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Pancreatitis – What Most Vets Will Treat on the Friday after Thanksgiving

When I was a practicing veterinarian, there were certain things that I knew would always be true. Cats brought from the local junkyard would always try and escape, the full moon would bring all sorts of unusual emergencies to the hospital (think dogs on marijuana), and that we could never be closed on the Friday after Thanksgiving because there would be at least one dog in the hospital suffering from pancreatitis.


How could you resist a face like that on Thanksgiving? He sits right next to you, head resting on your lap, looking at you with those big sad eyes. Be strong and your pooch (and your wallet) will thank you.

Dogs do not need to be fed the same food that you are eating on Thanksgiving Day to feel that they are getting a treat. Offer one of your dog’s regular treats or let them have mealtime when you are sitting down to your own feast.

Dogs that are fed a dry pet food 360+ days a year will not usually tolerate the sudden introduction of a large, high fat meal. Fatty foods like dark meat poultry, gravy and mashed potatoes swimming in butter could trigger a mild episode of digestive upset. While this may be smelly (gas) or even damaging to your rugs (vomiting and diarrhea), mild digestive upset is not life threatening to a healthy dog.


The bigger concern lies with the threat of pancreatitis. The pancreas is a small organ, but plays a big part in digestion and when it is angry, makes a really BIG problem for your pet. Pancreatitis can be life threatening and MUST be treated by your veterinarian. While pancreatitis can occur spontaneously without any identifiable cause, it is often associated with the ingestion of a high fat meal. Symptoms of pancreatitis include vomiting (usually these dogs can’t even hold water down), diarrhea (may be bloody) and lethargy. The abdomen is very painful so if your dog is little, he might object to being picked up. These dogs are usually quite restless, pacing around and unable to get comfortable.

So, time to call your veterinarian. What happens next? In most cases, your veterinarian will need to do a physical examination, check a blood sample to confirm the diagnosis and check a stool sample to make sure the GI upset is not associated with a parasite or bacterial infection. If your veterinarian diagnoses your dog with pancreatitis, it likely will mean a hospital stay with IV fluids, injectable antibiotics, injectable pain medications and possibly even steroids if the pancreatitis is severe enough to be causing shock.


Some dogs will recover quickly with proper treatment, but this is not always the case. Some dogs may develop organ failure as a related problem. Some dogs may not be able to hold anything down, even with proper treatment and may need to have a feeding tube inserted into their intestines (tubes can’t put the food into the stomach because this will trigger vomiting and further irritation to the pancreas). Other dogs may have to have the pancreas treated surgically because abscesses (pockets of infection) can develop and antibiotics can’t penetrate the abscess, it must be drained surgically.

Mild pancreatitis may be treated on an outpatient basis, but this is less common than a required hospital stay. So, depending on where you live, you could be talking about a very large veterinary bill. Given the risk, you are better off to give your dog a big hug and play ball for five minutes extra than sharing your very tasty Thanksgiving meal.

This section features current events in the veterinary world and information about pet care that is timely – such as holiday hazards around the holidays or dental care during the month of February. If you would like to see a particular topic, please use our contact form and choose ‘General Feedback, Other’.

Thanks for reading!
Veterinary Technical Services Department

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