Pet Health Library

Pancreatitis in Dogs

A dog lying on its side

Background

The pancreas is an important organ that lies near the stomach, colon, and small intestine. It has two functions: to produce hormones, such as insulin and to produce enzymes that help in the digestion of food. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the disorder is called pancreatitis.

There are two forms of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis occurs with a sudden onset of symptoms and no previous signs of the condition. Chronic pancreatitis develops over time and is frequently recurrent. Acute pancreatitis can become chronic pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can lead to dehydration, organ damage, diabetes, insufficient digestive enzyme production, and, in severe cases, death. A variety of triggers for pancreatitis have been reported.

Risk Factors

The following factors contribute to the development of pancreatitis in dogs:

  • Consumption of high-fat foods, whether fed in the form of table scraps or stolen from the trash
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Hormonal diseases such as Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, and diabetes mellitus
  • Blunt force trauma, such as being hit by a car or falling from a height, can injure the pancreas and cause inflammation
  • Drug therapy such as anticonvulsants or steroids
  • High blood lipid levels
  • Genetics may play a role, with miniature schnauzers, Yorkshire terriers, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, and poodles appearing to be more prone to pancreatitis

Signs

The most common signs of pancreatitis include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea

Diagnosis

To diagnose pancreatitis, other causes of the clinical signs first must be ruled out. Since the major signs of pancreatitis — vomiting and loss of appetite — are common signs of other conditions, blood tests, x-rays, and an abdominal ultrasound may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Measurement of canine pancreatic lipase in a blood sample is also commonly used for the diagnosis of pancreatitis.

Treatment

Veterinarians do not have a specific treatment to stop the mechanism of pancreatitis (pancreatic digestive enzyme release and subsequent pancreatic inflammation). Treatment for pancreatitis includes correction of dehydration, and control of nausea, vomiting and pain. Serious cases are treated in the hospital. Home care may include withholding food and water until the vomiting ceases, followed by a low-fat, bland diet. Dogs may take several days to recover from a serious case of pancreatitis.

Prevention

To help prevent pancreatitis:

  • Keep your dog at an ideal body weight
  • Restrict your dog’s intake of human foods, particularly fatty ones
  • Keep the garbage tightly covered or in a cabinet
  • Use a window screen to prevent falls from a height
  • Keep your dog leashed to prevent automobile accidents

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