Pancreatitis in Dogs

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Canine pancreatitis, or inflammation of the dog’s 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. Recognizing the symptoms of pancreatitis will help you get your dog to the veterinarian sooner, increasing the odds of a good prognosis.

In This Article

What is pancreatitis in dogs?

The dog’s pancreas is located on the right side of the abdomen near the stomach. 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. Pancreatitis occurs when the digestive enzymes activate while still in the pancreas, and begin to digest the pancreas itself, causing damage and inflammation. Due to its location in the abdomen, this can affect nearby organs like the stomach, liver, and small intestines. (You may hear your veterinarian refer to this condition as “triaditis.”) In rare cases, pancreatitis in dogs can be fatal.

Signs and symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs

Pancreatitis symptoms 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.

What causes pancreatitis in dogs?

The cause of pancreatitis in dogs is often idiopathic, meaning the exact cause can’t be determined. However, there are certain risk factors associated with the condition.

Causes of canine pancreatitis can include:

  • High-fat diet

  • Obesity

  • Eating out of the garbage

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Complications of another disease

  • Breed predisposition

Acute pancreatitis can 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.

Genders and breeds prone to pancreatitis in dogs

Although veterinarians are not sure why, middle-aged female dogs are more likely to develop pancreatitis than their male counterparts. Similarly, it is unclear why certain breeds, like Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodles, Terriers, 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.

Treatment for pancreatitis in dogs

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 outpatient 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.

Can I treat my dog’s pancreatitis at home?

No, pancreatitis is a very serious condition and can’t be treated at home. 

What to feed a dog with pancreatitis

Pancreatitis won’t resolve on its own, and your dog will need to be treated by a veterinarian. In some cases, you may need to withhold food completely for a period of time. When your veterinarian gives you the go-ahead to reintroduce meals, your dog should eat low-fat foods that are easy to digest.

Foods that your dog can eat while suffering from pancreatitis include:

  • Rice

  • Pasta

  • Low fat plain yogurt

  • Low fat cottage cheese

  • Unseasoned, boiled chicken

Keep in mind that your dog may have an extremely-diminished appetite and may not want to eat as frequently as they normally would.

Is there a cure for pancreatitis in dogs?

Yes, there is a cure for pancreatitis. Most dogs will make a recovery with fluid therapy and medical management. However, chronic pancreatitis can be 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 in dogs contagious for humans or other pets?

No, 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 in dogs?

Every case of canine pancreatitis 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 in dogs

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.

How long does it take a dog to recover from pancreatitis?

Recovery time depends on the severity of the dog’s pancreatitis. For milder cases, your dog will need to be in the hospital anywhere from 2 to 4 days. After your dog leaves the hospital you can expect them to have fully recovered after 1 to 2 weeks. For severe cases of pancreatitis, your dog may be hospitalized for up to 2 weeks.

How to comfort a dog with pancreatitis

After your dog leaves the hospital, they’ll need plenty of rest. Avoid strenuous activities and don’t excite your dog. Your veterinarian’s instructions may include frequent low-fat meals and medication to help them recuperate quickly.

Preventing pancreatitis in dogs

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 in dogs?

No, 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.

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