Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas produces both insulin and digestive enzymes necessary for digesting food and assimilating nutrients.  This organ is very delicate, easy to damage and slow to heal.  The inflammation is caused by an inappropriate, early activation of a pancreatic enzyme which causes the pancreas to digest itself.     

Pancreatitis can result from a high-fat diet, obesity, a traumatic injury, or excessive use of antibiotics, diuretics or corticosteroids.  It can also be related to other underlying problems with the liver, gallbladder, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease or a bacterial infection. Even something as simple as getting into the garbage can bring on pancreatitis.  However, most of the time, the inciting cause of pancreatitis cannot be determined.   Some breeds are more susceptible to the development of pancreatitis.   

Pancreatitis can be either acute, which is a sudden-onset, or chronic, which is a long term illness.  Symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:   

Severe lethargy

Persistent vomiting

Severe dehydration

Abdominal pain

Collapse and shock

Chronic pancreatitis, is not as common as acute and can suddenly worsen.  Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:   

Lethargy

Decreased appetite to not eating at all

Vomiting and/or abdominal pain

Pancreatitis can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are not always specific to the pancreas and routine blood tests are not always helpful.  There are pancreatic- specific blood tests your veterinarian can perform if he suspects the disease but these are not 100% accurate.  X-rays are not very helpful in diagnosis either.  The best method for imaging the pancreas is an abdominal ultrasound.  The pancreatic tissue needs to be abnormal enough to see using the ultrasound which is more common in acute cases.     

Treatment for acute pancreatitis is often more extensive.  Animals with severe pancreatitis can be critical and are best cared for in a veterinary care facility.  The patients may need several days or weeks of treatment including:   

Intravenous fluid and electrolyte support

Pain-control

Stomach protectant medication

Antinausea medications

Nutritional support from a feeding tube

And sometimes antibiotics

In cases of mild to moderate pancreatitis might be hospitalized for a few days for IV fluid therapy.  They may also be treated with subcutaneous fluid administration, which might even be done at home.  These cases may also be treated with:   

Antinausea medication

Stomach protectant

Pain relief medications

A bland, low-fat diet

Please note, that a dog that has recovered from pancreatitis, even a single episode, may develop extensive scarring of pancreatic tissue.  This can lead to diabetes or a condition called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency which occurs as a result of the pancreas being unable to produce a sufficient amount of digestive enzymes.  The earlier you are able to diagnose and treat pancreatitis, the more likely you are to have a positive outcome.