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Pancreatitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

The pancreas is an organ that produces digestive enzymes and hormones. Pancreatitis is a potentially fatal condition that affects the pancreas.

In this article, BestForPets will define pancreatitis in dogs, and discuss its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention in dogs.

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Deborah R. Fletcher (DVM)


The information provided is current and up-to-date, in line with the latest research conducted in the field of veterinary medicine.

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What is Pancreatitis?

What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and dehydration. The pancreas is located near the liver and spleen, behind the stomach, and serves two primary purposes:

  • Creating digestive enzymes that aid in the digestion of food in the small intestine.
  • Producing hormones that regulate blood sugar, such as insulin and glucagon.

When the pancreas is inflamed, digestive enzymes can leak into adjacent tissues, causing injury and discomfort. Inflammation can also affect the production of hormones, resulting in blood sugar imbalances.

Acute and chronic pancreatitis can be distinguished:

  • Acute pancreatitis is a sudden, severe, and transient inflammation of the pancreas. It can be brought on by a particular event or stimulus, such as consuming a high-fat meal or taking specific medications. It can be extremely painful and requires prompt veterinary care.
  • Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation that lasts for months or years and is persistent. It can be brought on by repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis or other factors that cause pancreatic injury over time. It can result in permanent fibrosis and diminished pancreatic function.

What causes pancreatitis in dogs?

What causes pancreatitis in dogs?

There are numerous potential causes of pancreatitis in dogs, but the following are the most common:

  • Consuming a high-fat meal or scavenging for food
  • Having elevated blood lipid levels (particularly in Miniature Schnauzers)
  • Infection, trauma, tumor, or immune-mediated illness affecting the pancreas
  • Using certain medications that can irritate the pancreas

Some breeds may be more susceptible than others to developing pancreatitis, including:

  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Boxers
  • German Shepherds

However, pancreatitis can affect any dog, regardless of breed, age, or gender.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs?

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs?

Depending on the severity and duration of the condition, pancreatitis symptoms in dogs may vary. Some dogs may exhibit no symptoms, while others may exhibit one or more of the following:

  • Abdominal pain or sensitivity (the dog may arch its back, tuck in its abdomen, or assume a “prayer” position)
  • Vomiting (sometimes with blood)
  • Diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus)
  • Loss of appetite or refusal to eat
  • Dehydration (the dog may have dry gums, sunken eyes, and tented skin)
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Yellowing of the skin, eyes, or gums indicating jaundice
  • Shock (the dog may have pale gums, a rapid pulse rate, low blood pressure, or collapse)

If you observe any of these symptoms in your dog, you should consult your veterinarian immediately. Pancreatitis can be a medical emergency requiring prompt diagnosis and treatment.

How is pancreatitis diagnosed in dogs?


How is pancreatitis diagnosed in dogs?

Pancreatitis in dogs is diagnosed based on clinical signs, blood tests, imaging tests, and sometimes a pancreas biopsy. Your veterinarian will conduct a physical exam and ask about your dog’s medical history, diet, medications, and exposure to contaminants and foreign substances.

Blood tests can determine the levels of pancreatic enzymes and lipase immunoreactivity (PLI), which are markers of pancreatic inflammation.

However, these tests are not always conclusive, as some dogs with pancreatitis may have normal enzyme levels. Additionally, elevated enzyme levels may be caused by other conditions that do not involve the pancreas.

Imaging tests, such as ultrasound and X-rays, can reveal the pancreas’ size and shape, as well as any abnormalities in adjacent organs.

For detecting pancreatic changes, ultrasound is more sensitive and specific than X-rays. However, ultrasound requires a trained operator and may not be available in all veterinary hospitals.

A pancreatic biopsy is the most definitive method for diagnosing pancreatitis. However, it is invasive and carries risks. Using a catheter or surgery, a small sample of pancreatic tissue is taken and examined for evidence of inflammation and injury using a microscope.

A biopsy is typically reserved for cases where other tests are inconclusive or when cancer or other pancreatic diseases are suspected.

How is pancreatitis treated in dogs?

How is pancreatitis treated in dogs?

The treatment of pancreatitis in dogs depends on the severity of the condition and its underlying cause. The main goals are to:

  • Provide pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances with intravenous fluids
  • Manage vomiting and diarrhea with anti-nausea medications and gastrointestinal protectants
  • Rest the pancreas by withholding food and water for 24 to 48 hours, then gradually reintroduce a mild, low-fat diet
  • Use antibiotics or other medications to treat any infections or other complications
  • Monitor the progression and effectiveness of treatment with repeated blood tests and imaging

Some dogs may be treated as outpatients with oral medications and home care. Depending on the individual case, the duration and outcome of the treatment may vary.

How can pancreatitis be prevented in dogs?

How can pancreatitis be prevented in dogs?

The most effective way to prevent pancreatitis in dogs is to avoid feeding them high-fat foods or table scraps, particularly if they have a history of or a predisposition to the disease.

Additionally, keep them away from trash and harmful substances that can damage their pancreas. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help with early detection and treatment of pancreatic disease.

If your dog has chronic pancreatitis or reduced pancreatic function, they may need lifelong treatment with a special diet, enzyme supplements, or insulin injections. Your veterinarian will recommend the most effective treatment for your dog’s condition.

If your dog has pancreatitis, the “Best Foods For Dogs With Pancreatitis” article provides important information to help care for and nourish your pup.


Pancreatitis in dogs is a serious disease that can affect any dog, although certain breeds may be more susceptible. It can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and dehydration. In severe cases, it can lead to shock, organ failure, and even death.

The primary goals are to relieve pain, correct dehydration, prevent vomiting and diarrhea, rest the pancreas, treat any infections or complications, and monitor the patient’s response to treatment.

BestForPets hope that you have found this article helpful. If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s health, please seek the advice of a veterinarian. Thank you for reading.

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Dr. Linda Wilson

Dr. Wilson has devoted her professional life to the treatment of cancer in dogs, cats, horses, ferrets, rabbits, and other exotic species. She has more than 15 years of expertise in the area and is dedicated to giving her patients the best treatment possible.

Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Linda Wilson


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