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Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

If your dog is suffering from pancreatitis, don't wait to seek help. This blog post outlines the symptoms, causes, and treatments for pancreatitis in dogs.

Written by Raquel Astacio. Published in March 2023.

An upset tummy can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea . And while these symptoms are sometimes harmless, they can also be indicative of a more serious underlying problem such as pancreatitis. 

The term pancreatitis is used to describe inflammation of the pancreas - an organ that plays an important role in the digestion of food. A healthy pancreas is vital to your pup’s health, though its necessity will often go unnoticed until problems begin to arise. 

Understanding this health issue is key, so pet owners can identify warning signs early on and receive proper treatment - giving their beloved canine friend relief from any discomfort or complications that pancreatitis might cause!

What is Pancreatitis in Dogs?

Pancreatitis is an uncomfortable condition characterized by excessive inflammation of the pancreas. The most common of the canine pancreatic disorders, pancreatitis can cause serious pain and discomfort to affected dogs and is often accompanied by vomiting , diarrhea, lethargy, and inappetence. But to truly understand what pancreatitis is and why it happens, we first need to understand the function of the pancreas itself. 

What Does the Pancreas Do?

The pancreas is a vital organ that resides in your pup’s abdominal cavity, and it is responsible for a variety of essential functions, such as producing digestive enzymes which help break down food after it is consumed. 

Normally, the digestive enzymes produced by a dog’s pancreas are designed to remain dormant until they reach the digestive tract. But when pancreatitis comes into play, these same enzymes start to behave inappropriately and will activate while still inside the pancreas. This premature activation causes the enzymes to digest the pancreas itself rather than food material, which causes significant damage to the organ and triggers an inflammatory response within the body. 

What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?

Pancreatitis is an idiopathic condition in 90% of cases - meaning that it happens spontaneously and without an obvious cause or reason. But there are certain things that can trigger pancreatitis as well, such as the consumption of fatty foods or garbage. 

In fact, many veterinary clinics will report an uptick in pancreatitis cases following major holidays, such as Thanksgiving. Why is this? Because owners will feed table scraps consisting of basted turkey and other fatty foods that the body is simply unable to tolerate. 

Is Pancreatitis in Dogs Hereditary?

Pancreatitis is not a hereditary condition, but there are certain risk factors relating to breed that pet owners ought to be aware of. Miniature Schnauzers, for instance, are predisposed to pancreatitis because of their tendency to overproduce blood triglycerides - a factor that has everything to do with the breed itself and little to do with the individual dog. Additionally, English Cocker Spaniels are at high risk for developing pancreatitis because of their breed’s tendency to develop immune-mediated diseases. 

There are also various medications that can contribute to pancreatitis, such as chemotherapy drugs and some classes of antibiotics. Unfortunately, most dogs in this particular situation are taking such medications out of necessity, making pancreatitis an unfortunate side effect. 

Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs 

There are two primary types of pancreatitis in dogs, each with its own unique set of symptoms: chronic pancreatitis and acute pancreatitis. Let’s take a closer look at the major differences between these two conditions.

Acute Pancreatitis 

Acute pancreatitis is the type that develops suddenly, often without warning or obvious cause. This type of pancreatitis is usually short-lived and can often be treated on an outpatient basis. But just because the longevity of this condition is mild doesn’t mean the symptoms will be!

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis in dogs will often include the following:

  • Extreme lethargy or loss of energy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration (caused by loss of fluids)

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis, on the other hand, is a life-long condition with no known cure. Though not as common as acute pancreatitis, dogs with the chronic form of this condition will battle pancreatitis all their lives. The good news is that the symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are typically much milder. 

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis in dogs will often include the following:

  • Mild lethargy or a slight loss of energy
  • Decreased appetite or loss of interest in food
  • Abdominal pain
  • Occasional vomiting

Generally speaking, chronic pancreatitis is far less common in dogs but will require long-term management with strict dietary restrictions. 

How is Pancreatitis Diagnosed in Dogs?

Pancreatitis in dogs can be difficult to detect, as its symptoms may mimic signs of other more-common illnesses, and even routine blood tests have limited accuracy. Fortunately, veterinarians now have access to specialized pancreatic-specific blood tests that can be helpful, though with no definite guarantee of accuracy.

The most precise way to diagnose pancreatitis is through an abdominal ultrasound, though the success of this measure will vary greatly based on the skill of the person wielding the probe. And since most general-practice veterinarians are not proficient with ultrasound, they may recommend consulting with a certified internist for the most accurate results.

Treatment for Pancreatitis in Dogs

When it comes to treating pancreatitis in dogs, there are a lot of variables to consider - namely, the severity of the presenting dog’s symptoms. In most cases, pancreatitis is treated with supportive care regardless of whether it is acute or chronic. 

Treating Severe Pancreatitis in Dogs

If your pup has come down with a severe case of pancreatitis, chances are that your veterinarian will recommend hospitalization to reverse the harmful effects of dehydration. During a stay at the veterinary hospital, dogs with severe pancreatitis will usually receive a combination of the following treatments:

  • IV fluid therapy and electrolyte support (to rehydrate your pet and bring their electrolytes back into balance)
  • Pain medication (to soothe abdominal pain and discomfort)
  • Anti-nausea medication (to keep your pet from vomiting and restore appetite)
  • Stomach-protectant medications
  • Nutritional support 

Your veterinarian may also choose to give your pet an antibiotic if there is a concern for infection somewhere within the body, though this is not considered standard practice in most cases of pancreatitis. 

Treating Mild-to-Moderate Pancreatitis in Dogs

For dogs suffering from a mild-to-moderate case of pancreatitis, your veterinarian may still recommend hospitalization for a short period to restore hydration, though many can also be treated on an outpatient basis. If this is the case for your pet, here are some possible treatment recommendations that your vet may suggest:

  • Subcutaneous fluid therapy (in which fluids are administered under the skin to provide hydration for a short period)
  • Pain medication
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Stomach protectant medication
  • A bland, low-fat diet

Most of the treatments listed above can be prescribed for at-home use, and the majority of dogs with mild-to-moderate pancreatitis will recover quickly. However, if your veterinarian is concerned that this may become a recurrent condition or if your dog is predisposed to pancreatitis, you may be advised to make a permanent diet change consisting of only low-fat foods. 

FAQs About Pancreatitis in Dogs

“Can pancreatitis in dogs be fatal?”

The prognosis for dogs with pancreatitis largely depends on the severity of the illness itself and the rate of recurrence. Generally speaking, pancreatitis is not a fatal condition, though there are some important variables to consider when discussing prognosis. 

Dogs with severe pancreatitis will face a more serious prognosis, as this condition has the potential to cause whole-body inflammation and can even lead to multi-organ failure if not responsive to treatment. Both of these comorbidities can be fatal.

The risk of fatality also increases if an infection called peritonitis develops in the abdominal cavity or if an abscess forms around the pancreas. Scarring within pancreatic tissue may also occur even after recovery, which can eventually trigger secondary conditions such as diabetes mellitus or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

The earlier the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatitis, the better. Although pancreatitis isn't always fatal, it gains a better prognosis when treated early.

“Can pancreatitis in dogs be cured?”

There is no one-size-fits-all cure for pancreatitis, but it can be successfully managed with the appropriate treatment regimen in most cases. Typical treatment for pancreatitis focuses on two main goals: relieving symptoms and attempting to correct the underlying cause. With early diagnosis and prompt veterinary attention, most cases of pancreatitis in dogs can be cured with no long-term side effects or serious complications.

“What can I feed my dog with pancreatitis?”

Feeding your pup a nutritionally sound, low-fat diet can help protect them from pancreatic inflammation. Veterinarians advise that this type of food is beneficial for dogs recovering from or prone to pancreatitis to reduce the risk of flare-ups. There are a variety of prescription foods designed for this purpose, such as the Hills Prescription I/D Diet or the Gastrointestinal Low Fat Diet from Royal Canin . Additionally, pet owners may choose to feed a low-fat homemade diet for a short period consisting primarily of chicken and rice. 

“Can pancreatitis in dogs be prevented?”

Pet owners should take two important steps to ward off pancreatitis: preventing dietary indiscretion, such as ingesting garbage or fatty table scraps, and maintaining their dog’s ideal body weight. Being diligent in these two aspects is a great way to promote good health and prevent pancreatitis.


​​Pancreatitis can be an intimidating diagnosis for dogs and owners alike, but remember that knowledge is power! By thoroughly understanding what pancreatitis is and how to treat it, pet parents can give their dogs the support they need while combating this uncomfortable condition.

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