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Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms to Watch for and What to Do

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

If your dog has pancreatitis, she is sick and will need to be hospitalized. Learn the symptoms so you can recognize it right away.

If your dog has pancreatitis, she is sick and will need to be hospitalized. Learn the symptoms so you can recognize it right away.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

  1. A painful abdomen. This might be one of the first symptoms you notice, and if you are doing a DIY physical exam at home, your dog will grunt in pain when you push up on her belly. If her belly is in pain, she might have a hunched-over back.
  2. Vomiting. There are a lot of things that can cause vomiting, but if you follow these simple steps and it does not stop, you need to have your dog checked out right away.
  3. Loss of appetite. Missing a single meal is not a big deal for most dogs. If your dog normally eats fine and has a loss of appetite with any other symptoms of pancreatitis, take her in for an exam.
  4. Depression. Your dog is in pain.
  5. A swollen abdomen.
  6. Dehydration. You can check this by lifting up her skin. If it sinks back slowly, she is already dehydrated.
  7. Diarrhea. This may be mild and may not even be present in all dogs.
  8. Fever. You may not even notice this symptom, but you should keep a thermometer in your first aid kit. Check this but watch for the other symptoms first.

Severe Symptoms and Complications

Sometimes the disease is so severe that the organs around the pancreas are “autodigested” or destroyed by the digestion enzymes leaked from the pancreas. Dogs might also have heart problems, breathing problems, or a disease called DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulopathy), where all the organs are destroyed and the dog starts bleeding out of her nose and eyes.

Vomiting is one of the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs.

Vomiting is one of the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs.

What Causes Pancreatitis?

The pancreas normally stays quiet and does its job, releasing insulin to keep the blood sugar normal and helping to digest food. You might notice the symptoms of pancreatitis when:

  1. Your dog has been “dumpster diving,” or you give her a fatty meal like the skin off of the turkey at Thanksgiving.
  2. Your dog is already obese, and you make things worse by giving her a rich meal that she cannot handle.
  3. Your dog is hit by a car or kicked in the belly. Her pancreas is traumatized and starts leaking enzymes into her belly. Your dog's liver can also be affected at this point.
  4. You have a Miniature Schnauzer. They can have bouts of pancreatitis without external causes, like a fatty meal.
  5. Your dog is on a new medication; some antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and seizure control drugs can affect the pancreas. If you have any questions about new meds your dog is taking, contact your veterinarian.
  6. Your dog has another disease like diabetes, Cushing's, or hypothyroidism.
  7. Your dog is on a diet that causes her pancreas to overreact and produce too many enzymes. Some holistic veterinarians believe that corn-based diets are most likely to do this.
  8. You feed your dog cheap food with a lot of carbohydrates that raise blood sugar. You may be causing your dog problems by putting these foods into your dog's bowl each night.
Depression may not even be noticed, but it's another symptom that may be seen when a dog has pancreatitis.

Depression may not even be noticed, but it's another symptom that may be seen when a dog has pancreatitis.

If You Think Your Dog Has Pancreatitis, Go to the Vet!

If your dog has the symptoms of pancreatitis that I described above, the first thing you need to do is take her to your regular vet for an exam and bloodwork. Your vet will recommend the bloodwork to check for inflammation and enzymes, along with evaluation of the urine (a urinalysis). The vet may need to take X-rays or perform an ultrasound.

How Will The Vet Treat It?

To treat your dog suffering from pancreatitis, your vet will want to:

  1. Give medications to stop the vomiting.
  2. Give IV fluids to keep your dog hydrated.
  3. Give pain medications.
  4. Give small meals.

Your dog will probably need to be hospitalized for the treatment.

If treated promptly, a dog suffering from pancreatitis can get better.

If treated promptly, a dog suffering from pancreatitis can get better.

Will My Dog Get Better?

If your dog has her first bout of pancreatitis, she is treated correctly, and you do not waste days going to forums and checking sites on the internet to decide whether or not you should take her to the vet, she will probably get better.

After she gets better, she will probably need to be on a low-fat diet. If you just ignore it and she has repeated bouts of pancreatitis, she can develop a chronic disease where her pancreas is not even able to digest her food. Your dog will starve to death.

Don’t let it get this far. If your dog has any symptoms of pancreatitis, get her examined by your veterinarian today.

More About Your Dog's Health

  • My Dog Is Vomiting
    Sometimes vomiting is simple to treat and easy to figure out. Now always. Find out what can be wrong and what you need to do if your dog is vomiting.
  • Save Money on A Dogs Health Care
    How you can save money on your dogs health costs by following a few simple steps. Why you should examine your dog regularly, keep you dog healthy and how to avoid excessive health costs.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Our mini poodle was diagnosed with pancreatitis two years ago and was hospitalized. I have since completely changed her diet. She is now on the Hills i/d Digestive Care (156g). I give her and our other poodle half dog food with chicken breast. Snacks are homemade dehydrated chicken wrapped around rawhide. Now she is also licking her paws until they are raw. Are there any supplements I can give her?

Answer: If this were my dog, I would want to find out what is causing her excessive licking before I started supplements. Is it just her feet, or does she have recurrent ear infections? Is she itching and scratching other parts of her body excessively?

Your dog may be allergic to something in the environment, maybe licking her feet out of boredom, or may even be allergic to that Hills diet. (Read the label.)

If you are not able to find out what is causing her excessive licking, and just want to try a supplement, I can only recommend some natural sources. Honey, when it is harvested locally, will contain many allergens that the dog is allergic to and will act like allergy shots. If your dog is inside all of the time, and the allergies are not seasonal, you can try to reduce the allergens she is exposed to:

If it is only her feet, you can also try to soak them in Epsom salts or wipe them with apple cider vinegar. (As long as you do not use too much it is not going to hurt her to lick the feet, but if you are soaking them in Epsom salts be sure to wipe them clean after.)

© 2013 Mark dos Anjos DVM


Scottie on November 24, 2019:

Good data here. My miniature Schnauzer on Saturday night begin acting overly tired on Sunday she was lethargic and very light pinkish urine that morning by evening and it turned darkish red that next morning I had her to the vet by 8 a.m. and I'm glad I did she then developed blood in her stool most all her levels were good except for her pancreas it all stemmed from I believe she got ahold of a pigeon in the backyard and ate it but she stayed in the hospital for 3 days before returning home and has grown stronger as the days go on so it is critical absolutely critical you get them to the vet as soon as possible. Once home youn MUST keep pet on low fat food your Dr. Can help. I was so happy to have my bestest buddy in the world back with me. Thanks to Dr. Shaw & staff @ University Small animal clinic Odessa Texas.

Marilyn hicks on October 17, 2019:

My dog has pancreatitis and my vet said he will die and not get well if he don’t eat .

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 06, 2019:

Pastor Doreen, I agree and it is unfortunate that the company provides so many incentives to vets to sell their food. What alternative are you using?

Pastor Doreen on March 06, 2019:

My fur baby vet recommended & gave me hills digestive care dog food which is only rated 2 1/2 stars by dog food ( contains Menadione sodium bisulfate complex which damages the liver lungs heart kidney and organs no thank you

AlexJ on April 13, 2013:

I think the best thing you can do for your dog is to give them healthy homemade food for healthy life. There are lots of recipes here please don't give them commercial food.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 11, 2013:

My dog is very thin and has no trouble with fat. I think overwieght dogs are much more likely to have trouble with this. As far as wild dogs? Even if they eat fat, they are taking in a lot of other organs besides, so it is not like a pure fat meal.

Good question though. Something that still needs to be researched.

Bob Bamberg on March 11, 2013:

Another good hub, Doc. Vets have told me that they see more incidents of pancreatitis around the holidays, when people are inclined to give dogs some skin, or pour pan drippings from the turkey over their dog's food.

It's my understanding that in an acute attack, digestive enzymes begin working before they leave the pancreas and start to destroy that organ. What I can't reconcile is how wild canids can eat the fat of their prey and not succumb to pancreatitis. Is there something about rendered fat that causes problems? Voted up, useful and interesting.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on March 10, 2013:

I have never had a dog that had pancreatitis, however it never hurts to be informed. I did have a dog with a hypoactive thyroid. He finally got diagnosedd after two years of taking him to the vet when my sister heard Paul Harvey's radio show about hypoactive thyroid in dogs and thought that sounded just like Beau. He had the hot spots, was fat, lazy and losing his hair. I took him to the vet and they are telling me that they want to run this test and that first. I told them they had already run all of those, just run the thyroid test. They didn't want to because it was so expensive. I had already spent more than the cost of the test on vet bills, and other tests. They ran the test and it was, of course, low. I had him for another 14 years, giving him one of the little pills every day. Now I have to take them.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 10, 2013:

Thanks for sharing this Will

Lindacee, sometimes we just never know, unfortunately. At least you are preventing a recurrence, since sometimes chronic bouts of pancreatitis are the most dangerous. Thanks for taking the time to look this over and leave a comment.

Linda Chechar from Arizona on March 10, 2013:

My Cairn Terrier was diagnosed with pancreatitis early last year. She is a tough little girl and came through the ordeal like a champ, though it was a very scary month or two. She was extremely sick. She's now on a prescription diet and shall remain so for the rest of her life. I have no idea exactly what triggered it--maybe a sudden reaction to her food or something building over time. Thanks for sharing this valuable information with dog owners. Voted up, useful and interesting.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on March 10, 2013:

"You are lucky she pulled through that incident, even after a week."

I know that now. I had no idea that fat was so dangerous to a dog, so this is another great Hub, Doc. It could save the lives of many dogs.

Thank you, and shared!

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 10, 2013:

I have one of those dogs that I hardly ever worry about, but it is not something that can ever be totally ignored. Like Wills comment above--a pound of pork rinds is enough for any dog to start showing symptoms.

Im glad you know what makes your Min Schnauzer prone. She is fortunate that you are aware of these issues and that you watch her health so carefully.

Thanks for the comment and sharing!

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on March 10, 2013:

I can tell you from sad personal experience that, with a miniature schnauzer, a single fatty meal (which might not seem fatty for another dog) can be enough to cause pancreatitis. My dog had it twice, and I'll do anything necessary to try to prevent it in future. I monitor everything she eats and make sure she can't get into anything she shouldn't have. Her vet works with me to ensure my dog's lipid levels stay normal.

This is a very scary, dangerous illness. I don't want her to get it again, although the vet told me that schnauzers sometimes get it even when you're very careful with their diet. I think her very lean homemade food helps, for she's had no tummy upsets at all since I've been cooking her meals.

Thanks for providing this information.

Voted Up+++ and shared


Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 10, 2013:

Labs are such chow hounds! A pound of pure fat, that would do it. It sounds like you got a good education on this problem, but you probably wont need it with Lily.

You are lucky she pulled through that incident, even after a week.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on March 10, 2013:

Our beloved yellow lab, Zoe, was a thief extraordinaire. At night, anything she found left out on the counters was fair game. She would eat an entire loaf of bread, wrapper and all, and the evidence was in her droppings.

One morning, I found her lying on the back patio, and there was vomit everywhere. I found what was left of a pound of chicharrón, the Mexican version of fried pork rinds, which are almost pure fat.

Her belly was very tender, and when I mentioned that to the vet, her previous 'wait and see' attitude became a 'get her here as fast as possible'.

It took almost a week of cage rest and IV fluids, but she did finally recover from pancreatitis. We were lucky.