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Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

As a dog owner, you've likely encountered your furry friend experiencing vomiting or diarrhoea at some point. While these incidents usually aren't concerning if they last less than a day, they can sometimes indicate more serious conditions, such as pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is a critical aspect of your dog's health. If left untreated, it can cause severe discomfort and even become life-threatening for your pet.

In the past, this condition has often been misdiagnosed, leading to missed opportunities for timely intervention and potentially life-saving treatment. That's why it's essential to be well-informed about your dog's health.

This article aims to provide you with the necessary knowledge to help you better care for your pet's wellbeing. We'll delve into the various aspects of dog pancreatitis, including its causes, symptoms, and available treatment options.

Meaning of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Let's begin by discussing the pancreas – a vital component of your dog's digestive system. Located near the stomach, this gland produces essential enzymes like proteases, amylases, and lipases, which aid in digestion and help your dog absorb fats, vitamins, and minerals from food. The pancreas also plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels.

In simple terms, pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas. It occurs when the pancreas is mistakenly attacked by the very chemicals designed to break down food in the small intestine.

Dog pancreatitis comes in two forms: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis develops quickly and can cause significant discomfort for your dog, while chronic pancreatitis takes longer to develop and may gradually worsen. Vets also classify pancreatitis as moderate or severe. Mild cases can escalate and result in life-threatening symptoms if left undetected and untreated.

Although inflammation is a natural defence mechanism, ongoing inflammation can lead to tissue damage, potentially spreading to the liver and other organs. When the liver is damaged, its ability to eliminate toxins is compromised, causing those toxins to circulate throughout the body and trigger further inflammation and harm. In some cases, this can lead to fatal complications.

Fortunately, with prompt diagnosis and veterinary intervention, most dogs suffering from acute pancreatitis can make a full recovery. 

Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis symptoms in  your dog often appear as time passes, making them easy to miss. 

Here are some of the signs to look out for…

  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hunched back posture
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Fever
  • Abdominal discomfort

Additional symptoms that dogs with chronic pancreatitis may have include:

  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Shock or an abrupt collapse
  • Profound depression
  • Sepsis
  • Having trouble breathing

Remember the sooner you seek veterinary care for your dog's pancreatitis, the better its prognosis will be. 

Causes of Pancreatitis

Most dog pancreatitis cases are idiopathic or caused by unknown factors. Nevertheless, vet research has found several common factors in dogs that develop pancreatitis such as:

  • Excess weight
  • Dietary indiscretion is the consumption of bad foods
  • Diseases like hypothyroidism or diabetes bring on hormonal imbalance
  • Toxic reaction to some treatments (such as chemotherapy or anti-seizure meds)
  • Pancreatic reflux disease or a blockage of enzyme-producing ducts

According to some studies, some breeds are genetically predisposed to having pancreatitis. For instance, miniature Schnauzers are prone to hyperlipidemia or excessive amounts of lipids in the blood and may be more susceptible to pancreatitis. Poodles, Cocker spaniels, Dachshunds, and terrier breeds may also be at risk. Dogs who are older and heavier are also more likely to get pancreatitis. 

Fatty Diets and Pancreatitis in Dogs

As mentioned earlier, dogs that regularly consume fatty foods and leftovers are at a higher risk of developing pancreatic inflammation. 

A 2009 study comparing high- and low-fat diets found that increased fat intake alone did not necessarily result in a stronger pancreatic response in healthy dogs. However, there is substantial evidence that "dietary indiscretion" – when dogs consume items they shouldn't – does play a role. Consuming unfamiliar foods, table scraps, or "getting into the trash" has been linked to an increased risk of pancreatitis.

The pancreas processes most of the fat that dogs consume through its enzymes. So, the more fat dogs eat, the harder the pancreas has to work. High cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the bloodstream can activate dormant enzymes in the pancreas, leading to pancreatitis.

High-fat diets are also likely to cause obesity due to their high caloric content. Furthermore, such diets can elevate triglyceride and cholesterol levels, which can contribute to the development of pancreatitis in dogs. 

Treatment of Pancreatitis

Caring for your dog during a bout of pancreatitis is all about providing the right support. Since every dog is unique, the best approach will depend on the severity of the condition and any additional complications. Some pups can be treated at home, while others may need to stay in the hospital for a day or more.

Here are some common treatments that can help most dogs with pancreatitis feel better:

  1. Your vet may administer intravenous fluids (or an IV) to tackle dehydration caused by fluid loss from vomiting and diarrhoea.
  2. Painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications can help ease the discomfort and intense pain in the stomach due to pancreatic inflammation.
  3. Anti-nausea drugs can put an end to vomiting, allowing your dog to rest peacefully.
  4. Digestive support such as pre and probiotics can prevent diarrhoea by repairing your dog’s microbiome and  reduce water loss through bowel movements and soothe the lower gastrointestinal tract.
  5. Temporarily withholding food allows the pancreas to take a much-needed break.


As devoted dog owners, we never want to witness our dogs suffer with pancreatitis. Even though pancreatitis can't always be avoided, becoming knowledgeable about the condition is the first step in developing healthy habits and lowering the possibility of pancreatitis in dogs. 

Assist your dog in maintaining an optimum weight by avoiding high-fat table scraps, selecting moderate or low-fat dog food, adding probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids as supplements, and discouraging your dog from dumpster diving and counter-surfing. 

If you ever notice any pancreatitis signs in your dog, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, or an oddly slumped posture, take them to the vet immediately. Remember dogs who receive early treatment have the greatest prognosis for overcoming a pancreatitis attack.

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