Pancreatitis in dogs

As dog owners, our priority is keeping our pets happy and healthy. So when they become unwell, it can be really worrying. Pancreatitis is something that a lot of dogs might suffer from, and whether the symptoms are mild or severe, it’s often something that you’ll need to get vet support to help with.

Remember, it’s important to be aware of some of the more common health concerns that can affect dogs – this way, you can spot when something isn’t quite right to get them the help they need.

What is pancreatitis in dogs?

Pancreatitis in dogs occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed or swollen. The pancreas is responsible for releasing enzymes that help digest food. Normally, the enzymes only become active when they reach the small intestine. But in dogs with pancreatitis, those enzymes activate before they reach the small intestine. This then causes damage and further inflammation to the pancreas, the surrounding tissue, and if left untreated can damage other organs too. 

Pancreatitis ranges from mild to severe. Mild cases can usually be managed by a change of diet and keeping an eye on those extra treats! But severe cases often need more intensive treatment. The condition can flare up and symptoms can ease fairly quickly, whereas chronic pancreatitis in dogs develops overtime and can stay for much longer periods. The disease often causes prolonged bouts of abdominal pain and vomiting.

What causes pancreatitis in dogs?

It can sometimes be difficult to identify the exact cause of pancreatitis. In many cases flare ups appear out of the blue. But there are a number of factors that make dogs at higher risk of developing the condition. Sometimes the disease can be brought on by a recent surgery, or it could be a side effect to a drug. However, the condition is most commonly triggered when a dog eats high-fat foods, such as bacon, cheese, butter and even high-fat dog treats. 

There are a number of health conditions that can predispose dogs to developing pancreatitis, and it’s not uncommon for the disease to develop alongside other conditions like diabetes too. Certain breeds such as Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds, Yorkshire Terriers and Poodles are more prone to the condition. But it’s also more likely to affect overweight dogs and older dogs.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs?

Symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs vary depending on the severity of the illness. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the warning signs as they’re not always obvious at first. They can easily be mistaken for something less serious, so it pays to keep a watchful eye. But the typical signs of pancreatitis in dogs include: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weakness and lethargy 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration 
  • Painful tummy – dogs with pancreatitis often adopt the prayer position. Where they stretch out the abdomen while the front of the body is low to the floor.  
  • Fever

What to do if your dog has pancreatitis?

If your dog is showing any of the symptoms above, see your vet as quickly as possible. Your vet will examine your dog, and they may need to undergo tests such as blood tests, an X-ray and ultrasound to check for pancreatitis. 

There’s no miracle cure for pancreatitis. The priority is managing your dog’s pain and making them as comfortable as possible until the episode passes. Early intervention is also key to help avoid any further complications. 

For mild pancreatitis, your vet may recommend you monitor your dog closely for the next 24 hours, and encourage them to drink plenty of water. This ensures they don’t become dehydrated. They may also recommend no food during this period. They will likely give your dog strong pain medication to keep them comfortable, as well as medication to help with nausea and vomiting. After the 24-hour period, your vet may suggest you encourage your dog to eat small, low-fat meals throughout the day. However, every case is different and you should always follow your vet’s advice for your dog’s circumstances.

If your dog has severe pancreatitis, your vet will likely recommend your dog stay at the vet practice for observation for a few days. Intravenous fluids are a common form of treatment to maintain normal fluid and electrolyte balance. And in some cases, a stomach tube may be necessary for dogs that aren’t eating on their own. 

After veterinary treatment, most dogs make a full recovery. But it’s not uncommon for dogs to experience flare ups throughout their lives. While in some severe cases it can be fatal. For recurring pancreatitis, the best method is usually switching to a new low-fat diet.

Read more: Dog food for dogs with pancreatitis

Leave a comment