Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis in dogs can be life-threatening, so it’s important to know the signs to look out for. Certain breeds including Miniature Schnauzers and Cocker Spaniels are also more susceptible to the condition.

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Here’s everything you need to know about pancreatitis in dogs. We cover the symptoms to be aware of, how you can treat it and the prognosis. And we’ll also look at the difference between acute and chronic pancreatitis.

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What is Pancreatitis in Dogs? 


The pancreas is an organ in the dog’s abdominal cavity. Its main function is to produce digestive enzymes to help break down food.

Pancreatitis is inflammation in the pancreas. It happens when the digestive process starts too early in the pancreas. The pancreas then starts to digest itself.


What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs? 


The exact cause of pancreatitis in dogs isn’t known. But it can be triggered by fatty meals or your dog eating something they shouldn’t. Think rummaging in the bin behind your back.


Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatitis 


The usual signs and symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs include:

-             Hunched back

-             Repeated vomiting: several times within a few hours or over a few days

-             Pain or distention of the abdomen

-             Diarrhoea

-             Dehydration

-             Loss of appetite

-             Weakness

-             Lethargy

-             Fever

The signs will vary if your dog has acute or chronic pancreatitis. With acute pancreatitis, they will have severe lethargy and severe dehydration. Other signs include persistent vomiting and abdominal pain. They may also collapse and could go into shock. With chronic pancreatitis, your dog may not be as sick. Typical signs include lethargy, a decreased appetite or no appetite at all, and abdominal pain.


What’s the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis? 


Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly, without the condition appearing before. If the inflammation spreads to other organs, it can become life-threatening. Chronic pancreatitis develops slowly over time, often without symptoms. It can happen if your dog has repeated attacks of acute pancreatitis.

Both forms can be mild or severe and can cause significant pain to your dog.


How is Pancreatitis Diagnosed? 


It isn’t always that easy for your vet to diagnose your dog with pancreatitis.

The symptoms your dog may experience with pancreatitis aren’t unique to the illness. That means your vet may look at other things first.

Routine blood tests also often can’t identify it, although your vet can perform certain blood tests to look for the condition. They will only likely do so if they have a high suspicion of pancreatitis. Blood tests are also usually more successful with acute, severe pancreatitis.

The best method to diagnose pancreatitis in dogs is through an abdominal ultrasound. But this will only be successful if the tissue of the pancreas is abnormal enough to be seen on the ultrasound. It’s more likely to be picked up with acute and severe pancreatitis than chronic milder pancreatitis.

It can be more difficult to diagnose a dog with ongoing mild pancreatitis.


Treatment for Pancreatitis in Dogs 


If your dog has a severe attack of acute pancreatitis, they may need to be hospitalised. Treatments can include:

-             Intensive intravenous (IV) fluid and electrolyte support

-             Pain-control measures

-             Antinausea medication

-             Stomach-protectant medications

-             A feeding tube for nutritional support

-             Antibiotics occasionally

Treatments for chronic pancreatitis can include:

-             Fluids applied under the skin (done by the vet or at home)

-             Antinausea medication

-             Stomach protectant

-             Pain medication

Dogs with chronic pancreatitis may also be hospitalised if they suffer from regular severe attacks.


Feeding a Dog with Pancreatitis 


Your dog may transition back to their original food after they’ve been treated for acute pancreatitis. Your vet will be able to guide you through what and when to feed them.

You need to manage your dog’s diet going forward. Many of the risk factors for pancreatitis can be avoided. The first thing to remember is to reduce their intake of foods that are high in fat, especially human foods. That means no more table scraps. Also, think about feeding them smaller regular meals rather than two big meals a day. The best food for dogs with pancreatitis will be:

-             High in nutrients

-             Highly digestible

-             Fat restricted

-             Relatively low in protein

Regular checkups at the vet will also help your dog to maintain a healthy weight. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight may involve feeding them a diet with either 10% or 15% fat. You don’t want to cut the fat out completely as this can also cause issues for their health. 

Moist food – warmed slightly to between body temperature and room temperature – can be good for dogs with pancreatitis. It clears the stomach quickly into the small intestine and aids with digestion.

Always remember that pancreatitis in dogs can easily be triggered by diet changes, too many treats and any human food. They should be avoided.


Pancreatitis Prognosis


How severe the illness is will affect the prognosis of your dog. Dogs with severe pancreatitis have a higher risk of death, as the inflammation can spread to their other organs. This may cause multiple organ failure, which is life-threatening. Their risk of death can also increase if abscesses form or they get an infection in their abdominal cavity.

Some dogs can recover fully from acute pancreatitis – if it is treated properly and then managed effectively. But extensive scarring can occur in the pancreas even after one attack of acute pancreatitis. This can lead to diabetes or a lack of enzymes in the pancreas. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Pancreatitis in Dogs

Can a Dog Recover from Pancreatitis?

Most dogs do recover from episodes of pancreatitis. But if they have regular attacks of severe pancreatitis, it can cause diabetes or an enzyme insufficiency in their pancreas. Pancreatitis in dogs can also be life-threatening if the inflammation spreads to their other organs.

What is the Most Common Cause of Pancreatitis in Dogs?

Often pancreatitis in dogs is caused by a sudden change in diet or a sudden increase in fatty foods (most notably human food scraps). The exact cause of the condition is unknown.

What is the Life Expectancy of a Dog with Pancreatitis?

It’s difficult to predict. In mild cases, the dog may go on to make a full recovery. In other more severe cases, pancreatitis in dogs can be life-threatening.

Should you Exercise a Dog with Pancreatitis?

As well as diet changes, your vet may advise you to exercise your dog more. This will help manage their weight, boost their metabolism, and improve their cortisol levels.

Final Thought 


If you suspect your dog has pancreatitis, contact your vet straightaway. They will be able to advise on the best course of action, from diagnosis through to treatment.

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