Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas.  The pancreas is an abdominal organ whose primary function is to secrete enzymes to aid in food digestion and to secrete insulin.  The two limbs of the pancreas are located on the left side near the outflow of the stomach into the duodenum, the common bile duct, the liver and the kidney and more centrally near the stomach and the spleen.

Pancreatitis can range from mild inflammation to severe, life-threatening illness.  In dogs, it is usually precipitated by the ingestion of a fatty meal, garbage, or some other similar substance.  Some breeds such as schnauzers are also predisposed.  In cats, the causes may be diverse.  Clinical signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, fever, and abdominal tenderness.  Diagnosis may depend upon blood tests, abdominal radiographs, abdominal ultrasound, or sometimes pancreatic biopsy.  Treatment consists of resting the pancreas.  This is best accomplished by removal of all oral substances (food and water) until some improvement in the symptoms are seen.  Since this process may take several days at least, it is usually recommended that the pet be be hospitalized and placed on IV fluids to prevent dehydration.  Other medications to control nausea and fever are commonly used as well.  Plasma transfusions can be quite beneficial in speeding the recovery and controlling protein loss due to inflammation.  Unfortunately, there is no way to know how long it will take each individual to recover or even be sure they will recover.  Some of the complications that can develop include fluid accumulations in body cavities, clotting disorders, obstruction of the gall bladder from swelling or systemic infections.  Sometimes the pancreas becomes so damaged that supplementation of insulin (diabetes) may develop.  Sometimes surgery is needed to relieve obstruction of the gall bladder, to remove an abscessed region of the pancreas, or to obtain a biopsy.

Most pets respond well to medical treatment and go home to live normal lives once the crisis is over.  It is important to realize that relapses are possible and sometimes life long dietary changes are needed, such as feeding a low fat diet.