Many dog owners may not be aware of the existence of their dog’s pancreas until one day their dog gets very ill and the vet claims that the dog’s pancreas is inflamed. As with many other organs, the pancreas lives mostly in the shadow, until something goes wrong and dog owners are given an abrupt wake-up call about this organ’s existence. Just as in humans, the pancreas in dogs is a structure that carries some functions that go beyond digestion. So today, let’s take a closer look at a dog’s pancreas and discover some interesting facts coming straight from the pancreases’mouth!
Hello! It’s your dog’s pancreas talking! You may not be too familiar with me, but rest assured, I am working hard each and every day to make sure your dog remains healthy and happy. Where am I located? You’ll find me nearby your dog’s stomach, more precisely, attached to the wall of your dog’s small intestine, right by the duodenum. I am overall a small structure compared to your dog’s stomach, but don’t underestimate me, as I do a whole lot!
I Aid in Digestion
Many people know that I play a role in digestion. Indeed, I produce important enzymes so to help your dog digest protein, starches and fats. To help digest protein, I produce trypsin and chymotrypsin. To help digest starch, I produce amylase. To help digest fats, I produce lipase. I send these enzymes to your dog’s small intestine (right by the duodenum, which lives just next door to me) through a small tube known as the “pancreatic duct.” Once here, these enzymes activate and break down your dog’s food into easy to assimilate molecules which provide nutrients that are readily absorbed by the cells lining your dog’s intestine. Nutrients are then passed from these cells into your dog’s bloodstream and spread out throughout the body where they’re utilized by various tissues.
On top of helping your dog digest, I have special islet cells which produce hormones that help keep your dog’s blood sugar at an acceptable level. The glucose-regulating hormones that I produce are known as insulin and glucagon. I secrete these hormones into your dog’s bloodstream. You see, your dog may not eat sweets as you do, but when your dog eats foods rich in starches and carbs, these foods are then broken down into glucose which ends up in the bloodstream. When I produce insulin, the insulin helps remove the glucose from the bloodstream and directs it to the body’s tissues where it can be used as energy for the cells. If those levels of glucose are too high, the other hormone I produce (glucagon) helps store the surplus in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen.
When Things Go Wrong
When I work well, your dog is healthy and happy. Courtesy of my digestive enzymes, your dog can easily digest as my enzymes help break down food into easy to assimilate components. When I become sluggish though, either because of being chronically inflamed or due to some inherited condition, I might not produce enough of these enzymes which may lead to pancreatic insufficiency, also known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or maldigestion syndrome.
What happens in this condition is that all those proteins, starches, and fats are no longer broken down which means they pass through the intestines without being absorbed and they leave the body under the form of feces containing undigested food. This means affected dogs miss out in receiving nutrients big time! These dogs develop diarrhea, start losing weight, their coats become dull and they lose muscle mass. Because food passes into their stools undigested, these dogs may engage in stool eating as the stools taste almost as good as food! These dogs are basically hungry and eating, yet they’re starving themselves of nutrients! Fortunately, treatment is pretty straightforward: borrowing some enzymes from other animals.
I sometimes may become inflamed. This tends to often occur after dogs eat a fatty meal. I am notorious for getting inflamed after the holidays, when dog owners feed their dogs fatty table scraps such as foods prepared in butter, fatty meat and greasy bacon. When I get acutely inflamed, I cause some pretty scary symptoms such as lack of appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain which causes many dogs to assume a hunched-up position. Basically, what happens here is that instead of my enzymes activating when they reach the small intestine, they activate prematurely as soon as I release them, causing inflammation to myself and my surrounding organs. In severe cases, my enzymes may even start digesting me! Talk about being in a dangerous situation! My inflammation is therefore not to be taken lightly as I can turn into a life threatening condition. And when I get chronically inflamed with an ongoing, low-grade inflammation, the damage sustained mat cause me to get sluggish in producing enzymes and hormones leading to the pancreatic insufficiency described above and diabetes.
“If a significant number of cells that produce digestive enzymes are destroyed, a lack of proper food digestion may follow. This is known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). If a significant number of cells that produce insulin are destroyed, diabetes mellitus can result.” ~Dr. Ernest Ward
As seen, I carry out several tasks that help your dog stay healthy and in good shape, so don’t take me for granted! I hope this article has helped you understand me better! Best regards,
- VCA Animal Hospital, What is Pancreatitis? retrieved from the web on April 4th, 2016
- Pet Education, Pancreas: Anatomy & Digestive & Endocrine Functions in the Dog, by Dr. Race Foster, retrieved from the web on April 4th, 2016
- Pet Education, Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (Maldigestion Disorder) in Dogs, by Dr. Race Foster, retrieved from the web on April 4th, 2016
- The Whole Dog Journal, Canine Pancreatitis, by Mary Straus, retrieved from the web on April 4th, 2016
- Wikipedia, Region of pancreas, public domain
- Wikipedia, Section of pancreas of dog, Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body, public domain –