Causes and Treatment of Pancreatitis in Dogs

What Is Pancreatitis in Dogs?

The pancreas is a vital organ which secretes digestive enzymes and hormones responsible for regulating blood sugar. This organ is located to the right side of the abdomen, very close to the stomach.

Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed and is generally characterised by abdominal pain, reduction in appetite, and vomiting. The inflammation is a result of early activation of an enzyme within the pancreas which result in the pancreas digesting itself.

What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?

It is commonly believed that the cause of pancreatitis in canines is a large helping of fatty food ate in one sitting, potentially due to the dog getting into the garbage. Unfortunately, however, these are not the only causes of pancreatitis in dogs.

The majority of the time, the cause of pancreatitis in canines is idiopathic.

Are Some Dogs Predisposed to Pancreatitis?

While pancreatitis can affect any dog, some breeds are more susceptible to the development of pancreatitis. Moreover, certain medication may also influence the likelihood of the occurrence of this inflammation.

Miniature Schnauzers tend to have issues with hypertriglyceridemia which predisposes this breed to pancreatitis.

Due to the higher incidence of immune-mediated disorders in English Cocker spaniels, pancreatitis also more commonly affects this breed.

Chemotherapy medication, corticosteroid therapies and certain antibiotics which can lead to the inflammation of the pancreas are known to cause pancreatitis in canines.

What Are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs and how can it be diagnosed?

Pancreatitis can be diagnosed using specific Canine Pancreatic Lipase rapid tests such as the VETSCAN Canine Pancreatic Lipase (cPL) test which can be run using canine serum or plasma. Laboratory tests may also show elevations in white blood cells and/or pancreatic enzymes.

While it is inconclusive to perform abdominal X-Rays for the diagnosis of pancreatitis, this is important to rule out the presence of foreign-body obstruction of the stomach and intestines. The better method for visualising the pancreas is to perform an abdominal ultrasound. Particularly in the case of acute pancreatitis, the inflamed pancreas will show up abnormally large during the ultrasound scan.

The clinical symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • Severe lethargy
  • Abdominal pain – which may cause the dog to adopt a “prayer position” where they lie with their front legs and chest on the floor but keep the back legs extended to keep their belly and back end off of the floor.
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Severe dehydration
  • In severe cases, collapse and shock

The symptoms of chronic pancreatitis tend to be less severe than those in acute pancreatitis, and as a result it may be harder to diagnose. It should be noted that chronic pancreatitis can suddenly present worsening symptoms. This is a situation where chronic pancreatitis presents acutely.

Treatment of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Treatment is primarily supportive care to manage the patient’s symptoms and allow the dog the time and rest required for the pancreas to recover regardless of whether the patient has acute or chronic pancreatitis.

Most of the time the dog will need to stay at the veterinarian clinic for a few days for treatment to be administered and for appropriate monitoring. Treatment may include hydration to replenish electrolytes and fluids lost during vomiting, anti-nausea medication to reduce the urge to vomit, as well as analgesics for pain relief. In some cases antibiotics may be administered to prevent any potential secondary infections that may occur.

What Is the Prognosis for Pancreatitis in Dogs?

The prognosis for dogs with pancreatitis ultimately depends on the severity of the illness and the patient’s response to initial therapy.

Severe pancreatitis can lead to a severe whole-body inflammatory condition, which results in multiple organ failure and results in death. Another complication which may potentially increase the risk of fatality is pancreatic abscess formation and peritonitis which is an abdominal cavity infection.

Multiple episodes of pancreatitis may result extensive scarring within the pancreatic tissue. This can cause diabetes mellitus or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) to develop. EPI occurs because of the pancreas not being able to produce a sufficient number of digestive enzymes.

Pancreatitis has many potential causes, and dogs can present with illness that ranges from mild to very severe. Also, the signs of illness are not specific to the pancreas, so it can be a challenge to diagnose. Ultimately, the earlier the diagnosis and treatment, the more positive the outcome.



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