Pancreatitis In Dogs

Pancreatitis in dogs can be extremely dangerous. It is a health issue that all pet owners should be familiar with in order to recognize the signs and symptoms, as it can be life threatening. It is fairly common in canines, and isn't age, breed, or gender specific. Let's start with explaining what the pancreas is. The pancreas creates enzymes that aid in digesting food and produces insulin which helps regulate blood sugar.

The medical definition of pancreatitis is "inflammation of the pancreas". What exactly does that mean? The pancreas produces enzymes that aid in digestion. When working properly, this only occurs once food hits the small intestine. If the pancreas is inflamed, the pancreas releases too much too fast, causing the enzyme to begin working on the pancreas instead of the food it was supposed to digest. This is very painful and causes the inflammation.

There are two forms of pancreatitis, acute pancreatitis, and chronic pancreatitis, and both can be severe or mild. Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly, while chronic pancreatitis is persistent and ongoing.

The two different forms share some symptoms but may also have different symptoms:

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis
  1. Loss of appetite
  2. Vomiting
  3. Shaking/tremors
  4. Depression
  5. Abdominal pain
  6. Diarrhea
  7. Fever
  8. Dehydration
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis
  1. Vomiting or pain after eating (may or may not follow each feeding)
  2. Loss of appetite
  3. Weight loss
  4. Depression
  5. Dehydration
  6. Diarrhea
  7. Lethargy
  8. Chronic pancreatitis may not show any symptoms at all
What causes pancreatitis? Pancreatitis often appears to show up without any warning at all. While there are some possible leading risk factors, the exact cause is still undetermined. Some known factors are: High fat diets (particularly from people food or table scraps), obesity, hypothyroidism, trauma, adverse reaction to a drug (prednisone, antibiotics, acetaminophen), getting into foods they shouldn't eat (people food, rummaging through trash, something in the yard), and possibly a genetic predisposition.

Pancreatitis can be dangerous. If you suspect your pet may have pancreatitis, seek medical care ASAP. Pancreatitis can end in death.

A veterinarian may use several different methods to determine if your pet has pancreatitis. A blood test to measure pancreatic enzymes, a physical exam, an ultrasound, or a needle biopsy of the pancreas.

Treatment for pancreatitis is fairly basic. If caught early, prior to any long lasting complications, the treatment may consist of:

  • No food or water for a specified period of time, known as "resting the pancreas"
  • Pain management
  • IV fluids for dehydration
  • If vomiting continues, a drug to prevent that
  • Possible use of anti-inflammatories
  • If an infection is suspected, use of antibiotics
  • Upon reintroduction of food, a very bland, low fat food
If your pet has been diagnosed with pancreatitis, your veterinarian may recommend some things to prevent or try to limit future issues. Once a dog has had pancreatitis, a high likelihood of recurrence is present. While the on-going prognosis is good, a few minor tweaks and changes may help limit those recurrences. 
  1. A low fat diet. possibly even a prescription food
  2. A very restrictive diet, no table scraps, no high fat content foods
  3. Possibly smaller and more frequent feedings
  4. If the dog is overweight, losing that weight and maintaining a target weight
  5. Avoiding drugs that may cause inflammation
The prognosis for life after pancreatitis is good. In most cases, dogs will recover from pancreatitis without any long term consequences (there are always exceptions). Upon recovery, a good approach is to control the things you can. Make sure you are feeding a proper diet, maintain your pets weight, and make sure he (and you) get exercise. Again, if you suspect your pet is having an issue, seek medical attention ASAP.