Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
The acinar cells in the pancreas manufacture digestive enzymes that empty
into the duodenum in response to the stimulation of a meal. Without them, food
cannot be adequately digested and nutrients therefore cannot be adequately
absorbed. For reasons that are unknown, the acinar cells may atrophy and stop
producing enzymes. This condition is called pancreatic acinar cell atrophy
(PAA), and is one of the major causes of pancreatic insufficiency.
PAA begins in dogs under 2 years of age. All breeds are affected, but there
is a predisposition in large breeds, particularly German Shepherd Dogs, in whom
the disease may be inherited as an autosomal recessive trait.
A less common cause of pancreatic insufficiency is pancreatitis. Following a
bout of inflammation, the pancreas may become scarred and contracted. This
produces the same effect as acinar cell atrophy. This form of pancreatic
insufficiency tends to affect middle-aged and older dogs of the small
Dogs with pancreatic insufficiency lose weight despite a voracious appetite
and increased food consumption. The unabsorbed food produces a diarrhea with
large, gray, semi-formed cow-pie stools with a rancid odor (see Malabsorption Syndrome). The
hair around the anus is often oily from undigested fat. Intense hunger may
cause the dog to eat his own stool.
The diagnosis of pancreatic insufficiency can be suspected from the
appearance of the stool and other observations. The best and most accurate test
is the serum trypsinlike immunoreactive assay (TLI), available to veterinarians
through special mail-out laboratories. Folate and vitamin B12 levels may also
be used as diagnostic aids.
Treatment: Most dogs respond well to having the missing enzymes added to
their meals. Powered pancreatic extracts (Viokase-V and Pancrezyme) are
superior to enteric-coated and uncrushed tablets.
Dogs who do not respond completely to pancreatic enzymes may do so when the
maintenance diet is switched to a highly digestible, fat-restricted diet such
as Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d. An acid-blocker such as cimetidine (Tagamet)
or ranitidine (Zantac) may be prescribed by your veterinarian to prevent
destruction of the pancreatic enzymes by acid in the stomach.