Dog Health: Understanding Pancreatitis in Dogs

Updated on January 8, 2012
Pancreatitis in Dogs
Pancreatitis in Dogs | Source

What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, a ''V'' shaped organ/gland responsible for a variety of functions in dogs. This organ indeed works both as an endocrine gland (secreting hormones in the bloodstream) and an exocrine organ,(discharging hormones into ducts) therefore, it is a ''dual-function'' gland.

  • As an endocrine gland, the pancreas secretes insulin, somatostatin and glucagon into the bloodstream (to regulate sugar metabolism)
  • As an exocrine gland, the pancreas discharges pancreatic juice containing enzymes necessary for digesting food into the pancreatic duct (to break down starches, triglycerids and protein). The pancreas also secretes bicarbonate to buffer the stomach's acids.

Location: The pancreas is found nearby the dog's first portion of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. The pancreas lies behind the stomach and connects to the duodenum via the duct known as the ''pancreatic duct''.

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Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Normally, the enzymes in the pancreas activate only once they leave the pancreas and reach the small intestine. Inflammation of the pancreas, however, may cause these enzymes to activate even before leaving the pancreas. When this happens, the enzymes cause the pancreas to digest itself, leading to troublesome consequences such as:

  • Pancreatic tissue becoming inflamed causing tissue damage
  • Toxins released due to tissue destruction may cause a widespread inflammatory response
  • Should the pancreas be compromised, it will no longer be capable of secreting insulin causing diabetes mellitus.

Generally, pancreatitis is confined to the pancreas and liver, but at times, deleterious complications may take place leading to:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Weber Christian syndrome
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation
  • Pancreatic encephalopathy

Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs

But what causes the pancreas in dogs to become inflamed in the first place? The causes may be many. At times, however, the causes may remain unknown, but the following are some known triggers:

  • Ingestion of fatty foods. Often the dog has a history of getting into the trash or being fed greasy table scraps.
  • Medications. Sulfa-containing antibiotics, azathiprine and L-asparginase (used often for chemotherapy), potassium bromide (anti-seizure meds).
  • Exposure to organophosphate insecticides.
  • Trauma to the pancreas, such as after being hit by car.
  • Metabolic disorders such as high calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia) or high lipid levels in the blood (hyperlipidemia)
  • Hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease and diabetes.
  • A tumor in the pancreas

Note: some dog breeds are predisposed to pancreatitis such as miniature Schnauzers and Yorkshire terriers. Obese dogs are also prone to this condition.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Hunched-up position
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration

Diagnosis of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Veterinarians diagnose pancreatitis through a variety of tests that help rule out or confirm this diagnosis. Generally, blood work in pancreatitis patients reveals very high levels of amylase and lipase, two enzymes produced by the pancreas. Following are some common and not-so-common tests:

  • Physical examination
  • Complete blood count
  • PLI or pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity test
  • SPEC cPL (specific canine pancreatic lipase) test
  • Ultrasound to rule out masses and tumors
  • X-rays suggesting swelling of the pancreas
  • Exploratory surgery in severe cases when no causes are found

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Treatment of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Treatment for pancreatitis is aggressive with four goals in mind:

  • Provide pain relief to the dog
  • Control vomiting
  • Correct dehydration
  • Provide nutritional support

Pancreatitis Treatment for Dogs

Since dogs affected by pancreatitis tend to have diarrhea and vomiting they are often dehydrated and require fluids and electrolytes. This is accomplished by giving dogs fluid through the skin or intravenously. This is often the best option since drinking may cause further vomiting.

Because the pancreas is already inflamed, food can aggravate the inflammation. Giving the pancreas rest is very important. For this reason, dogs are put on NPO. This acronym means ''Nil per os'' a Latin saying that means ''nothing by mouth''. Per the vet's orders this means fasting the dog for some time until the pancreas recovers.

Medications to stop vomiting are often prescribed.

If the pancreatitis is a side effect of a medication, it should be stopped according to the vet's advice.

At Home Treatments For Dog Pancreatitis

At times, veterinarians provide instructions on how owners can treat pancreatitis at home. Generally, this is for mild cases, after other medical conditions have been ruled out. This is only a sample of what an owner may be asked to do to make the pancreas recover:

  • Fast the dog for as long as the vet recommends.
  • When the dog shows no vomiting the dog may be offered small, frequent amounts of water. If vomiting continues, ice cubes may help keep the dog hydrated without upsetting the stomach or sub Q fluids may be needed. If the dog refuses water, chicken or beef broth with no onions or garlic can be diluted 50:50 with water.
  • Electrolytes such as Pedialyte or Gatorade can be offered always in small amounts frequently during the day.
  • A bland diet can be started using 75% cooked white rice mixed with 25% of boiled lean ground beef, or boiled chicken breast with the fat scooped away from the surface. This should be fed in very small amounts frequently during the day.
  • If the rice is kept down well, it helps to feed it for 3-4 days. Then, the dog may be gradually shifted to its normal diet by adding more kibble and decreasing the bland diet over the course of several days.
  • A prescription diet low in fat and high in fiber may be recommended.

Questions & Answers


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      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

        This article suggests some low fat chewy choices such as carrots and bully sticks in the bottom part under low-fat treats:

      • profile image

        pashmak 4 years ago

        could u please suggest me a good treat for pancreatitis dogs?i mean something as hard as bone,my dog wants to chew something but i can't give him traet it is about 1 and half year that i didn't give him bone or ........

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

        Pancreatitis is a terrible disease. I am happy to hear your Lab recovered nicely and got to enjoy an extra few years. Some dogs get a recurrences and need to stay on a special diet all the time.

      • kitkat1141 profile image

        kitkat1141 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Sadly my yellow lab developed pancreatitis when he was about 12, for no apparent reason. He could not even hold water down. He had to be admitted to the vet for IV hydration. One tip when we brought him home, was to try to not cook foods he could smell for a few days, as the vet said it would get the digestive juices going, and could create a set back. He suggested we cook up the ground meat and rice before he came home from the clinic, so he couldn't smell it. It worked. He went on to live a normal life until he was 14.

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

        Have you seen your vet for this? It's not good for him to be puking so often? Have you ever talked to a nutritionist to find the best diet?

      • profile image

        matt 4 years ago

        my dog has pancreatitis and won't stop vomiting. he is still full of energy and wants to go on walks and play ball but he pukes daily and won't keep down food any kind. I'm cleaning up puke constantly and worried he will never get better. its been 5 weeks!

      • profile image

        icountthetimes 6 years ago

        A fantastic hub full of useful information. I like to read up on animals health issues as I have an adorable dog that I think the world of. Armed with knowledge of various conditions I feel that I'm better placed to understand the ins and outs of possible health issues that might rear their head at some point in the future.

      • danieltiley26 profile image

        danieltiley26 6 years ago from Amesbury, Wiltshire, U.K

        An excellent hub that is very informative and interesting. I have voted up as I have a learnt a lot about pancreatitis thanks this hub.


      • Deborah Brooks profile image

        Deborah Brooks Langford 6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

        thanks for a useful interesting hub. I voted up I hope none of our animals have any of this sickness it would break my heart. but at least now I know what to look for.


      • Brett Winn profile image

        Brett Winn 6 years ago from US

        What is scary is how many pancreatitis symptoms are the same as other disorders. I recently had a dog that I thought might have pancreatitis, he even had the elevated liver enzymes, but it turned out he had heart disease instead. His heart was so enlarged it was taking up the room his other organs should have had and thus mimicked the same symptoms. Great read, thanks! Voted up!