Though pancreatitis is not actually a hereditary disease, the fact that the Yorkshire terrier, along with a few other breeds, shows a higher occurrence rate than among dogs in general indicates some as-yet undiscovered genetic predisposition. The actual problem usually crops up in middle age, more often in females than males. Overweight dogs are more susceptible.
Nutrition definitely plays a part. Dogs that are routinely fed high-fat diets or fatty people-food treats or that help themselves to garbage are placed at higher risk. Hyperlipidemia (a metabolic disorder resulting in high amounts of fats in the blood), trauma to the area of the pancreas (under the stomach), some medications, and chronic kidney disease can all contribute to pancreatitis.
Symptoms may be vague and mild at the beginning of an episode and worsen over time. Typical symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. The abdomen may appear swollen. You might see diarrhea, or a yellowish oily-looking stool. The dog may be dehydrated as well.
While your dog is healthy and happy, pull a little bit of the loose skin at the back of the neck away from the body and watch how quickly it snaps back into position when you let go. When a dog is dehydrated, the skin will not be so quick to snap back into position. You do this as part of a routine health check.
Some dogs suffering from pancreatitis will seem to be depressed, not taking pleasure in the things they usually enjoy. Some might exhibit a hunched, uncomfortable-looking position. The dog might also have a fever.
An attack of pancreatitis is an emergency condition and is potentially life threatening. As it worsens, it can result in infection throughout the body, multiple hemorrhages, heart arrhythmia, and autodigestion of the stomach or intestines by enzymes being released by the damaged pancreas.
The veterinarian will suspect pancreatitis based on the history given by the owner, a physical exam, and the presence of any risk factors such as obesity or recent consumption of a high-fat meal. That will be followed with some tests.
Blood will probably be drawn for a complete blood count (CBC) to evaluate the presence of the pancreatic enzymes amylase and lipase. The white blood cell count is usually elevated. A newer blood test, the serum trypsin-like immunoreactivity assay (TLI assay), is even more specific to the pancreas.
Radiographs may be taken of the abdomen. An appearance of ground glass where the pancreas should lie is fairly definitive. An ultrasound could also be done to help the veterinarian look for pancreatitis, an abscess in the pancreas, a tumor, or fluid in the abdominal cavity.
Do only enough testing to be sure of the diagnosis. Testing is expensive for you and stressful for the dog, and treatment should start as quickly as possible. Early treatment is essential to a good outcome. In larger dogs, bloat is the most-feared medical emergency of the gastrointestinal tract. In small dogs, an attack of pancreatitisis more likely, and it is just as much of an emergency.
Pancreatitis requires several treatment goals. The pancreas must be rested, avoiding stimulation of enzyme secretion. The enzymes already circulating in the blood have to be removed. At the same time, the dog's electrolyte balance has to be maintained and dehydration avoided. Because all food and water intake is stopped for several days, the dog will have to receive fluidseither under the skin or intravenously. Dogs showing signs of pain can be given pain-killing medications. They may also be given drugs to stop vomiting and antibiotics to avoid infection of other body systems.
For all of this treatment, and because matters may worsen before they improve, the dog will be hospitalized. A stay of several days is common, and severe cases may require a week or more.
Individuals that don't respond to treatment could require surgery. This should be undertaken only in serious circumstances because dogs already suffering pancreatitis are at a higher risk for complications from anesthesia and surgery. However, severe inflammation, an abscess or tumor, or bile duct obstruction may mean surgery is the only option.
Prognosis and Prevention
Early recognition and treatment improve the outcome. Mild cases of pancreatitis generally resolve well, though it is a fairly unpredictable disease. Dogs with more severe cases can recover, but the odds are not as good, and more complications can arise. Some dogs experience one bout, recover, and with some changes in feeding never have another episode. Other dogs have a mild case, recover, and then have a worse occurrence. The best course of action is to avoid as many risk factors as possible.
First, keep your Yorkie lean. Overweight dogs face a far greater risk of pancreatitis. Second, do not feed high-fat foods. Dogs that have already endured an episode of pancreatitis may need to eat a special low-fat veterinary diet for a while or for the rest of their lives. Finally, have regular veterinary exams to check for any predisposing conditions or illnesses.