The pancreas is an organ attached to the small intestine.
It serves two basic functions:
The endocrine side produces insulin which enables the body to process glucose. Glucose is the body’s main energy source.
The exocrine side produces enzymes to digest food. Food must be digested in order for the intestines to absorb the nutrients contained in the food consumed.
When a pet consumes food that is high in fat, the pancreas gets overworked, swells and actually leaks enzymes into the abdominal cavity. This causes autodigestion and is very painful and can even cause death. The most common cause of pancreatitis we see in veterinary practice is when pets are fed people food. The clinical signs of pancreatitis include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, painful abdomen, and inappetence. Untreated cases can cause death.
Treatment is usually supportive with iv fluids, hospitalization, antibiotics, anti-emetics, and antidiarrheals. We often withhold food in dogs for several days to give the pancreas a chance to settle down. Feeding a dog with pancreatitis literally fuels the fire, stimulating the pancreas to produce more enzymes. A new treatment for severe cases of pancreatitis is hyperbaric chamber treatment. Some patients require surgery and drains. Management of dogs and cats with pancreatitis is done with a high fiber, low fat diet. Prevention is the key. We cannot say this loudly enough or more emphatically, DO NOT GIVE PETS PEOPLE FOOD!
Discussing pancreatitis with clients is a daily occurrence. Pancreatitis does not happen to every pet fed people food, but the risk is certainly much higher. The human analogy is not all smokers die of lung cancer, but your odds certainly go up if you do.
Pet owners often equate food with love. I am all for spoiling our pets, but this can be accomplished without endangering their health and lives.