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Understanding Gastrinomas in Dogs

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Gastrinomas in Dogs

Gastrinoma in dogs is a condition that has no identifiable cause and therefore, there is ultimately no way to prevent it. When this condition affects dogs, early signs can be easily confused with other more common medical conditions which makes this condition often challenging to diagnose. Diagnosis is attained generally as a result of the exclusion of other more common causes. Fortunately, gastrinoma in dogs is not very common, but when it strikes, it's one of those diseases that sadly has a poor prognosis, especially once advanced.

Gray muzzles need good dental care

Gray muzzles need good dental care

What is Gastrinoma in Dogs?

Also known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome when it affects humans, a gastrinoma in dogs is a serious condition that affects the dog's pancreas. More precisely, a gastrinoma is a malignant tumor of the pancreas.

The main problem with a gastrinoma is that this tumor secretes a hormone that's known as gastrin which stimulates the stomach to secrete excessive acid that ultimately leads to the formation of ulcers.

As the tumors grow, they can spread to the areas surrounding the pancreas and even other parts of the dog's body.However, when caught early, gastrinomas may have a better prognosis than being discovered later on. Gastrinomas in dogs tend to affect the most middle-aged to senior dogs.

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Symptoms of Gastrinoma in Dogs

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Dogs affected by gastrinoma develop worrisome symptoms associated with the presence of ulcers such as vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the stool and weakness. Because the blood is digested, the blood in the stool presents with a black, tar-like appearance, which is medically known as melena.

Other symptoms that suggest the presence of a gastrinoma include severe abdominal pain, loss of appetite and consequent weight loss. As the condition progresses, affected dogs may develop pale gums, collapse and may go into shock. Because this condition may ultimately lead to sudden death, it's important to see the vet at once.

As mentioned, the symptoms of gastrinoma are strikingly similar to other medical conditions. Affected dogs are often thought to simply have stomach ulcers from other underlying causes and are treated accordingly, but the issue doesn't resolve. Pancreatitis, the inflammation of the dog's pancreas may also cause similar symptoms and so may kidney failure and liver failure, mast cell tumors, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis and several other conditions.

In order to rule out or diagnose a gastrinoma, the vet would need to run a blood test that takes a look at gastrin levels, explains veterinarian Dr. Zoe.  The most definite diagnoses though is attained through a biopsy of the pancreatic mass done through an exploratory laparotomy.

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Treatment of Gastrinoma in Dogs

There is really no definite treatment for gastrinoma in dogs, but the condition can be managed by minimizing the excessive secretion of acid through the use of a bland diet and anti-acid medications such as proton pump inhibitors and H2-blockers. Stomach protectants such sucralfate and misoprostol can provide temporary relief.

If the affected dog has been vomiting a lot, fluids may be given under the skin to correct the dehydration. In some cases, the gastrinoma tumor can be removed surgically but usually, by the time this cancer is discovered, it already had an opportunity to spread. According to the book "Small Animal Oncology" by Joanna Morris and Jane Dobson, the long-term prognosis for dogs with gastrinomas with survival times being short, typically less than 6 months.

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