Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis in dogs can be unpredictable, sometimes even unavoidable. Knowing what to watch for, and seeking veterinary attention right away can make all the difference for your dog.

17

The pancreas is an organ that sits near your dog’s stomach. It produces digestive enzymes and the hormones that regulate blood sugar.

Any time you see “-itis” at the tail end of a word, it means inflammation of whatever it comes after. Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. Enteritis is inflammation of the intestines. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas.

Pancreatitis is a fairly common ailment in dogs. Why one dog, eating exactly what another dog eats, develops pancreatitis it while the other doesn’t is unknown. An unplanned, super-high-fat meal is usually the culprit, as when a dog gets in the garbage and eats discarded bacon grease, or gets on the counter and eats a pound of butter, or someone left a cake on the coffee table with a Labrador Retriever around.

Risk Factors for Pancreatitis in Dogs

Predisposing factors include obesity, diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome (overactive adrenal glands), and some medications. Schnauzers sometimes suffer from a condition called hyperlipidemia, which predisposes them to pancreatitis.

Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Signs of pancreatitis include vomiting, loss of appetite, painful abdomen (which can look like a hunched up appearance, or the dog may posture like the yoga pose downward dog), lethargy, and fever.

Pancreatitis can be acute, meaning it comes on all of a sudden with no warning, or chronic.

Acute pancreatitis can be severe and life-threatening. Many of these dogs must be hospitalized for intravenous fluids and supportive care. Chronic pancreatitis tends to cause waxing, waning symptoms repeatedly over time. Chronic pancreatitis requires careful, long-term management.

If your dog is showing signs of pancreatitis, your veterinarian will likely take an abdominal x-ray. This is to rule out other potential causes of the signs your dog is showing. Baseline blood work is done for the same reason. Finally, a blood test called specific canine pancreatic lipase (SPEC cPL) will likely be run. This test is much more sensitive and specific for pancreatitis than the older tests veterinarians used to have to rely on (lipase, amylase). Many veterinary hospitals can run this test in-house. With results immediately available, your dog can get the treatment he needs right away.

For chronic cases, your veterinarian may recommend an abdominal ultrasound, as this can provide useful information regarding severity, which helps in determining prognosis.

Treatment for Pancreatitis in Dogs

Treatment for acute pancreatitis generally includes fluid therapy [either hospitalized intravenously, or administered subcutaneously (under the skin) as an outpatient], anti-nausea medications for vomiting [Cerenia (maropitant)], and pain medication (usually opioids like buprenorphine and tramadol; gabapentin – a neuropathic pain reliever – can be helpful as well).

Treatment for chronic pancreatitis may start the same way as for acute, but then long-term maintenance needs to be implemented. This means feeding a low-fat, highly digestible diet (like Hill’s I/D Low Fat or Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Low Fat), and having pain and anti-nausea medications on hand at home to manage flare-ups.

Pancreatitis in dogs can be unpredictable, sometimes even unavoidable. Knowing what to watch for, and seeking veterinary attention right away can make all the difference for your dog.

17 COMMENTS

  1. My 2 dogs has some boils in some part of their bodies. How do I prevent them and what are the treatments you can suggest. One time it ruptured. And I panic. It was bleeding and it cost me so much money just to bring him to clean and aspirate it.

  2. my daughter’s teenaged pup got into garbage while visiting friends. she experienced an acute episode which turned into a lifelong chronic case, managed well with a careful diet and digestive enzymes for the rest of her long and otherwise healthy life.

  3. love to hear discussion about giardia. I walk my dogs in the woods and they love the streams and so it is no surprise when -without symptoms, they tested positive for giardia. They got the treatment, but will they just get reinfected over and over. Is there anything owners can do?

  4. We were on a trip 10-12 years ago to the Rockies from Mississippi with our Lab and she had a bout of pancreatitis, according to the vet we took her to. I think it was brought on by the difference in altitude and more travelling than what she was used to. Her diet really didn’t change. Strange town, strange vet, and sick dog. It kind of took the fun out of the trip. We let her rest a couple of days with yogurt and chicken broth and pushing fluids. Then back on the road home. That was the only bout she had.

  5. We lost our elderly Parsons to acute pancreatitis after living for years on heart medication. The only thing I could think of that might have caused it was his gobbling down cat poo on our walk the day before he showed illness. I had tried to pry his mouth open to drop it, but he quickly gulped it down!
    I immediately phoned the vet when the first profuse vomiting started. After his second bout of vomiting we brought him into hospital where he got tested and given Intervenous fluids and pain medication. But nothing could save him. I Don’t believe there was anything we could have done to help him from his demise. This is what troubles me, even with having this information.

  6. I am surprised that Whole Dog Journal would accept an article written by a Vet who recommends Hill’s low fat & Royal Canine Gastrointestinal products. Both have pork by-products plus a bunch of other unrecognizable ingredients. As well, from my observations, neither of these products are very palatable to dogs.
    About 6 years ago, we adopted an 8 yr old rescued Papillon, who had a history of pancreatitis & had, in fact, just had a severe bout of it, & was hospitalized for several days, prior to her coming to live with us. After adopting her, we took her to our holistic Vet, who recommended feeding her “Natural Balance” LID canned dog foods. Those products are low in fat & do not contain any bi-products. They were also much more palatable than the Royal Canine Gastrointestinal food she was on when she came to us, which she virtually refused to eat.
    I also found “Wellness” for seniors to be another low fat product she enjoyed, with no bi-products & healthy ingredients.
    As well, another low fat product I found at an independent holistic pet food store was “Walk About” rabbit, kangaroo or wild boar, all containing healthy ingredients & again, no bi-products.
    Our little senior dog lived with us for over 5 yrs, without experiencing a single bout of pancreatitis. Managing a low fat diet is absolutely key, but hopefully, not one containing bi-products, which most Vet clinics sell. Our holistic Vet never recommends any of the food sold at Vet clinics.

    • Thanks for the food suggestions. We use the Natural Balance for Seniors because my ‘Roger’ has chronic pancreatitis and has food sensitivities to peas! Very difficult to find a dog food without peas these days. I make 1/2 of his food (all well balanced – I’m the spread-sheet Queen so the fat types, minerals etc. are balanced!) to average down the fat content even more and use the kibble for the other half. I will say the only reason I figured out it was pancreatitis was because of a Whole Dog Journal article a few years back. Thank you WDJ!!!!!!!!! Roger is now doing well at age 10 as long as we adhere to strict diet – no pizza from well-meaning friends at parties!!!!!! DEb

  7. I understand the concern over feeding diets which contain by-products or sources not considered “low fat” but for some people the only affordable alternative to euthanizing their pet is one of the less expensive diets. It may not be “holistic” or the best available but it may be the only affordable choice. We sometimes have to resist throwing stones when we don’t know what resources people have available to them. I try to avoid judging people for their choices when I may not understand their circumstances.

  8. My Diamond has chronic pancreatitis and irritable bowel syndrome. A vet recommended Hill’s low fat but it just made her worse. The only thing she eats now is boiled fish which I’ve been cooking for her for about 9 years ( plus supplements). She still has flare- ups now and then but they’re getting further apart.

  9. Important information. About ten years ago, I lost a 9 year old sheltie after he stole a blueberry pie off our table. We should have taken him on Sunday to the emergency vet but thought it would get better and waited until Monday. Sadly, he died at the pet hospital. I’ll never wait again with another dog.

  10. Our French Brittany cross Elfie has a rather delicate constitution for such a hopeless gannet of a dog! She had a bout of pancreatitis a couple of years ago which the vet treated (I forget with what, but the French name might not be recognisable anyway). A couple of times since, when we haven’t watched her or got careless, she has ended up getting me up in the night to rush out and eat grass and throw up, followed by a restless day of the same, though on those subsequent occasions she’s remained fairly cheerful and hasn’t lost her appetite.

    The worst culprit seems to be dry, fatty, charcuterie style, sausage which I have seen recommended as a training treat on Brittany forums and elsewhere; I had shared some with her before the first bout, and my husband inadvertently gave her some he had with a drink at a restaurant on the latest occasion. Mind you, she’d been busy already that day; my friend’s two-year-old, who adores her and whose greatest pleasure is sharing his food with her, had already fed her an unspecified amount of chocolate biscuit before I caught them, plus dropped chips (fries) at the restaurant… I only had myself to blame, I thought as i stood outside in the middle of a cold night waiting for her to finish grazing!

    Yet she can eat all kinds of other things she shouldn’t without any ill effects. Fatty stuff seems to be the problem. I read somewhere that US vets report a spike in cases after Thanksgiving, when dogs get given too much chicken and turkey skin.

  11. My 15 year old Australian Silky Terrier had always had a very sensitive stomach and loose stools from the time I adopted her at 3.5 years old. She had a terrible bout of vomiting and diarrhoea after chewing on a lamb shank bone about 10 years ago. Shortly after she was diagnosed with Pancreatitis. For her the diet of Royal Canin hydrolized chicken and pea protein as well as the Hills i/d was a life saver. Believe me, I tried all kinds of other dog foods before like the Natural Balance etc. Recently had to switch to Hills Biome which really helps with her stools. Remember, every dog is different! So, don’t knock your vet’s advice.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here