In veterinary medicine, as in human medicine, we talk a lot about prevention. There is no better way to keep our pets (and ourselves) healthy than preventing illness or injury in the first place. From lifesaving vaccinations to lifesaving parasite preventatives, prevention is the way to go!
Throughout the summer, we’ve been enjoying outdoor parties, grilling out and dining al fresco. With a few weeks of cookouts and picnics left (and holidays on the horizon), this is a perfect time to talk about preventing one very common (and very serious) illness—pancreatitis.
As you may recall from previous blogs, pancreatitis occurs when there is inflammation of the pancreas, the organ responsible for the production of digestive enzymes and insulin, among other things. Pancreatitis can be acute (meaning it happens all of a sudden), or it can be chronic, with symptoms that wax and wane over long periods of time.
Pancreatitis occurs in cats and dogs, and signs often mimic acute gastroenteritis (vomiting and/or diarrhea), but just as often the clinical signs are vague or non-specific. This is especially true in cats. Lethargy, low (or no) appetite and abdominal pain can signify pancreatitis or any other number of illnesses.
While we don’t know the exact cause of pancreatitis, we are aware of risk factors, which can increase the odds of your pet becoming ill with this sometimes life-threatening disease.
Risk factors in our feline friends include things like diabetes, cholangitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and hepatic lipidosis. There’s nothing we can specially do to keep these illnesses from occurring, but at least two things on that list occur less often in cats who are a healthy weight, so it makes sense that preventing obesity could be a step towards preventing pancreatitis.
In dogs, however, there IS something you might do that could directly result in pancreatitis. We know that a high fat diet is a major risk factor for the development of pancreatitis. Sure, being overweight and having concurrent metabolic disease such as hypothyroidism, diabetes and Cushing’s disease also contribute, but these things are out of your control. Your dog’s diet is something YOU control—make sure it’s a healthy one, as diets high in fat put your dog at risk.
High fat treats are also on the list of suspects—more than once a dog has gotten into trouble from high fat table snacks that start up a bout of pancreatitis. Holidays and cookouts are prime time for pancreatitis, as owners feel they need to treat their pets to the delicacies of the day. But you may just treat your pet into the emergency clinic, instead!
Feeding your pet (whether cat or dog) a well-controlled, fat restricted diet high in omega 3 fatty acids is best in most cases to keep them healthy in the long and short run, but if you just can’t resist those puppy dog eyes staring up at your while you man the grill, choose a healthy treat—toss her a grilled squash or zucchini rather than a fat laden scrap of meat!