Pancreatitis is a stubborn disease and has been since I started treating it in dogs and cats forty years ago. It is stubborn because the symptoms are vague and the diagnostic tests for the disease are not exact. At best, they point towards the pancreas and then leave it up to the doctor to make the diagnosis.
Pancreatitis comes in two different flavors. Acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis. The only difference is that once pancreatitis has occurred more than once in a pet, it is now deemed a chronic pancreatitis. Actually, chronic pancreatitis is recurring bouts of acute pancreatitis. I have known pets that have had four or five bouts of acute pancreatitis in a one year span that sent them to the vet hospital for treatment.
Acute pancreatitis can manifest with a number of clinical symptoms, but most of the time they include, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, painful abdomen and diarrhea. Cats seem to have terrible pain with acute pancreatitis and this must be considered during treatment. Treatment usually consists of resting the pancreas by fasting, IV fluid support, pain medication and antibiotics. Research tells us that infection is not usually a factor in pancreatitis so some vets will not include this as part of the therapy considering the negative effects the antibiotics have on the gut microflora. Most pets with pancreatitis stay in the hospital for 2-3 days before they are ready to go home.
The problem with the conventional veterinary medical approach to pancreatitis is that we have the cart in front of the horse. Our conventional rationalization is that most of the pancreatitis we see in dogs and cats are initiated by high levels of fat in the diet. This is true but it is not the underlying cause of the pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis, like all diseases that end in “itis” mean inflammation of the pancreas. So, theoretically, anything that causes inflammation of the pancreas can be considered a cause of an acute flair of pancreatitis. We often see pancreatitis as a secondary complication of surgery on the gastrointestinal tract. If the pancreas is physically manhandled while doing the surgery, the pancreas becomes inflamed and a pancreatitis occurs. This does not mean that surgery is avoided to prevent pancreatitis, but it does give us a clue that other things besides fat in the diet can be a cause.
The primary underlying cause of the pancreatic inflammation is feeding an inappropriate diet. Most people feed their dogs and cats heat-processed pet food, whether it is kibble or canned. These pet foods create a consistent source of inflammation in the body. Not to go into the biochemical causes of this inflammation, but if you feed these pet diets, inflammation will be the byproduct of these diets and the underlying cause of most chronic diseases.
An inappropriate diet and its associated inflammation plays a major role in the development of GI problems in both dogs and cats. Inflammation has its influence on the gut, pancreas and liver. Leaky gut is a common occurrence leading to inefficient immune system and development of allergies. The pancreatic inflammation causes the pancreas to be very reactive, especially when there are dietary changes. Fat will often trigger the inflamed pancreas to over-react, triggering the acute pancreatic crisis. When we focus our treatment on preventing pancreatitis by reducing fat in the diet, we are just removing a potential aggravating factor and not dealing with the underlying inflamed pancreas. We have to focus on healing the pancreas so that it is not so sensitive to dietary indiscretions.
Most vets will recommend a prescription diet that is has a low-fat level like Science Diet or Royal Canin. Yes, these diets are lower in fat and will help prevent pancreatic flairs but since they are highly-processed kibble diets, they continue to promote inflammation of the pancreas as well as other parts of the body. We must feed a healthy diet, low in fat, that does not promote inflammation while we are working on healing the pancreas as well as the rest of the GI system.
We must be very careful making the transition to a healthy, fresh diet as the pancreas will likely react to the new food. I recommend working with a holistic vet who can help you make the transition while using natural remedies that will support the pancreas healing while making the dietary adjustments.
Chronic pancreatitis does not have to be a problem that your dog or cat needs to live with. It can be cured, but not unless you get to the source of the problem, and that is not fat.