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What is Pancreatic Hypoplasia?

There are two main roles of the pancreas; it makes insulin to help the blood with sugar absorption and makes enzymes to help with digesting proteins and fats. The enzymes that help with protein digestion are called trypsin and chymotrypsin and the enzymes that help with fat digestion are called lipases. The enzymes will make their way from the pancreas to the small intestine by way of the pancreatic duct.

Pancreatic hypoplasia is the name for an underdeveloped pancreas. Also called juvenile pancreatic acinar atrophy, when this occurs in puppies, the part of the pancreas that makes insulin will develop properly, however the cells that produce the enzymes for food digestion do not develop as they should. Without the enzymes, important dietary elements cannot be broken down. 

When the digestive enzymes are not able to be produced by the pancreas it is called pancreatic insufficiency. Pancreatic hypoplasia is genetic and is the most common reason for pancreatic insufficiency.

Known as pancreatic hypoplasia, when the pancreas of your dog is underdeveloped the enzymes necessary for food digestion are not produced, leading to proteins and fats not being broken down properly.

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Symptoms of Pancreatic Hypoplasia in Dogs

The symptoms that your puppy experiences will depend on how developed his pancreas is and how much function is taking place. Symptoms may include the following:

  • Loose, greasy stool that smells foul
  • Dry and brittle coat (due to not digesting fat adequately)
  • Significant appetite as he is not absorbing nutrients
  • Low weight
  • Eating his stool

Types 

Pancreatic hypoplasia is one cause of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, which is where there is not enough production of digestive enzymes by the pancreas which leads to nutrients not being digested and absorbed.

Other causes of EPI include:

  • Pancreatic acinar atrophy - This occurs when there is selective destruction of the acinar cells that produce enzymes, leading to not enough enzymes being produced
  • Chronic pancreatitis - This occurs when, due to inflammation, the enzymes don’t function as they should
  • Neoplasia - The release of pancreatic enzymes into the duodenum is stopped from happening; while pancreatic enzymes are produced they are unable to do their job, leading to clinical signs of EPI

Causes of Pancreatic Hypoplasia in Dogs

Pancreatic hypoplasia is a genetic condition that is most seen in German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Saint Bernard’s, Irish Setters and Labrador Retrievers.

Should your puppy be experiencing pancreatic hypoplasia, his food will not be digested properly which will cause it to not be absorbed. His symptoms will depend on how developed his pancreas is or how much pancreatic tissue he is missing; how developed the pancreas is will determine how much function occurs. In some cases, the pancreas can produce enzymes to digest some food, most food or very little food.

Diagnosis of Pancreatic Hypoplasia in Dogs

Should you notice ongoing loose stool in your puppy you will want to visit your veterinarian for an examination. Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination of your puppy and ask you for information about the symptoms you have noticed, when you began noticing them and if there have been any changes. You will also be asked about your puppy’s diet and any medications he is currently taking.

Pancreatic hypoplasia is a cause of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) and your veterinarian may conduct tests to determine if your puppy’s pancreas is producing the enzymes that it should be. A serum chemistry and complete blood count won’t typically help diagnose pancreatic hypoplasia but may be done to rule out other conditions. 

Your veterinarian will diagnose EPI based on the clinical signs he observes along with tests of your puppy’s pancreatic function. The test that is preferred for diagnosing EPI in dogs is called the canine serum trypsin-like immunoreactivity (cTLI) by radioimmunoassay and it will measure the trypsinogen that has entered your puppy’s bloodstream right from the pancreas.

Treatment of Pancreatic Hypoplasia in Dogs

Should your puppy be diagnosed with pancreatic hypoplasia, his treatment will involve improving his ability to digest food so that he gets the nutrition that he needs. There are commercially developed enzymes can be used to supplement the enzymes that are not being produced by the pancreas. The two prescribed the most are pancrezyme and viokase and they include the enzymes your puppy needs for digesting food. The supplement will be mixed into your puppy’s food before he eats it. In conjunction with the supplement, a diet that is made for easy digestion may be helpful.

The supplement will be required for the duration of your puppy’s life. The condition can be controlled, though your puppy may still struggle with some symptoms.

Recovery of Pancreatic Hypoplasia in Dogs

How your puppy does will depend on how much enzyme production is occurring. Should his enzyme production be close to normal, he may have minimal issues, perhaps having ongoing loose stool and remaining thin. If your puppy’s pancreatic hypoplasia is more severe, there may be a significant impact as he will show serious signs of malnutrition which can lead to death.