During the holidays, pet parents and house guests appear more susceptible to the alluring look on the face of the family cat or dog as they gaze at your leftovers. All too often, people try …
During the holidays, pet parents and house guests appear more susceptible to the alluring look on the face of the family cat or dog as they gaze at your leftovers. All too often, people try justifying to themselves the benign effects of sharing that last piece of turkey, dressing, oven-roasted vegetable, or cranberry sauce. Contrary to public belief, even the smallest amount of table food can cause serious illness.
Pancreatitis is the most common disease veterinarians diagnose and treat during the holiday season in both dogs and cats. The cause is usually food that the pet is not normally exposed to. Pets are especially sensitive to foods that contain a large amount of fat or grease. Nestled under the stomach in close proximity to the liver, the pancreas is responsible for secreting enzymes that aid in digesting fats and carbohydrates as well as creating insulin. Increased fatty food intake causes the pancreas to work harder, resulting in severe inflammation to the pancreas and adjacent organs. This inflammation decreases digestion ability, which then causes less nutrient absorption. The process can be quite painful and life threatening. Further warning, not all patients have to ingest fatty food to develop pancreatitis. Some breeds such as Schnauzers are predisposed to the disease because many of them have fat metabolism disease. Cats, on the other hand, can develop pancreatitis from environmental stress, often occurring during the holidays.
If you know that your pet dined on table food and notice subsequent vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and fever, a veterinarian should see them as soon as possible. Delay in medical testing and proper treatment can prolong healing and, in some situations, increase risk of secondary life-threatening complications.
A veterinarian will perform a thorough examination and a series of diagnostic tests. The mainstay diagnostics include a complete blood count, clinical chemistry and radiographs. If the veterinarian needs to actually see the pancreas and adjacent organs, an ultrasound (sonogram) might be required. In some cases, an abdominal exploratory procedure may be necessary; the veterinarian will open the patient’s abdomen to examine the organs.
Treatment for pancreatitis is typically achieved with hospitalization lasting two to four days on intravenous fluids, antibiotics and anti-vomiting medications. Small frequent meals are administered and, in some cases, patients must have a feeding tube placed in their nose (nasogastric tube) for a short period of time. Some patients may respond sooner while others require longer hospital stays. Overall, recovery happens smoothly, but sometimes the inflammation subsides and scar formation begins to occur. When 80 percent of the pancreas is damaged, insulin cannot be produced and thus diabetes can develop.
Aside from the risk of developing pancreatitis when sharing your holiday trimmings, it is important to also know that many foods and spices can be toxic to pets. Some of the most common ones include garlic, onions, grapes, raisins, chocolate and macadamia nuts. Even in the smallest amounts these products can be highly toxic and life threatening, so it is best to avoid them completely at all costs. If you are concerned about exposure, you are encouraged to contact your family veterinarian as soon as possible.