Many dogs that develop pancreatitis are overweight, are fed a high fat diet, recently ate a single especially fatty meal or are being given a medication that has been linked to pancreatitis. The attending veterinarian will take the dog’s history, conduct a thorough physical examination and assess the dog’s presenting symptoms. All of these findings will be taken into consideration when diagnosing pancreatitis. Often, these factors will lead to a presumptive diagnosis of pancreatitis, which can be strengthened by the results of blood work. The results of a routine serum chemistry profile and complete blood count are usually unremarkable in dogs with pancreatitis. Serum amylase and lipase levels can be suggestive of pancreatitis, but are not diagnostic. Newer blood tests, such as the canine serum pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (PLI) concentration and the trypsinogen activation peptide (TAP) tests, are now commercially available to assist with the definitive diagnosis of this disease.
Abdominal radiographs (X-rays) will not reveal inflammation of the pancreas. However, they can be helpful to rule in or out other causes of severe abdominal pain. Abdominal ultrasound is also a useful diagnostic tool, because it can disclose enlargement of the pancreas, fluid accumulation and other diagnostic indicators. Ultrasonography can be expensive, and the accuracy of the results depends almost entirely upon the skill of the ultrasonographer and the quality of the ultrasound equipment. The pancreas also can be biopsied. However, biopsy is not often used to diagnose pancreatitis, because most dogs with pancreatic symptoms are too ill to undergo this surgical procedure.
Pancreatitis in domestic dogs is being diagnosed with increasing frequency. Because its symptoms can mimic those of many other painful gastrointestinal disorders, it is important that the appropriate steps be taken to confirm a definitive diagnosis of pancreatitis.