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When I worked at the vet clinic we called the day after Thanksgiving Pancreatitis Friday.
The day, and the entire weekend after Thanksgiving would be filled with diarrhea, vomit, and pain.
It was all hands on deck and we weren’t allowed to request that weekend off.
There would be several calls from panicked owners about their dog getting into the garbage and eating the turkey carcass, owners that woke up to diarrhea and/or vomit scattered all throughout their house, and dogs that stopped eating.
Welcome to pancreatitis hell.
What is pancreatitis in dogs?
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas produces and secretes digestive enzymes and it produces insulin. Digestive enzymes are needed for food digestion and insulin aids in the control of the metabolism and blood-sugar levels. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, digestive enzymes that are normally inactive become active in the pancreas. This results in pain and swelling as the pancreas actually begins to digest itself.
Acute vs chronic pancreatitis.
Acute pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes inflamed suddenly and it is often more severe than chronic pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis is when the pancreas is mildly inflamed for long periods of time. Some dogs that have IBD and diabetes can suffer from a slightly inflamed pancreas and over the course of their disease, it will flare-up into acute pancreatitis.
What causes pancreatitis in dogs?
There can be many causes of acute pancreatitis in dogs some which include being diets high in fat, obesity, hypothyroidism, diabetes, Cushing disease, some toxins, and certain medications. During the holidays pancreatitis is mostly seen in dogs who are given foods high in fat all of a sudden.
Symptoms of pancreatitis.
Symptoms of pancreatitis can vary based on the dogs but the most common symptoms seen are usually vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, pain in the abdomen, lethargy, and restlessness. Other symptoms that can also be seen are a swollen abdomen, hunched back, gagging and lick lipping.
Testing for pancreatitis.
Testing for pancreatitis in dogs will vary based on the severity of the dog’s symptoms. A complete exam performed by a veterinarian will need to be done and also blood tests to check the kidneys, liver, and pancreas are usually performed, along with checking blood sugar levels.
A CBC (complete blood count) to check for anemia, infection, and inflammation will usually be done and your vet may also want to check the electrolytes. X-rays and an ultrasound may be recommended along with other pancreas-specific tests such as a TLI, cobalamin, folate.
Treating pancreatitis will vary but it will often include medication for pain, anti-vomiting and diarrhea medication and a special diet. In severe cases, hospital monitoring may be recommended along with IV fluids, antibiotics and any other medications that the veterinarian deems necessary for your dog’s recovery.
Is pancreatitis in dogs expensive to treat?
It can be. Depending on the severity of the dog’s pancreatitis it can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. There will also be follow-up exams needed to make that the dog is recovering well.
Can pancreatitis cause death in dogs?
Yes. If left untreated or if a dog does not respond well to the treatment they can go into shock and die.
How to avoid pancreatitis this holiday
Acute pancreatitis can easily be avoided by not giving your dog foods that are high in fat around the holidays.
Skip the turkey dinner.
There is no need for them to have gravy on their dinner, a big, juicy turkey thigh or the skin off of a turkey. If you must give them something special try things that are low-fat and healthy for them. Foods such as baked sweet potato chews, plain green beans, homemade apple chips or just plain, frozen pumpkin will make most dogs happy and if given in small amounts, will usually not cause any digestive upsets.
Keep them out of the kitchen
If you’re doing a lot of cooking and you have food in areas that are easy for your dog to swipe something, block the kitchen off with a pet gate. Last year Leroy stole a loaf of stuffing bread off the kitchen table. He only managed to eat a few slices before I chased him down but he was sneaky and on a mission and since he has chronic pancreatitis because of his IBD, a whole loaf of bread could have been disastrous.
Secure the garbage.
Turkey carcasses are the number one foreign body ingestion we saw at the vet clinic and it was almost always because the dog got into the garbage when the owner wasn’t home or when they were sleeping. Throw that turkey carcass away and get it out of the house. We always put all of our Thanksgiving garbage in one garbage bag, secure it in a garbage can with a locking lid and then put something heavy on top of that. I don’t recommend putting the garbage outside in just a bag if you have wildlife around.
Secure your walk until garbage day
Garbage day after Thanksgiving is a feast for wildlife and I’ve learned this first hand. I’ve walked down the road in years past and seen turkey carcasses everywhere. I can control how I dispose of our turkey but I can’t control how the neighbor does so I will walk our route and scope it out for Thanksgiving garbage. I have been known to wear plastic gloves and carry a bag to pick up the debris. It only takes a few extra minutes and it saves me potentially thousands of dollars if Leroy would find it before me.
Tell your holiday guests “DO NOT FEED THE DOG”
Your guests only mean well by sneaking your dog a snack when they flash those big brown eyes but make it clear that is not cool. I’ve put signs up around my house before explaining that if Leroy gets any table food that it could kill him so please do not feed him anything without asking me first. I’ve also left a small bowl of “Leroy approved” treats out for my guests to give if they just can’t resist the urge.
After recently dealing with pancreatitis with Leroy I wouldn’t wish it on any dog nor their owner so please skip the table scraps this holiday and save your dog and bank account from any unnecessary pain.
p.s. Many frozen turkeys are soaked in a brine before they are frozen. The brine is very salty and may contain spices. Read your turkey labels!
I am not a veterinarian and this post does not substitute for medical advice. If you suspect that your dog may have pancreatitis please contact your veterinarian immediately.