Pancreatitis, the dangerous and painful inflammation of the pancreas, is relatively common in dogs. Unfortunately, pancreatitis often seems to set in out of the blue, and a dog’s symptoms of the condition can easily be mistaken for other, less serious issues. With this, it’s incredibly important for pup parents to be informed about the signs and causes of pancreatitis, as well as when they can do if their furry friend becomes sick.
Table of contents
- What is pancreatitis?
- Signs that your dog may have pancreatitis
- Causes of canine pancreatitis
- Diagnosing pancreatitis in dogs
- Treating pancreatitis in dogs
- Pancreatitis prevention
What is pancreatitis?
A small but vital organ in all of our bodies, the pancreas is responsible for producing enzymes that support digestion. The pancreas, which is located on the right side of the abdomen adjacent to the stomach, also produces hormones such as insulin, which regulates blood sugar and glucose metabolism.
In a properly functioning system, these pancreatic enzymes only become active when they reach the small intestine. For a dog who has developed pancreatitis, however, enzymes activate as soon as they are released. This creates inflammation and causes damage to the pancreas, as well as surrounding tissue and organs. In severe cases, the pancreas can actually begin to digest itself. The intensity of the disease will depend on the amount of enzymes prematurely activated.
Pancreatitis in dogs can be extremely painful and potentially life-threatening. If you suspect your canine companion may be suffering from a case of pancreatitis, no matter how severe, you should consult a veterinary professional as soon as possible.
Signs that your dog may have pancreatitis
As previously mentioned, the physical signs of pancreatitis in dogs can be difficult to catch and are often mistaken for less serious health concerns. Paying close attention to any potential symptoms of pancreatitis will help your veterinarian best diagnose your pup and determine a course of action.
Repeated vomiting, either several times within a timeframe of a few hours or periodically over several days, can signal a case of pancreatitis. If your pup throws up more than once, particularly for no obvious reason, take note and consider calling your vet.
Like vomiting, diarrhea can mean a wide variety of things are going on with your dog, some harmless and some very serious. Diarrhea is particularly concerning and dangerous if it’s bloody. This indicates your pup has advanced dehydration.
Loss of appetite
You may also notice that your canine companion has stopped eating. Because something is wrong with their digestive system, dogs with pancreatitis will often refuse food and water, which can lead to a host of other complications.
As your dog exhibits diarrhea and or vomiting, perhaps in conjunction with a decrease of appetite, their body is losing more fluid than it’s taking in. Dehydration can quickly become an emergency and lead to very extreme complications, including death.
Between the dehydrating and physically exhausting diarrhea and vomiting, and a lack of fuel (i.e., food and water) coming into their bodies, your dog is likely to appear weak and lethargic. Pay attention to their energy levels, body language, and muscle function.
Another sign of pancreatitis in dogs, a fever can be detected by a runny or warm nose, as well as warm ears. Fevers are often accompanied by other physical symptoms like lethargy, loss of appetite, or panting. This can contribute to further dehydration.
Pancreatitis is a painful condition for dogs. You may be able to tell if your dog is in pancreatitis-inflicted pain if they’re restless, panting, trembling, or if their abdomen appears distended or bloated. You may also see your furry friend stand with a hunched back or in a “praying” position with their rear ends in the air and their heads and front legs outstretched on the ground.
Causes of canine pancreatitis
Pancreatitis appears to occur spontaneously, and the exact cause of the disease is unclear. It’s important to note that any dog can contract pancreatitis—there is no known age, sex, or breed predisposition. There are several possibilities for causes and risk factors:
High-fat diet or food intake
Foods high in fat content are very unhealthy for dogs and even one high-fat meal can lead to pancreatitis. While some dog foods can be high in fat, human foods are particularly dangerous. For this reason, pup parents should avoid giving their pet table scraps. A single high-fat meal can trigger a recurrence of pancreatitis, which is likely to happen once a dog has had pancreatitis previously.
Did you know?
The day after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for veterinary emergency room visits related to pancreatitis.
Overweight and obese dogs have higher amounts of fat in their blood relative to healthy-weight pups. This puts stress on their pancreas and makes them susceptible to developing pancreatitis.
Severe blunt trauma to a dog’s abdomen area can lead to pancreatitis. This can be seen in dogs who have been hit by cars, run into by another dog, etc.
Medications and toxins
Certain medications such as chemotherapy drugs, some corticosteroid therapies, or certain antibiotics can cause pancreatitis in some dogs.
Diagnosing pancreatitis in dogs
Diagnosing pancreatitis in dogs is notoriously challenging. Your veterinarian has a variety of tests that they can perform to try to definitively determine whether or not your pup has pancreatitis, but few diagnostic methods are entirely accurate.
When confronted with a possible case of canine pancreatitis, veterinarians can perform lab tests to indicate elevated white blood cell and pancreatic enzyme counts. A high white blood cell count can be a sign of pancreatitis but is also an indication of a number of other issues, so isn’t very conclusive. Pancreatic enzymes can indicate pancreatitis, but a dog with pancreatitis can also have normal levels.
A pancreatic test may also be available, as well as radiographs and ultrasounds that may show signs of inflammation. Unfortunately, a decent number of cases of canine pancreatitis still go undetected using these tests.
Treating pancreatitis in dogs
Early detection and immediate medical attention is crucial for treating pancreatitis in dogs and preventing and or mitigating further complications. Typically, this involves supportive care and addressing secondary effects of the illness (i.e., vomiting, diarrhea, fever). Possible immediate treatment methods may include:
- Intravenous (IV) fluid therapy in severe cases
- Antiemetic medication to minimize vomiting and prevent dehydration
- Fasting by withholding food and water for 24 hours to rest the pancreas
Once your beloved pooch has had pancreatitis, they are at a significantly greater risk of recurrences. Long-term management options for pancreatitis include:
- Prescription diet of gastrointestinal-supportive, low-fat food
- Small, frequent meals rather than larger servings
- Weight loss for overweight or obese dogs
- Regular, lose monitoring of fat intake, amylase, and lipase levels by veterinarian
The best way to prevent your pup from developing pancreatitis is to strictly monitor and control their diet. Pup parents should avoid high-fat diets and foods, including those formulated for dogs as well as table scraps. This will also help in preventing obesity, which is a crucial component of pancreatitis prevention. Keeping your dog within a healthy weight range is good for their overall health!
Every dog is different. Because diagnosing pancreatitis can be complex and a dog’s response to treatment is fairly unpredictable, it’s important you consult closely with a veterinary professional.