The pancreas is a small but important organ, and if it gets inflamed it can cause big problems!
It’s found nestled between the stomach, intestines and liver
It produces enzymes that digest food in an inactive form
It also produces insulin, which controls the amount of sugar in the blood
Pancreatitis = inflammation of the pancreas
The enzymes become activated too early, and start to digest the pancreas
We don’t yet fully understand why this happens, but high fat foods may be a trigger
What is the pancreas, and what does pancreatitis mean?
The pancreas is an organ found in the abdomen of your dog! It is a flat, L-shaped, organ that sits nestled in between the stomach, intestines and liver.
Any medical word with an “itis” on the end implies that the structure in question is inflamed. Therefore, pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas!
So what’s the big deal?
The pancreas, although small, is definitely important. It has two main functions - it helps our dogs to digest their food by producing digestive enzymes. Enzymes are usually produced in an inactive form and are only activated when they get to the intestines which is where the food is that they need to digest.
The pancreas also produces insulin which helps control the amount of sugar in the blood - this isn’t necessarily important when we’re thinking about pancreatitis but (spoiler alert) it is important later when we think about longer term outcomes in dogs with pancreatitis.
Why do dogs get pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis happens when the enzymes that are needed to digest food are activated too early. The reasons behind why this happens are not really understood and a lot of the time we suppose it’s just the body making a mistake. There are some theories that high fat foods can trigger enzymes to activate early as the body rushes to deal with the fatty overload! So, enzymes activating in the pancreas mean only one thing...the food doesn’t get digested, the pancreas does - not a pretty picture, at all - and the reason your vet may look rather concerned by your dog’s symptoms.
Fast action is important when we suspect pancreatitis as we need to stop it from being too damaged by those digestive enzymes ASAP!
If your dog has had a diagnosis of pancreatitis and you’d like further advice or support, please don’t hesitate to book an appointment with one of the MyDogDoc vets.