Better Testing for Acute Pancreatitis in Dogs

Author: Sharon M. Albright, DVM, CCRT

Acute pancreatitis: sudden inflammation of the pancreas.

photo of a Yorkshire Terrier lying down

The pancreas is an important organ located near the stomach that produces digestive enzymes and secretes them into the gastrointestinal tract to breakdown the foods we eat. The pancreas also produces insulin, a hormone that moves sugar, or fuel, from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. When the pancreas becomes inflamed because of eating a fatty meal or for unknown reasons, digestive enzymes become activated within the organ itself and leak into the abdominal cavity where they can damage other organs. Common clinical signs of acute pancreatitis in dogs include vomiting, abdominal pain, lethargy, and loss of appetite. The disease can range from mild to severe and can be life-threatening if heart and/or kidney complications develop.

Investigators are exploring ways to more accurately predict the prognosis for dogs with acute pancreatitis.

In humans, measuring histone levels in the bloodstream is helpful to predict organ failure and survival in patients with acute pancreatitis. In mice, blood histone levels increase with more severe disease. Therefore, AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) funded investigators at the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine in Israel completed a pilot study to see if histone levels could be useful in determining the prognosis for dogs with acute pancreatitis (Grant 02417-A: Serum total histones in dogs with acute pancreatitis, their association with laboratory findings, markers of inflammation and outcome: a prospective longitudinal study).

What are histones?
Histones are proteins normally found in the cell nucleus. When a cell becomes damaged, these histones leak outside of the cell and trigger the immune system to create inflammation.

Investigators collected a clinical history, routine laboratory and blood clotting test results, abdominal ultrasound findings, and outcomes from 29 dogs with acute pancreatitis and 7 healthy dogs. They compared serum histone levels in healthy versus affected dogs and compared histone levels with other, commonly used markers of inflammation and blood clotting abnormalities.1

Serum histone levels in this population of dogs were not a good predictor of disease severity or clinical outcome, nor did they correlate with other inflammatory markers. Results did show other markers of inflammation that correlated with hospitalization time (that is – higher levels of the inflammatory molecule IL-6 were found in dogs that required a longer hospital stay). Clinical signs such as altered mental status, free fluid in the abdomen, and jaundice were also associated with poor clinical outcomes.

Additional study tracking histone levels in the bloodstream over time and further examining the predictive value of certain clinical signs may provide more insight on the prognosis for acute pancreatitis in dogs. CHF-funded investigators at Michigan State University are currently studying the cardiovascular abnormalities that occur in dogs with acute pancreatitis and whether they are associated with disease severity and outcome (CHF Grant 02861-A: Cardiovascular Complications of Acute Pancreatitis in Dogs). This information could help clinicians decide which patients need more aggressive treatment and provide owners with more realistic expectations about their dog’s recovery.

Learn more about CHF-funded research on pancreatitis and other gastrointestinal diseases at

  1. Nivy, R., Kuzi, S., Yochai, A., Aroch, I., & Bruchim, Y. (2021). Evaluation of serum histone concentrations and their associations with hemostasis, markers of inflammation, and outcome in dogs with naturally occurring acute pancreatitis. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 82(9), 701–711.

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