The pancreas is a small structure attached to the wall of the small intestine. This gland has two main functions: it produces insulin to promote the absorption of blood sugars and important enzymes that promote the digestion of proteins and fats (lipids). These enzymes pass from the pancreas to the small intestine through the pancreatic duct.
The pancreas produces the proteolytic enzymes trypsin and chymotrypsin. Fat digestion is aided by enzymes called lipases, which are also produced by the pancreas. In the absence of these enzymes, the dog’s body would not be able to degrade important food components.
The term hypoplasia refers to the abnormal (reduced or incomplete) development of an organ or tissue. One of the most common pancreatic abnormalities in puppies is congenital pancreatic hypoplasia, which refers to an abnormal development of the pancreas. This condition is also called “juvenile acinar pancreatic atrophy”. In puppies affected by this condition, the portion of the pancreas that produces the insulin hormone develops normally, while the cells that produce the enzymes useful for the digestion of food, especially fats, do not. When the pancreas does not produce these digestive enzymes, it is called “pancreatic insufficiency”. Pancreatic hypoplasia, the most common cause of pancreatic insufficiency is genetic and is observed with greater frequency in the following dog breeds: German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, San Bernardo, Irish Setter and Labrador Retriever.
The symptoms are caused by improper digestion of the food which prevents the correct absorption of the latter. The extent or severity of the symptoms varies according to the amount of functional pancreatic tissue lost. The dog with pancreatic hypoplasia has an underdeveloped pancreas. The percentage related to the development of the organ alters the degree of functionality of the latter. In other words, the pancreas may be able to produce enough enzymes to digest part or most but not all of the food.
Symptoms typically include the release of unformed (soft), oily and foul-smelling stools. The hair is generally dry and fragile due to inadequate digestion and use of fats. Most dogs have an often voracious increase in appetite, as they are functionally hungry due to the faecal loss of nutrients. Despite the big appetite, most dogs appear thin, always following the loss of nutrients.
What are the risks?
Slightly affected dogs or those with almost normal enzymatic production are not at great risk. However, they may experience loose stools and remain thin with dull fur. Dogs with pancreatic hypoplasia whose extent varies from moderate to severe will be more severely affected. Left untreated, these dogs will experience severe signs of malnutrition, including death.
Management of canine pancreatic hypoplasia
The treatment aims to improve the digestion of food, so that the dog is not seriously compromised from a nutritional point of view. Enzymatic preparations are available to replace or supplement the enzymes that the pancreas does not produce. Pancreazyme and Viokase are the two most commonly prescribed enzyme formulations. Basically, these supplements contain the enzymes necessary for digestion. The enzyme supplement is mixed with food before the meal. In addition to the use of the aforementioned supplements, the use of specific food lines, formulated to facilitate digestion (for example Hill’s Prescription Diet Canine i / d) is beneficial. It is important that the veterinarian discuss with the owner the costs associated with managing the condition. Enzyme supplements and specific food lines are expensive and will need to be given to the dog for the rest of his life. There is also the possibility that the condition can be controlled through adequate treatment, without however restoring a perfect state of health of the dog. Symptoms of a certain magnitude may persist despite adequate condition management.