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Pancreatitis in Dogs: Your Complete Guide (2023)

If you notice bloating and nausea in your dog, they might be experiencing indigestion. Typically, these symptoms clear up in a few days.

However, if your dog doesn’t improve, they might be suffering from pancreatitis–a serious condition that quickly becomes life-threatening.

Fortunately, pancreatitis is treatable and preventable if you act quickly enough.

Some dogs are more likely to develop pancreatitis than others, but with a healthy low-fat diet, your dog can enjoy life with minimal trips to the vet. Still, know the signs of pancreatitis so you can take action and prevent complications.

What is the Pancreas?

The pancreas is an organ with two lobes. The right lobe is located near the small intestine while the left lobe sits next to the stomach.

Whenever your dog eats, the pancreas secretes juice with digestive enzymes that break down fat, proteins and carbohydrates, helping your dog digest food.

The pancreas also secretes hormones that stabilize your dog’s blood sugar. When the pancreas detects high blood sugar levels, it releases insulin that reduces the blood sugar concentration.

Conversely, when your dog’s blood sugar is too low, the pancreas releases a hormone that increases blood glucose levels.

Dogs can suffer from a number of pancreatic diseases, including:

  • cysts
  • abscesses
  • diabetes mellitus
  • exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
  • pancreatic cancer
four dog breeds most likely to develop pancreatitis include retrievers, malamute, cocker spaniel, and labrador retriever

What is Pancreatitis in Dogs?

Pancreatitis occurs when your dog’s pancreas releases enzymes that help your dog digest food.

Normally, the pancreatic enzymes activate when they reach your dog’s small intestine. However, if your dog has pancreatitis, the enzymes activate too early.

This causes inflammation of the pancreas as the organ starts to digest itself.

If left untreated, pancreatitis can spread to other organs, causing permanent damage. Pancreatitis can also cause blood clotting and other life-threatening issues.

What is Acute Pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis appears suddenly and often has more serious symptoms. This can include vomiting, shock and dehydration. Acute pancreatitis is more common than chronic pancreatitis and occurs in dogs with no history of the disease.

What is Chronic Pancreatitis?

Chronic pancreatitis develops slowly and has fewer symptoms. This condition is more common in dogs with a history of pancreatitis. If it’s not treated, chronic pancreatitis can lead to severe symptoms and complications.

What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?

Generally, high-fat diets and obesity cause pancreatitis, especially if they consume a lot of fatty food at once. Even a single fatty meal can lead to pancreatitis.

Many dogs develop pancreatitis around the holidays because their guardians feed them sweets and untrimmed meat.

Your dog’s more likely to develop pancreatitis if they suffer from:

  • Epilepsy
  • Cushing’s disease
  • indigestion
  • hypothyroidism
  • digestive issues
  • bacterial infections.

Additionally, certain medications, antibiotics and chemotherapy treatments can cause pancreatitis. Talk to your vet before you start treatment, particularly if your dog has developed pancreatitis in the past.

Is Pancreatitis Linked to Diabetes?

When your dog develops pancreatitis, the pancreas may not produce enough insulin to regulate your dog’s blood sugar.

As a result, your dog is more likely to develop diabetes mellitus. Similarly, dogs with diabetes are more likely to develop pancreatitis.

Chronic pancreatitis is particularly dangerous for diabetic dogs because they have periodic flare-ups. To make matters worse, dogs with pancreatitis might develop insulin resistance, making it difficult to treat both conditions.

To prevent pancreatitis in your diabetic dog, talk to your vet about managing their health, diet and lifestyle.

Typically, this involves cutting out fatty foods, especially if your pet is obese.

A pet nutritionist might recommend eliminating table scraps and sticking to select foods. A dog with chronic pancreatitis will likely have to stick with their diet for the rest of their life.

Signs of diabetes mellitus include:

  • weight gain
  • increased appetite
  • excessive water consumption
  • frequent urination

Take your dog to the vet if they display these symptoms. If you don’t act quickly enough, diabetes can lead to complications like pancreatitis and quickly become fatal.

Fatty foods can cause pancreatitis in dogs

Are Certain Breeds Predisposed to Developing Pancreatitis?

Some breeds are predisposed to developing pancreatitis.

Miniature Schnauzers are more likely to develop pancreatitis because they tend to have higher fat levels in their bloodstream.

Likewise, cocker spaniels may develop pancreatitis because they have a high predisposition to immune system disorders.

Other breeds more likely to develop pancreatitis include:

  • Miniature poodles
  • Fox terriers
  • German Shepherds
  • Alaskan Malamutes.

While every dog needs a low-fat diet, these breeds in particular should avoid fatty foods. Female dogs are also more likely to develop pancreatitis than male dogs.

Which Foods Should You Avoid Feeding Your Dog?

Contrary to popular belief, dogs can’t eat everything.

In fact, feeding your dog the wrong table scraps could cause illness, pancreatitis, organ damage and death. Here’s some of the foods that you should never feed your dog:

Certain Meats

Meat like beef or pork with untrimmed fat can cause pancreatitis.

Grapes, Raisins and Grape Juice

Grapes and related products cause kidney failure.

Avocados and macadamia nuts

While they’re good for humans, these foods are toxic to dogs, often causing liver and kidney damage.

Tea, coffee and chocolate. Caffeine and chocolate are toxic to dogs, although vets have treatments for chocolate poisoning.

What Are the Signs of Pancreatitis?

You might notice these symptoms of pancreatitis if your dog has a mild-to-moderate case:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Distended abdomen
  • Stomach pains
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Hunched back
  • Sudden collapse
  • Weight loss

If your dog’s pancreatitis goes untreated, they could develop life-threatening symptoms like the following:

  • Blood clotting
  • Internal hemmoraging
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Sepsis

Since these symptoms often overlap with milder conditions, monitor your dog for a day or two. If your dog exhibits multiple symptoms or the symptoms continue or get worse, contact your vet. Pancreatitis can be fatal if you don’t treat it quickly enough.

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How Does the Vet Diagnose Pancreatitis?

To start, the vet considers your dog’s medical history.

Dogs with a history of pancreatitis are likely to develop it again. They might also consider past illnesses and injuries, dietary needs and medications that your dog takes.

Medical conditions like seizures and indigestion could point to pancreatitis.

Next, the vet may perform a physical examination. They’ll check the dog’s stomach for bloating and discomfort, take their temperature, monitor their heart rate and check their eyes, gums and ears.

This could rule out a number of other conditions.

Unfortunately, there’s no test that immediately detects pancreatitis. The vet could perform X-rays to get a clearer view and see if another issue has caused vomiting and diarrhea, like a toy lodged in your dog’s stomach.

Your vet could also perform an ultrasound, but it might not reveal an inflamed pancreas in mild cases.

Blood tests won’t provide a direct diagnosis, but they look for signs like increased pancreatic enzyme levels and a high white blood cell count.

If nothing else works, your vet could perform surgery to get an accurate diagnosis. However, surgery could worsen your dog’s condition and lead to complications.

In any case, never try to diagnose and treat pancreatitis at home. You can tell your vet that you suspect that your dog has pancreatitis, but let them rule out other conditions first. Otherwise, you might subject your dog to unnecessary treatments.

Pancreatitis in dogs should be treated with a low fat diet

How Do You Treat Pancreatitis?

The vet recommends different treatments depending on the severity.

If your dog has mild pancreatitis, they might stay in the hospital for a day or two and undergo non-invasive treatments. However, if your dog has severe pancreatitis, they might need weeks of round-the-clock treatment.

This makes it even more essential to catch pancreatitis early.

Moderate Pancreatitis

If your dog has moderate pancreatitis, your vet might use intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration. Other treatments might include medication to relieve pain and nausea.

When your dog gets home, your vet may recommend a bland diet that doesn’t overexert your dog’s pancreas. After recovery, you’ll adjust your dog’s diet to reduce their risk of another inflammation.

Severe Pancreatitis

With severe pancreatitis, your dog might need weeks of intensive care.

The vet may give your dog IV fluids, antibiotics, pain medication and a feeding tube to prevent malnourishment and dehydration. Treatment for severe pancreatitis often causes thousands of dollars.

Afterward, changing your dog’s diet is essential to ensure that they don’t develop pancreatitis again.

How Can You Prevent Pancreatitis?

Since your dog can’t regulate their diet, it’s your responsibility to provide a healthy lifestyle. Here’s how you can prevent pancreatitis:

  • Feed your dog small meals throughout the day instead of one or two large meals. This makes it easier for your dog’s pancreas to digest food. Additionally, your dog will experience less nausea and bloating.
  • Limit the table scraps that you feed your dog. Human foods contribute to a high-fat diet, and they can even be fatal if you give your dog food that’s toxic to their system.
  • Reduce the amount of food that you give your dog, especially if they’re overweight. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise to slim down.
  • Ask your vet about giving your dog digestive enzyme supplements that take some of the work off their pancreas and gastrointestinal tract.
  • Reduce the fat content in their diet, which can prevent numerous health issues.

Summing Up

Overall, pancreatitis is a preventable condition that you can avoid with exercise and a healthy, low-fat diet for your pet.

Avoid feeding them table scraps even around the holidays, and never give them meat without trimming the fat.

Obesity, fatty foods and diabetes make your dog more likely to develop pancreatitis and other life-threatening conditions.

Signs of pancreatitis include fever, weight loss, dehydration, vomiting and loss of energy.

There’s no simple test that detects pancreatitis, but your vet can perform blood tests, X-rays and ultrasounds to narrow down the possibilities. If your dog has pancreatitis, they might need to spend time in an intensive care unit. Severe pancreatitis often costs thousands of dollars in treatments.

If left untreated, pancreatitis can spread to other organs and eventually lead to death.

Contact your vet if your dog exhibits symptoms for more than a few days. Some dogs develop acute pancreatitis, which comes out of nowhere.

Other dogs have chronic pancreatitis flare-ups that exhibit symptoms over a longer period of time. Know the signs so you can get treatment for your dog and allow them to live a rich, healthy life.


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