The pancreas is an organ that is attached to the first section of the small intestine and is divided into exocrine and endocrine portions. Nearly 98% of the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes and other substances, including an enzyme inhibitor that protects the pancreas from digesting itself. This is the exocrine pancreas. The remaining 2% of the pancreas secretes insulin and is termed the endocrine pancreas.
Exocrine pancreatic disease (EPD) refers to a degenerative process of the non-insulin-producing portion of the pancreas. The pancreas secretes its juices into the small intestine at all times, 10% of the juices between meals and 90% in response to eating a meal. The pancreas receives signals to secrete its enzymes through an interplay of nerves and from hormones that originate in the intestines. EPD is much more prevalent in the dog and is rare in the cat.
An animal may survive without its pancreas, but it would require both daily insulin administration plus enzyme and vitamin supplementation and a very carefully regulated, special diet.
Pancreatic acinar atrophy (PAA) is the most common form of EPD and results from the destruction of the basic enzyme-secreting element of the pancreas. The cause of PAA in the dog is not well known, but it may occur at any age and is inherited in the German Shepherd. Suspected causes of PAA include obstruction of the ducts leading from the pancreas, infections, poisons (originating from either inside or outside the body), lack of proper blood supply to the pancreas, and immuno-mediated (self-allergy) disorders. Other less common forms of EPD include pancreatic cancer and a chronic inflammation of the pancreas. Signs of EPD include having a ravenous appetite, weight loss, large volume of light-colored stool (due to increased fat), abdominal pain, recurring digestive problems, increased flatulence (frequent passing of gas), and poor haircoat.
Important Points in Treatment
1. Serum and fecal laboratory tests may be required, depending upon your pet’s clinical signs and response to initial diet changes and enzyme supplementations.
2. Enzyme replacement, dietary modification with vitamin supplementation, antibiotic therapy with or without corticosteroid administration are all options that may be considered in your pet’s case. Lifetime treatment is often required in most cases.