Pancreatitis in Dogs

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The disease referred to as pancreatitis affects the pancreas of people, cats, and even dogs. This disease is not only painful but can also be life-threatening. Despite the seriousness of pancreatitis, it is still a bit of a mystery to veterinary professionals. But throughout the years, more information has been gathered and therefore more thoughts on disease prevention and treatment have developed.

What Is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas sits in the abdominal cavity of a dog's body next to its stomach. It is a thin, long, organ that is pinkish in color. Normally it assists in the digestive process by producing various enzymes, as well as hormones that help regulate insulin. If a dog has pancreatitis, these normal functions may be affected and secondary problems in other parts of the abdomen may also occur. Common secondary problems include issues with the gallbladder, liver, and intestines, due to the close proximity of these organs to the pancreas.

Typically, pancreatitis is referred to either as acute or chronic, respectively meaning it either occurred quickly and then lasts for days or it has lasted months or sometimes years. Dogs can experience both types of pancreatitis and some breeds are more likely to develop it than others.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs

In dogs, pancreatitis can cause a variety of symptoms, including:


Abdominal Pain

If your dog has abdominal or belly pain, it may whine, howl, attempt to run away or exhibit aggressive behavior if you try to pick it up, or seem to have difficulty getting comfortable when lying down. It also may appear to have a hunched back or assume a "praying position" with its hind end up in the air. Your veterinarian will also be able to feel your dog tense up during a physical examination if there is a sensitive or painful spot when they are feeling your dog's belly.


A dog may vomit for a variety of reasons and pancreatitis is no exception. Vomiting may occur due to the abdominal pain or digestive issues secondary to the pancreatitis.


Just like when we don't feel well and aren't very active, a dog with pancreatitis will often be lethargic and not want to move around very much.


If your dog has a painful abdomen due to pancreatitis, then it may be more aggressive than usual since it doesn't feel well.


Since pancreatitis affects the pancreas and the pancreas plays an important part in digestion, dogs with acute pancreatitis often develop diarrhea or have intermittent bouts if they have chronic pancreatitis.


If a dog with pancreatitis is experiencing nausea and resulting vomiting or diarrhea, it may not want to drink much water. It may also develop diarrhea due to the issues with the digestive tract. The combination of these two things can quickly lead to dehydration. Dehydration in and of itself is serious and dogs with pancreatitis are often on IV fluids for this reason.


If there is inflammation in the pancreas, a dog will often have an elevated core body temperature, called a fever. You can easily check your dog's body temperature at home.


A dog that has nausea, has abdominal pain, and is vomiting usually doesn't want to eat very much.


This is, of course, an extreme response to pancreatitis, but if an acute pancreatitis attack is severe enough, or symptoms of pancreatitis are ignored long enough, it can be fatal to a dog.

Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs

In people, pancreatitis occurs when the digestive enzymes (amylase, lipase, protease, etc.) that the pancreas produces are activated before they should be. These enzymes usually get activated in the small intestine after they travel out of the pancreas through the pancreatic duct. But with pancreatitis, these powerful digestive enzymes are activated in the pancreas. This leads to the pancreas itself being digested instead of the food in the small intestines. Pancreatitis can occur with physical change in the dog's body, such a new diet, but sometimes there is no known cause for pancreatitis.


Pancreatitis in dogs is diagnosed by a veterinarian by observing physical symptoms, completing a physical examination, and running some laboratory tests. Tests may include checking your dog's white blood cell and red blood cell counts as well as running some organ function tests and a specific test called a canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity test (cPLI). X-rays and an ultrasound may also be recommended by your veterinarian.

If you have a breed of dog that is predisposed to developing pancreatitis, your veterinarian may put that disease higher on the list of possible ailments and skip some tests. Miniature schnauzers are unfortunately very prone to developing pancreatitis, as well as some terriers, poodles, and cocker spaniels.


Veterinary treatment is needed if a dog has acute pancreatitis. In order to allow the pancreas to rest and heal, IV fluid therapy will need to be started. Most dogs will be hospitalized for several days while these treatments are being administered. Overall, your vet will focus on correcting dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, address nausea and pain, and encourage nutrition intake.

If your dog has chronic pancreatitis, such as what many miniature schnauzers experience, it may have flare-ups of pancreatitis symptoms that may be bad enough that veterinary intervention is needed. These flare-ups may also need at-home, symptomatic care, such as managing vomiting, syringing fluids, and administering oral medications. Chronic pancreatitis is thought to be much more common than is diagnosed.

Is Pancreatitis Contagious?

Even though no one really knows exactly why pancreatitis occurs, we do know that pancreatitis is not a contagious disease. This is not something you need to worry about another pet or yourself contracting.

How to Prevent Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis is a painful and damaging disease, so if there are things that can decrease the chances of it occurring in your dog, it is a good idea to follow those instructions. Since no one may know what the exact cause of pancreatitis is in your dog, your veterinarian will be the best person to offer suggestions on what your specific dog needs to decrease the likelihood of pancreatitis. Some common preventative measures include:

Feed a Low Fat Diet

High-fat diets, especially a sudden meal of fatty foods, may cause pancreatitis in dogs, so a low-fat food is typically recommended by veterinarians after your dog has been diagnosed with pancreatitis or is a breed prone to pancreatitis.

Supplement With Omega-3 Fatty Acids

As counter-intuitive as giving fats may sound, this specific type of fat—found in fish oils—actually helps to normalize blood lipid levels, which are often high in dogs with pancreatitis.

Feed Numerous Small Meals

By feeding small meals several times throughout the day, you are decreasing the stress on the pancreas.

Keep Your Dog Lean

Obesity may contribute to pancreatitis and lean dogs have been shown to be much healthier overall when compared to dogs that are overweight.

If your dog has chronic pancreatitis, flare-ups are usually able to be managed at home. Watch your dog for any changes in the amount of food it eats, its activity level, and its bowel movements. If your chronic pancreatitis dog starts vomiting or hunching its back as though its belly hurts, then you should contact your vet immediately to avoid more serious issues.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
Article Sources
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