Posted November 18, 2021
Featuring Harry Cridge

In the early 2000’s, relatively few dogs were diagnosed with inflammation of the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis. But today, many dog owners are familiar with this now-common condition that can be caused by genetics, high-fat diets, obesity, and the consumption of non-food items, among other causes. Are the spoiling and antics of man’s best friend to blame for this growing case count?

Not so—or at least, not exclusively, according to Dr. Harry Cridge, assistant professor of Health Programs at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine. “It’s not necessarily true that there are more cases of pancreatitis in dogs than there used to be. What’s true is that we’ve become better at identifying those cases because of advances in science and technology.”

There is no one, perfect test for pancreatitis, so veterinarians use a suite of diagnostic tools. In his latest review article for the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Cridge and his co-authors from Colorado State University, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, and Texas A&M University review these modalities—blood tests, abdominal ultrasound, and other advanced imaging tools. They also suggest a best-practices protocol for diagnosing pancreatitis.

Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs

A dog in “prayer posture” can sometimes indicate cranial abdominal pain consistent with pancreatitis. Photo credit: Dr. Alyssa Zoto

Call your veterinarian immediately if your dog is in pain, has an enlarged or swollen abdomen, and/or a curved or hunched back. You also should call your veterinarian if your dog has two or more of the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting, especially repeated
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Weakness

Source/continued reading: American Kennel Club

“Examining internal tissues used to be considered the most reliable way to diagnose the disease, but acute [sudden and usually short-term] pancreatitis doesn’t present the same way in every dog, and obtaining tissue samples can be invasive,” says Cridge. “For these reasons, we suggest that veterinarians integrate clinical findings, imaging results, and lipase tests [lipase is a pancreas-produced enzyme that breaks down fat] to establish optimal diagnostic results. Occasionally, additional testing may be needed. This protocol most effectively identifies dogs with pancreatitis and helps rule out dogs that do not have pancreatitis. Accurate diagnosis is key to ensure optimal treatment."

Cridge notes that there are still drawbacks to this approach; less severe cases of pancreatitis could be overlooked, and the results of blood tests can take a few days to come back.

“We’re making these overarching recommendations, but veterinarians still need to carefully consider each patient as an individual in order to properly diagnose the condition,” says Cridge.

And he would know. In addition to his teaching and research roles, Cridge is a clinician for the MSU Veterinary Medical Center’s Internal Medicine Service. Before that, he completed an internship and internal medicine residency at Mississippi State University (as well as a Master of Science degree). During his training, he won the Comparative Gastroenterology Society Resident Award and published a Top 20 paper on pancreatitis in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Just this year, he also was awarded diplomate status of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Cridge says that the best option, of course, is for dogs to avoid pancreatitis. Owners can reduce risk by avoiding high-fat diets and ensuring dogs do not eat items that they shouldn't. Despite this, some animals will still develop pancreatitis, and prompt evaluation by a veterinarian can improve outcomes.

To learn more about the review article and related work at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, contact the Internal Medicine Service.

Read Advances in the Diagnosis of Acute Pancreatitis in Dogsfor a state-of-the-art overview, with special focus on pancreatic lipase assays and advanced imaging modalities, plus potential indications for cytology and histopathology.