitis, and German Shepherds can be born with pancreatic insufficiency causing enzyme deficiency symptoms from birth.
Pancreatitis Often Recurs
If you’ve been through the nightmare of pancreatitis, you know all too well that number one, it is very scary, and number two, many animals require hospitalization and very intense medical therapy to pull them through the crisis.
What you may not know is that pancreatitis often recurs. You can easily spend thousands of dollars getting your pet stabilized with each occurrence of pancreatitis, and I wish I could tell you that just putting your pet on a low-residue, low-fat diet will eliminate their future risk. Unfortunately, the fact is that many pets end up with recurrent pancreatitis.
Diagnosis of Pancreatitis
Veterinarians diagnose pancreatitis through a blood test called the PLI (Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity) Test. Your veterinarian may suggest that you run a PLI test if he or she suspects your pet may be dealing with pancreatitis.
There are also two pancreatic enzymes, lipase and amylase, that can be elevated on traditional blood work when animals have pancreatitis, but most veterinarians rely on the PLI test for an accurate and quick diagnostic test to determine if your pet has pancreatic inflammation.
What to do if Your Pet Has Pancreatitis
If your pet has failed the PLI, which means the PLI levels are elevated beyond what they should be for your dog or cat, you should seek medical attention -- especially if your pet is vomiting, lethargic, dealing with anorexia or has a fever.
After the crisis has passed, the very best “insurance” that you can buy to lower your pet’s chances of having a repeat episode is to supply them with a rich source of digestive enzymes.
We know that dogs’ and cats’ pancreases cannot secrete enough digestive enzymes to adequately process their foods. Dogs and cats were meant to acquire supplemental enzymes from the foods they consumed: living foods that contained abundant enzymes.
Historically dogs and cats consumed parts of their preys’ GI tracts which provided adequate enzymes for them to process their food. Carnivores also consumed their preys’ glands, including pancreatic tissue, which was a rich source of naturally occurring enzymes.
Although we advocate feeding a balanced, raw food diet, we don’t recommend feeding stomach contents of prey species, as this is how parasites can be transmitted to your pets. This means even pets consuming a species appropriate, raw food diet can be enzyme deficient.
By you supplying a source of digestive enzymes in their diet, either by feeding pancreatic tissue (which is unappealing to most pet owners) or a supplement, , you can help reduce the stress and strain the pancreas is under to continually come up with enough enzymes to process t food.
Mercola Healthy Pets is coming out with an excellent pet enzyme that I highly recommend. If you have pets that are dealing with pancreatitis, have dealt with pancreatitis, or if you want to reduce the likelihood of your pet exhibiting symptoms of pancreatitis, adding digestive enzymes to their food at mealtime is a perfect way to help avoid future complications and reduce pancreatic stress.