Around Thanksgiving, you read all about how you should avoid feeding all of the goodies on the table to your dog. We know about the potential for weight gain, the development of bad begging habits, and the risk of an upset tummy. But on Thanksgiving, we all know that even the most strict owner can’t resist slipping a little turkey to our four-legged family member in thanks of great companionship and unconditional love. In most circumstances this is fine and good, but every Thanksgiving some dogs and cats get a little extra “rumbly in the tumbly” (as Winnie the Pooh would say) because of their pancreas creating more than the usual trouble.
The pancreas is a small organ that lives next to the part of the small intestine nearest the stomach. It is soft, thin and several inches long, and it has a pinkish color when healthy. The pancreas has two “jobs” and two different parts to go with it. The endocrine pancreas mostly controls blood sugar levels with insulin and other hormones. The exocrine pancreas sends out enymes to the small intestine to digest and break down food in the intestine. We will focus on this job.
Since the enzymes are so powerful, they will digest the pancreas if allowed. However, the enzymes are stored in their inactive form in zymogen granules (zymogen is also fun to say out loud – try it – Zie-Moe-Gin!) until another enzyme meets up with the granules and makes them active. Normally it works like this: the food gets into the small intestine after leaving the stomach, the pancreas sends these inactive granules to the small intestine, the enzymes in the granules get changed, and the enzymes start breaking our food down for the intestines to absorb.
Now if this seems like a finely balanced job in regulating everything, it is. When this goes wrong, the pancreas begins to activate enzymes early – within the pancreas. The pancreas essentially begins to digest itself. This makes more of those enzymes get released, and they start a vicious cycle of inflammation.
Pancreatitis (itis = inflammation, so Inflammation of the Pancreas) results from this cycle of inflammation. Symptoms can include inappetance, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weakness. Schnauzers, Yorkshire Terriers, and other small breed dogs are more commonly affected, and a high fat meal like those on Thanksgiving is usually the culprit. Treatment includes controlling the nausea and vomiting, giving low fat foods when the animal is able to eat, treating the often severe abdominal pain, and giving fluid support intravenously after all of that vomiting and diarrhea.
Again, I don’t want to be one of those “doom and gloom” vets out there who tells you that awful things will happen to your pet if you give it a morsel of turkey in a couple of days. But it is worth mentioning that if some – ahem – relative lets those sad eyes get to them, the pancreas may not appreciate the favor.
We at Briarcliff Too in College park want to wish you and your furry family a Happy Thanksgiving.
Oh, and no bird bones 🙂