It is Christmas day and since everyone else is enjoying the turkey feast, you decide you want to give your dog a treat. The turkey gizzards and heart seem like a reasonable treat so you cook them up in some of the drippings from the bird and add the yummy mix to his kibble, forgetting that you already let him lick out the bacon pan from breakfast. Oh, and then there was the pig’s ear in his stocking from Santa that he gobbled down and the rawhide chew you left him with when you went to the in-law’s for lunch. He dives into his kibble much like he did the bacon grease, the ear and the rawhide chew earlier in the day, all with the happy gusto of a dog who loves to eat.
A few hours later, you wake to the distinct sound of a dog about to vomit. You shoot out of bed, hoping to save the carpet and drag him just in time to the tile floor in the bathroom. Up comes everything in one big stinky mess along with a few drops of bright red blood! What the heck? It was only a bit of turkey gizzard and some grease! How in the world could he be this sick?
Acute intestinal distress is common in dogs – at some point, all dogs eat something they should not have and end up with a stomach ache. Some dogs bounce back from these spells within a few hours and others need medical attention – it depends on the sensitivity of their gastrointestinal tract and the toxic levels of what they ate.
In the case of our dog on Christmas day, it is a two, if not three, fold problem – first there was the amount of fat ingested throughout the day, which was exacerbated by the high preservative levels in the bacon and pig’s ear and the quantity of food consumed throughout the day.
Eating too much fat or grease causes Pancreatitis – a condition where the enzymes produced in the pancreas are activated while still in the gland, instead of in the stomach where they are meant to aid in the digestion of food. The activated enzymes begin to digest the pancreas instead, causing pain, swelling and tenderness. Symptoms also include a lack of appetite, frequent vomiting and diarrhea with or without blood, increased thirst and overall weakness or inability to walk. Dehydration is common in dogs with pancreatitis due to the vomiting and diarrhea. At the onset, the dog’s temperature may be above normal but as dehydration sets in, their body temperature will drop to below normal. Unfortunately, these signs are not unique or limited to pancreatitis and your vet will need to run blood work to test for the condition.
Other causes of acute pancreatitis are both bacterial and viral infections as well as trauma and chronic pancreatitis is often caused by obesity. Hyperlipemia, elevated fat levels in the blood, is normal for a short period after eating but pancreatitis can develop if the levels spike due to ingesting a large quantity of fat or from a chronic condition in both pets and humans where the body is unable to metabolize or ‘clear’ the fat from the blood stream.
Treating a Dog with an Upset Stomach
No matter what the cause, your pet requires treatment from your veterinarian. For a full diagnosis, your vet will want to know what your pet has consumed over the last few days including eating or drinking anything suspicious while out on a walk as bacterial infections can develop from contaminated water or from ingesting dead animals. Diagnostic lab work will include measuring the levels of white blood cells, cholesterol, amylase and the digestive enzyme lipase in the blood.
The single most important treatment in pancreatitis is to withhold all food, water and oral medication for anywhere from 24 hours to five days depending on the severity of the pancreatitis. Anything entering the stomach will spark the pancreas into producing digestive enzymes because the pancreas is especially sensitive during this time.
Dehydration is a major concern with pancreatitis so fluids must be introduced either intravenously or subcutaneously (under the skin). All medication will be introduced this way as well so that the stimulation to the pancreas is kept to a minimum.
Highly digestible and low-fat food is reintroduced gradually – a teaspoon every two hours to begin with is not unheard of in severe cases of pancreatitis. If the food stays down and no diarrhea develops from the introduction of food, your vet will send your pet home with specific feeding instructions that must be followed.
Once a pet suffers from pancreatitis, it is more prone to developing it again or it becoming a chronic condition. Small, frequent meals of a moderate to low fat food are recommended as is keeping your pet at its ideal weight. Avoiding table scraps and high-fat food as well as over-processed treats full of preservatives such as bacon and pig’s ears will keep your pet happy and healthy for years to come. Long term dietary management is key to avoiding this potentially chronic condition and the overall good health of your four-legged companion.
It is Christmas day the following year and you decide you want to give your dog a treat. The gizzard and heart from the big bird look tasty with no visible sign of fat so you boil them up in a bit of water, mince the meat and add a small amount to your dog’s kibble over the next few meals, spreading out the treat while avoiding last year’s disaster. Your faithful companion gobbles down the kibble with a wag of his tail, his doggy way of saying ‘thank you and Merry Christmas to all and to all, a good night!’