Thanksgiving has a way of leaving the entire family feeling stuffed and sluggish, but if your dog or cat is also experiencing these signs (or others, such as vomiting or diarrhea) this holiday season, don’t ignore it. Indulging in a rich, fatty meal can result in much more than an upset stomach for pets—it can cause a painful and serious condition known as pancreatitis.
What Is Pancreatitis?
As the name suggests, pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas, a vital organ that helps the body digest food and control blood sugar, becomes inflamed. While a number of different factors—including obesity, infection, medication, toxins, and trauma—can cause pancreatitis, it is most commonly triggered by large amounts of fatty foods.
It is critical to remember that while Thanksgiving is one of the most beloved meals of the year for humans, many holiday favorites—such as butter, cream, gravy, bacon, and turkey skin and drippings—can put pets in serious danger and may even become life-threatening without treatment.
What Are the Signs?
Pancreatitis can be an acute, one-time event or a chronic, recurring condition. Signs of pancreatitis range from mild to severe and are not always immediate, sometimes developing days after exposure to fatty foods. During the holidays, it is especially important to keep a close eye on your pet and report any changes in his behavior to your veterinarian right away.
- Nausea or drooling
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
Some breeds, such as miniature schnauzers, are particularly prone to developing pancreatitis and may be more likely to have recurring bouts of the disease. Older and overweight animals, as well as those who have a penchant for digging around in the garbage can, also have an increased risk.
How Is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
Pancreatitis is diagnosed based on your pet’s medical history and exam findings, as well as lab tests and diagnostic imaging.
Your veterinarian will start by asking about your pet’s symptoms and gathering a detailed history. Come prepared to discuss your pet’s regular diet and eating habits, as well as any recent changes. Your veterinarian will also perform a complete physical exam to evaluate your pet for any signs of pain, nausea, fever, and dehydration.
Finally, lab tests will be performed to assess your pet’s pancreatic enzymes, though it is important to remember that pancreatitis is still possible if the results of these tests are normal. Your veterinarian may also recommend X-rays or an ultrasound of your pet’s abdomen to confirm pancreatitis.
How Is It Treated?
Successful treatment of pancreatitis starts with an early diagnosis and prompt medical care to prevent the condition from worsening. Your pet will be given medications to control pain, reduce inflammation, and prevent nausea and vomiting. He may also be given intravenous (IV) fluid therapy to help restore hydration levels.
In an effort to rest the pancreas and stop the cycle of inflammation, all food and water will be withheld for 24 hours. Depending on the severity of the condition, your pet may also be hospitalized for monitoring and continued care.
After the resting period, bland, low-fat, and easily digestible foods will be slowly reintroduced. Once your pet has been treated for pancreatitis, it is critical to monitor his diet to prevent the problem from recurring. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate diet that will help you keep your pet’s fat intake in check and discuss strategies to prevent pancreatitis from occurring in the future.
What Can My Pet Enjoy on Thanksgiving Instead?
Just because pets cannot enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving feast does not mean they have to be left out completely. Talk to your veterinarian about setting aside small portions of plain, well-cooked turkey (no skin, bones, or drippings), potatoes (skip the butter and gravy), or veggies, like plain carrots or green beans (not the casserole variety) instead.
Don’t let Thanksgiving turn into a meal you and your pet will regret. If you believe your pet may be suffering from pancreatitis, contact us or your local emergency veterinary hospital right away.