Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is a common and potentially dangerous gastrointestinal condition in dogs. The condition may come in either an acute or chronic form, but both types can have lasting consequences.

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The pancreas is responsible for producing the hormones that regulate blood sugar and for producing the digestive enzymes that break down food in the intestines. If it becomes inflamed, the pancreas can affect nearby organs like the stomach, liver, and small intestines due to the pancreas’ location in the abdomen. (You may hear your veterinarian refer to this condition as “triad it is.”) In rare cases, pancreatitis can be fatal. Recognizing the symptoms of pancreatitis will help you get your dog to the veterinarian sooner, increasing the odds of a good prognosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs

The symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs are mostly gastrointestinal. The signs will vary depending on the severity of the case, but may include:

Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly, often as the result of an external factor, like eating garbage. Dogs with acute pancreatitis usually present with vomiting, painful abdomen, lethargy, dehydration, and occasionally fever. Dogs with chronic pancreatitis, on the other hand, may show these signs during flare-ups, but can be asymptomatic the rest of the time or may only show milder signs, like lethargy or loss of appetite.

Pancreatitis shares similar symptoms with other gastrointestinal illnesses. Like pancreatitis, many of these conditions are severe or even fatal if not treated, so it is essential that owners respond appropriately.

How Did My Dog Get Pancreatitis?

The cause of pancreatitis in dogs is unknown in many cases. However, there are certain risk factors associated with the condition.

Common causes:

  • High-fat diet

  • Complications of another disease

  • Breed predisposition

Acute pancreatitis is an be associated with dietary indiscretions, like eating garbage or human table scraps. Obesity is also a risk factor, and diseases that affect the liver, adrenal glands, or small intestines, like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and cancer, may increase the likelihood of pancreatitis as well.

Middle-aged female dogs are more likely to develop pancreatitis than their male counterparts. Veterinarians are not sure why this is the case, just as it is unclear why certain breeds, like Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodles, and Miniature Schnauzers are at an increased risk for developing chronic pancreatitis.

Diagnosing Pancreatitis in Dogs

Diagnosing pancreatitis in dogs is complicated. Many of the symptoms of pancreatitis are common symptoms of other conditions, and veterinarians must rule out other diseases before making a definitive diagnosis. This is often done with routine blood tests and ultrasounds. Your veterinarian may also recommend a specialized test called a specific pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity test (SpecPL) to measure the function of the small intestines along with other tests to measure the level of pancreatic enzymes in your dog’s body.

Other conditions can complicate these findings. Depending on the case, additional diagnostic tests may be required to rule out other disorders and conditions. You can assist your veterinarian during this process by providing accurate information about your dog’s diet, access to inappropriate food sources, and lifestyle.

Treating Your Dog for Pancreatitis

Severe cases of pancreatitis can be life-threatening. Dogs with acute pancreatitis often require hospitalization to stabilize their condition. Fluid therapy, medications to control pain and vomiting, and additional supportive care will give your dog the best shot at a full recovery. More mild cases of pancreatitis can often be managed on an out-patient basis.

Dogs with chronic pancreatitis may not need hospitalization. However, your veterinarian will search for any other abdominal diseases, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), that might complicate recovery, and may also recommend switching your dog to a lower fat diet, as high protein and high-fat diets can exacerbate pancreatitis. Dogs that do not respond to this diet in two to three weeks may need to be placed on anti-inflammatory medications to control the inflammation.

Is there a cure for pancreatitis?

Yes, there is a cure for pancreatitis. Most dogs will make a recovery with fluid therapy and medical management. However, chronic pancreatitis can be a difficult to control. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine the best management practices for your dog.

While pancreatitis is treatable, in severe cases, it can be fatal. Recognizing the symptoms and warning signs of pancreatitis will help you get your dog to the veterinarian as quickly as possible, improving her chances of a good prognosis.

Is Pancreatitis Contagious For Humans or Other Pets?

Pancreatitis is not contagious for humans or other pets. However, if the suspected cause of the pancreatitis is consumption of trash, it is a good idea to keep an eye on any other pets who may have had access to the garbage. Likewise, other dogs in the household fed a similar diet or with similar risk factors should be monitored for signs of the disease.

What is the cost of treating pancreatitis?

Every case of pancreatitis in dogs is unique. Expect to pay for the initial veterinary visit, which may be higher if you need to go to an emergency veterinary hospital, as well as diagnostics, medications, and follow-up visits. Cases that require hospitalization will cost more. Conversely, the cost of treating chronic pancreatitis will be spread out, but may add up over time. Overall, treating pancreatitis can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Recovery and Management of Pancreatitis

Managing chronic pancreatitis can be frustrating. Since veterinarians are not always sure of the cause, it may take time to diagnose the underlying condition associated with your dog’s pancreatitis and determine the best course of treatment. Changes in diet can help, and medication may be needed in certain cases. Understanding the signs of a flare-up will help you get your dog to the veterinarian for fluid therapy.

Chronic pancreatitis can have lasting adverse effects. Over time, persistent inflammation may lead to the destruction of important pancreatic tissue. This affects your dog’s ability to digest food, and if the damage occurs to insulin-producing tissue, your dog may develop diabetes mellitus. For this reason, chronic pancreatitis can also complicate diabetic management.

In cases of acute pancreatitis, your dog will most likely require several follow-up visits after her hospitalization to monitor her pancreatic function. A change in diet may be advised, as well as lifestyle adjustments.

Preventing Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis cannot always be prevented. However, avoiding high-fat diets like table scraps and keeping your dog at a healthy weight may help prevent pancreatitis in some instances.

Is there a vaccine for pancreatitis?

There is no vaccine for pancreatitis in dogs.

Summary of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis is a common but dangerous gastrointestinal condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic, and in serious cases can be fatal. While the underlying causes of pancreatitis are not yet fully understood, there are some things owners can do to help prevent this condition, like avoiding high-fat diets, treats and scraps.

Our medical experts

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