We’re writing this blog because pancreatitis sucks and everyone should know about it.

Our own little Obi Wan Kenobi started off with the occasional vomit. It slowly deteriorated over a couple of weeks to more frequent vomits and some abdominal pain. At first, we thought it could have been due to overeating (because he has the tendency to ask for and get our lunches), but it soon became clear something else was brewing.

What we did

As any good vet would, we performed a physical examination and…didn’t find very much. His tummy was a little sore but he was well hydrated and otherwise bright and alert.

Our next step – as Obi’s lovingly neurotic adopted family – was to do a blood test. The blood test revealed mild elevations of amylase and lipase which, ordinarily, would be nothing to shout about. Everything else was ridiculously normal: his blood test revealed normal liver values, normal kidney values, and no dehydration! The blood test doesn’t tell all, though. We ran a supplementary test: the IDEXX SNAP cPL Test which measures canine pancreas-specific lipase, elevations of which are very sensitive and specific for pancreatitis.

It was positive.

Cue fluids and pain management and anti-nausea medication and lots of fussing over Obi. In the majority of pancreatitis patients, a couple of days of treatment is sufficient to get a furbaby on all four paws again.

But our next step? Ultrasound. Because pancreatitis doesn’t always happen in isolation and ultrasound would put our overactive minds to rest. We were super lucky that Graeme from Veterinary Imaging Associates could come in with his ultrasound and give us the all clear. And we all heaved a collective sigh of relief as he imaged the entire pancreas, the liver, the kidneys, and the adrenal glands. It looked like a simple case of pancreatitis, after all.

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. We don’t completely understand why it occurs, although we do know there are several risk factors associated with the disease: being middle-aged or older, being overweight, pre-existing endocrine diseases like diabetes and Cushing’s, and previous history of gastrointestinal disease, among others. Some breeds are also more prone to pancreatitis.

Note that Obi doesn’t fit the description at all. These are not hard and fast rules.

Pancreatitis usually occurs when the digestive enzymes – which are usually packed away for safety until they reach the gut – are prematurely activated. In essence, the pancreas starts digesting itself. In the worst cases, the enzymes start digesting tissue around the pancreas, like the liver and kidneys, resulting in a lot of (sometimes) irreversible damage.

Pancreatitis presents itself in two forms: acute and chronic, although the clinical signs are similar. Acute pancreatitis is associated with a lot of damage to the pancreatic tissue, clinical signs are often very severe, and it progresses very quickly. Chronic pancreatitis is associated with long-standing inflammation…and irreversible damage to the pancreatic tissue.

Because the signs are so non-specific (especially in feline furbabies!), detection can be very, very difficult. A physical exam and even a routine blood test can be largely normal! That’s why, if we’re suspicious, we go the extra step of performing a SNAP cPL test as well.

What can I do?

There are risk factors YOU can control: 1) Your furbaby’s weight and 2) What you’re feeding.

Make sure your furbaby is an optimal weight! This is SO important we’ve written a whole blog post about it.

Don’t feed fatty foods! Ignore the puppy dog eyes when you’re cooking sausages or slicing ham. Fatty foods are very frequently implicated in pancreatitis because of the spike in fat levels in the blood which can lead to premature activation of those enzymes! Don’t do it! Just don’t.

Obi wishes you the best and would like to lend you use of the Force.

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