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The Pancreata in Our House

Eric Lagergren

December 22, 2011

There’s something about that gland organ the pancreas in our comfy little home. Although it’s just the three of us — Kathryn (my wife), Ellie (our dog, a labradoodle), and me (a guy with Type 1 diabetes) — those who have diseases of the pancreas now outnumber those without.

It’s not Kathryn. Nope. She has a healthy and fully functioning gland organ. It’s Ellie, who two weeks ago was confirmed to have pancreatitis. Now, I know this isn’t a blog about the animal kingdom, but since this health issue now plagues my most favorite dog ever, I’m going to give over my space to write a little about the past three or four weeks. If you want human pancreas musings, that’ll have to wait a week.

We believe we saw the first episode of this disease in Ellie during July, a month in which we made two after-hours (and hours-long) trips to the emergency vet as well as several regular vet trips to try to determine what was going on with Ellie. At that point the diagnosis was gastroenteritis. We believe she’d picked up a virus somewhere that rendered her unable to keep food down, unable to manufacture a healthy bowel movement. We also learned, after several blood tests and confirmation with a pathologist in Texas (I believe; our vet sent Ellie’s blood across country) that she’s also somewhat neutropenic. Her white blood cell count runs low — in some dogs it just does. Yet it’s a cause for concern because it could perhaps make Ellie more susceptible to other illness.

The poor girl. It’s times like these more than any other that one wishes dogs could talk. It’s looking back at the months when she was finicky, or when she just didn’t want to eat at all, that we wonder if she was in pain (Ellie has exhibited a high tolerance for pain in the past, through some other maladies; that whole survival instinct to not show any weakness is very strong with this one!)

On Wednesday, December 7, I stayed home sick from work. In the afternoon I woke to the well-known (to dog owners) sound of a dog getting ready to vomit. Then again that evening, the same thing. The next day Kathryn stayed home and took Ellie into the vet, where the blood tests came back positive for pancreatitis. That danged organ strikes again.

So what does this mean? At the time, when she was in the throes an episode of pancreatitis, it meant two days of complete fasting, followed by four days of four small meals daily of a wee bit of boiled chicken and a wee bit of white rice. Followed by prescription dog food. Any human food (she’d get a very small bit of what we were having at the end of our meals), and any of the regular off-the-shelf dog treats (of which we had a cabinet full), including dog chews and other goodies — those are a thing of the past. It’s her pricey low-residue doctor-prescribed Eukanuba from now on (which thankfully she really enjoys), and the homemade baked sweet potato treats (with a hint of garlic and chicken stock) cut into little star shapes (which, thankfully, she also really enjoys). We’re on the lookout for other pancreatitis-friendly treats, too.

It’s been about a week since she’s been on her new food, and Ellie’s back to her old self. Everything seems fine, and Kathryn and I have finally adjusted now to the new routine, to the kibble-as-treat rather than human-food-as-treat after our meals.

Ellie, of course, is a dog, and adjusts better and more quickly than we do — because Kathryn and I, of course, anthropomorphize this beast who we dearly love, and that tends to wreak havoc on our emotions when she’s not 100% healthy.

As I said, though, I sure wish I could have conversations with Ellie about illness of the pancreas and what it’s like and that it’ll all be more or less OK.



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