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Pancreatitis in Dogs – Complete Signs, Diagnosis, Causes and Treatment

What is Pancreatitis in Dogs?

by Vetic Editorial
Published: Last Updated on 2.2K views

The pancreas produces digestive enzymes that help in the digestion of food. Pancreatitis in dogs is the inflammation of their pancreas that results in pain, discomfort, loss of appetite and, often, vomiting. 

Trypsinogen activation is supposed to occur in the small intestine. However, when trypsinogen is activated to trypsin early, it causes the auto-digestion of the pancreas. That results in inflammation and pain in the pancreas. 

Pancreatitis in dogs can be acute or chronic and subclinical or clinical. It warrants veterinary consultation and care

What causes pancreatitis in dogs?

There is NO common cause of pancreatitis in dogs. Dogs of any breed, age and gender can fall victim to pancreatitis irrespective of their neutering status. 

Some studies have shown a correlation between high-fat meals and pancreatitis in dogs. Nonetheless, 90% of the cases of pancreatitis in dogs do not have a definitive cause. 

One common risk factor for pancreatitis among all breeds is hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing disease. However, it is rare and uncommon. 

What’s the difference between acute and chronic pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. 

Infographic - Two types of pancreatitis in dogs. acute pancreatitis in dogs and chronic pancreatitis in dogs.

What is acute pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis can be mild or severe. Mild acute pancreatitis often results in minute swelling and pain. Severe acute pancreatitis can lead to bleeding (hemorrhagic) inside or around the pancreas. 

What is chronic pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis results in digestive enzymes leaking into the gut. These enzymes are powerful and they digest parts of the liver, gall bladder and intestines. 

So, after a dog recovers from acute pancreatitis they may have recurrent episodes of pancreatitis. This is known as chronic pancreatitis. 

Are some dog breeds more prone to pancreatitis?

Yes. Some breeds of dogs are more prone to pancreatitis than others including Yorkshire Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Malamute and Husky.

If you have a dog belonging to any of these breeds, you should consider regular check-ups and blood tests to monitor the health and functioning of their pancreas. 

How is pancreatitis diagnosed in dogs?

It is often difficult to diagnose pancreatitis through physical examination and signs. 

Multiple cases of chronic pancreatitis do not present any clinical signs at all. There is no palpable swelling or pain, loss of appetite or vomiting in the dog. 

The only way to conclusively diagnose pancreatitis in dogs is via –

  • Imaging (USG)
  • Blood test (Serum Lipase)
  • Serum Lipase Immunoreactivity

The medical history of the patient plays a critical role in the diagnosis and categorization of pancreatitis. 

What are the signs of pancreatitis in dogs?

infographic on the signs and symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs. the signs of acute pancreatitis include - severe lethargy, loss of appetite, repeated vomiting, abdominal pain and dehydration. the signs of chronic pancreatitis include lethargy, reduce appetite, abdominal pain and repeated vomiting.

The signs and symptoms of pancreatitis can vary significantly. It mainly depends on the type – sudden onset (acute) or long-term (chronic). 

Here are the signs of acute pancreatitis in dogs –

  • Severe lethargy 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Repeated Vomiting 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe dehydration

When left untreated, severe acute pancreatitis can compromise liver function and eventually lead to acute kidney injury (AKI)

Signs and symptoms of chronic pancreatitis may not be as clear. The clinical signs can include –

  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Vomiting

However, in most cases, all four signs of chronic pancreatitis are not present together. Chronic pancreatitis mostly results in discomfort pain in the abdomen, and loss of appetite. That makes chronic pancreatitis difficult to diagnose. 

How is pancreatitis in dogs treated?

Successful treatment of pancreatitis in dogs depends on early diagnosis and correct medical therapy. 

Treatment of mild acute pancreatitis

The treatment of acute pancreatitis in its mild form depends on the management and reduction of swelling. Enough “rest” is provided to the pancreas, which allows the organs to heal themselves. 

In the cases of repeated vomiting in dogs, food and oral meds are usually stopped for a couple of days. In such cases, the dogs receive IV fluids and medication through the IV route to make up for the fluid loss and treat vomiting/nausea. 

Dogs who are still eating but not vomiting receive low-fat and easy-to-digest food during their recovery. 

Sometimes, the veterinarian will recommend antibiotics if they suspect a secondary infection. 

Some dogs require 24/7 monitoring and critical care for the treatment. So, they may need hospitalisation for 2 to 4 days (or a week). 

Treatment of severe acute pancreatitis

Dogs showing signs of systemic shock and hemorrhagic pancreatitis should be rushed to the emergency veterinary clinic. 

They require aggressive fluid therapy with the right doses of medication to counter the shock. 

Is pancreatitis in dogs curable?

Mild forms of pancreatitis are often curable with timely treatment and a correct diet. Any dog diagnosed with acute pancreatitis but not treated on time may progress to the more severe hemorrhagic form that results in systemic shock and death. 

The prognosis of pancreatitis also depends on the concurrent damage to the other organs. 

What are the long-term effects of pancreatitis in dogs?

Pancreatitis may have long-term consequences. Most dogs suffer from recurring episodes of pancreatitis due to improper diet and discontinuation of prescribed medication without the vet’s knowledge. 

Some of the long-term effects of pancreatitis include –

Chronic exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)

This results from the destruction of the enzyme-producing pancreatic cells due to auto-digestion. Many dogs who recover from pancreatitis end up living with EPI. 

Diabetes Mellitus

If the pancreatic enzymes have destroyed insulin-producing cells in the liver the dog can suffer from diabetes mellitus (high blood sugar). 

Organ Adhesion

In rare cases, pancreatic enzymes leaking into the abdominal cavity can cause painful adhesions between the organs in the abdominal cavity. 

Studies show that dogs with chronic pancreatitis are more likely to develop these three conditions. Therefore, if your dog has been diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, it is important to ensure that the episodes of pancreatitis do not recur. 

Pancreatitis in dogs: The Takeaway Message

Pancreatitis in dogs is a complex and potentially serious condition that demands immediate attention and treatment. 

Its exact causes may not be clear in many cases, but early diagnosis and appropriate treatment often result in a positive outcome. 

Whether it’s acute or chronic, pancreatitis can bring about a range of distressing symptoms. It demands vigilant monitoring and regular check-ups, particularly for predisposed breeds. Neglecting the signs of pancreatitis may lead to recurrent pancreatitis and long-term complications such as EPI, diabetes mellitus, and organ adhesion. 

If your dog is vomiting repeatedly, suffering from a loss of appetite and lethargy, and showing signs of abdominal pain, you have every reason to take them to an expert veterinarian near you for prompt diagnosis.


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