Coming off the holiday season, it is important to distinguish among pancreatitis, gastroenteritis and colitis — some common causes of diarrhea and vomiting we can see in our pets.

So, which disease does my pet have? If so, what do I do about it?

What is dietary indiscretion?   Dietary indiscretion is a term, used by veterinarians, to describe a medical condition in which an animal’s gastrointestinal tract is irritated and inflamed due to consumption of rich or unusual foods.  This is what most animals may get when they get into the trash, or get feed “people food” on occasion.  This condition is usually an isolated event, unless the pet happens to get the offending food more than once.  Dietary indiscretion can lead to pancreatitis, gastroenteritis and colitis.

What is pancreatitis?  Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas.  This disease is usually characterized by vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.  The episodes can be acute and severe or chronic and reoccurring.  Some cases are triggered by eating rich foods or foods outside their normal diets; and some cases have no known trigger.  Pancreatitis is often seen in small breed dogs and Schnauzers.

What is gastroenteritisGastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and small intestine.  This can be seen as nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.  Severe inflammation of the intestine can allow for bacteria to enter the blood stream through the damaged intestinal walls.

What is colitis?  Colitis is inflammation of the large intestine and colon.  This condition is usually characterized by diarrhea only.  Colitis is can be caused by stress, parasites and dietary indiscretion.

How are they diagnosed? Diagnosis is usually based off of history and signalment of the patient.  However, bloodwork to rule out other possible causes of the clinical signs is usually indicated.  A pancreatitis SNAP test is available for dogs, but is not 100% accurate.  Other diagnostics may be used depending on the severity of the disease and the response to treatment.

How is treatment different?  The initial medical treatment of these conditions is very similar, usually consisting of fluids, anti-nauseas, H2 inhibitors, antibiotics, pain medications and bland diet depending on the severity of the disease and the clinical signs.  Chronically, these diseases can be maintained on a bland diet for life.

What happens if I don’t treat my pet?  Pancreatitis and gastroenteritis can be life threatening.  In severe cases, the inflammation can trigger and system wide inflammatory response that can send your animals body into shock.  In addition, screening for other underlying causes such as diabetes or cancers is important to avoid other complications in the future.  It is important to remember that all clinical signs are generalized and can overlap in an individual case, so diagnosis is sometimes difficult and unclear.

The best thing to do is to take your pet to the veterinarian if any signs of vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy or loss of appetite is noted.