by Fiona Tapp
Reviewed by Dr. Fiona Lee
To keep your dog feeling well and offer them a long and healthy life, it’s important to understand the various health concerns and common diseases in dogs that may affect them. Pancreatitis is a potentially serious condition of the pancreas, an organ on the right side of the abdomen that is crucial for digestion and blood sugar regulation.
Read on to discover the symptoms, causes and treatment options for pancreatitis in dogs.
Understanding pancreatitis in dogs
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, a gland situated near the stomach that plays a pivotal role in digestion. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it releases digestive enzymes prematurely, leading to self-digestion of the organ. This inflammatory process can be painful and dangerous for your dog. It is not exclusive to a particular breed or size and can affect all dogs.1
Acute vs. chronic pancreatitis
Pancreatitis can present as either acute or chronic.1
Acute pancreatitis is a sudden illness with no previous symptoms. Chronic pancreatitis, on the other hand, occurs over time and may be due to recurrent, acute pancreatitis. It’s a long-standing inflammation associated with low-grade inflammation and fibrosis.
Acute pancreatitis can’t be distinguished from chronic pancreatitis by clinical signs alone. Both types can cause pain and range from mild to severe.
Symptoms of pancreatitis
Recognizing the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs is crucial for early intervention and effective treatment.
Signs of pancreatitis in dogs
The signs of pancreatitis can vary, but dog owners should be vigilant for common indicators, such as:2
Loss of appetite
Abdominal pain or discomfort
Lethargy and fever
Adopting a praying position, with their bottom in the air and front legs and head lowered to the floor
Identifying these symptoms promptly can make a significant difference in the outcome of treatment. However, even if your dog isn’t exhibiting these symptoms, you know your pup best—if their behavior or demeanor is causing you concern, it’s always best to check in with their veterinarian.
Signs of worsening pancreatitis in dogs
As pancreatitis progresses, dogs may show more serious signs, such as:
Increased abdominal pain
A hunched posture
In severe cases, your dog can suffer complications leading to organ failure or even death.3
What causes pancreatitis in dogs?
Pancreatitis in dogs can be caused by a number of factors, including:
A high-fat diet, as it triggers the pancreas to release more enzymes than usual
Obesity, as excess body fat can lead to inflammation
Severe blunt trauma or injury to the abdomen
Recent surgeries and infections
In most cases, the cause of pancreatitis remains unidentified, underscoring the importance of preventive measures. In fact, in 90% of cases of pancreatitis in dogs, the cause remains unknown.4
Diagnosing pancreatitis in dogs involves a thorough examination by a veterinarian. This includes a physical examination to assess clinical signs and symptoms. Tests such as pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (PLI) and specific canine pancreatic lipase (Spec cPL) can provide valuable diagnostic information. Additionally, imaging such as ultrasound or X-rays may be ordered.
Early diagnosis is crucial for better treatment outcomes, so remember your dog’s regular veterinary checkups to stay on top of common dog health problems and concerns.
Treatment options for pancreatitis
Medications, including pain relief and control of nausea, may be prescribed to manage symptoms and address underlying causes. Your dog may also be given Panoquell-CA1 (fuzapladib sodium for injection), a new IV medication used for the treatment of severe acute pancreatitis. Rather than treating symptoms, this drug treats the disease itself by preventing white cells from entering the pancreas.
Dietary changes, such as transitioning to a low-fat diet, are commonly recommended to alleviate stress on the pancreas. If infection is present, antibiotics will be prescribed. In severe cases, hospitalization and supportive care may be necessary.
Pancreatitis in dogs: prognosis and recovery
The prognosis for dogs with pancreatitis varies based on the severity of the condition and the timeliness of intervention. While many dogs recover with appropriate treatment, some may experience complications or require long-term management. Potential complications include diabetes and digestive issues.5
Owners should prepare for ongoing veterinary care and dietary adjustments.
What to feed a dog with pancreatitis?
A low-fat diet is typically recommended to reduce the workload on the pancreas. Specialized veterinary diets designed for dogs with pancreatitis may be prescribed. It’s essential to avoid high-fat foods, table scraps and any foods dogs shouldn’t eat, as well as potential toxins that could exacerbate the condition.
Dog owners should consult their veterinarian for specific dietary recommendations tailored to their pet’s needs.
Preventing pancreatitis in dogs
Prevention plays a pivotal role in pet safety and in managing pancreatitis in dogs. Dog owners can take proactive measures to reduce the risk of pancreatitis, including providing quality food and monitoring and controlling their dog’s weight. Limiting exposure to potential toxins, such as certain human foods and plants, is also part of preventive care.
“Pancreatitis in Dogs and Cats,” Jörg M. Steiner (10/2022), MSD Veterinary Manual, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/digestive-system/the-exocrine-pancreas/pancreatitis-in-dogs-and-cats, accessed December 28, 2023.
“Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms & More,” Alison Bradshaw (3/2022), The Pet Hospitals, https://thepethospitals.com/pancreatitis-in-dogs-symptoms-more/, accessed December 28, 2023.
“Pancreatitis in dogs,” (6/2018), The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/pet-health-hub/conditions/pancreatitis-in-dogs, accessed December 28, 2023.
“What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs and How to Treat It,” Heidi Kos-Barber (11/2020), PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/endocrine/c_multi_pancreatitis, accessed December 28, 2023.
“Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment,” (4/2022), American Kennel Club, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/diabetes-in-dogs/, accessed December 28, 2023.