Pancreatitis in Dogs – Signs, Symptoms and Treatment
By Scott Lackenby | Dated June 2, 2015
What is pancreatitis?
The pancreas is located in the abdomen of dogs. It is a gland that is important both for digestion and for producing hormones such as insulin. In dogs, it is fairly common for the pancreas to become inflamed, causing a condition called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can occur in any breed, age or gender of dog. Pancreatitis can come on quickly as acute pancreatitis and may not recur. It can also return in recurring bouts of chronic pancreatitis. Cases of both can be considered mild or severe.
What causes pancreatitis?
The exact cause of pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas) is unknown, but there are risk factors that contribute to it. In a healthy dog, the pancreas produces enzymes for digestion that do not start working until they reach the small intestine. However, when the pancreas is inflamed the enzymes leak and begin to digest the pancreas itself. This makes it more inflamed.
Some factors that contribute to the onset of pancreatitis include:
- Obesity – Overweight dogs are more likely to develop pancreatitis
- Eating a very fatty meal such as table scraps / garbage
- Hyperlipidaemia – Some dogs have a metabolic problem where the fat builds up in their blood
- Infection – Can be bacterial or viral
- Cancer – Dogs can develop pancreatic cancer
- Side effect of drugs – For example long term use of cortisone
What symptoms will my dog show?
The common symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs are:
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting (and occasionally diarrhoea)
- Abdominal Pain (shown by a dog arching its back or tensing abdominal muscles)
- Reluctance to walk / Lethargy
The symptoms of pancreatitis are variable and range from mild to very severe, causing death if not treated immediately. Therefore, if you are at all concerned about your dog, a veterinary examination as soon as possible is very important.
How is pancreatitis treated?
Pancreatitis in dogs is treated by hospitalisation at the vet. Dogs are placed on an intravenous drip to prevent dehydration from their vomiting. To enable the pancreas to recover from being inflamed, vets treat dogs by taking all food and water away for at least 24 hours. Medications are given such as anti-vomiting, antibiotics and anti inflammatories to control their pain. Simple cases of pancreatitis take about 4-5 days to recover completely. When your dog is discharged from hospital it is put on a low fat diet. This diet should be fed long term to reduce the chance of the pancreatitis returning.
Will my dog recover from pancreatitis?
The acute, mild cases of pancreatitis in dogs are usually recovered from uneventfully and dogs suffer no long term effects. The severe cases can sometimes be fatal as dogs can go into shock. Some dogs that recover from an acute episode of pancreatitis may continue to have recurrent bouts of the disease known as chronic, relapsing pancreatitis. This is where the digestive enzymes keep spilling into the abdomen and cause damage to surrounding organs, such as the liver, gall bladder, bile ducts and intestines. Infection of the pancreas is uncommon but can also develop.
Dogs are more likely to fully recover from acute pancreatitis if you stick to a low fat diet for them long term. Prevention is better than cure and they should avoid high fat food such as garbage scraps at all times. This is especially during holiday times when people eat more fatty food and dogs try to scavenge.