Pancreatitis in Dogs – Treatment and Prognosis

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The pancreas is a vital organ for all mammals, including humans, and it plays two important roles in our bodies and those of our pets. It is in charge of producing enzymes that aid in the digestion of food and, at the same time, it produces insulin, which is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels (glucose metabolism).

That’s why pancreas disease is linked with some forms of diabetes, for example. Pancreatitis can be defined as the inflammation of the organ and it can be either acute or chronic. Chronic pancreatitis is often more dangerous than its acute counterpart, and that’s because it can often go unnoticed to the point that any treatment is useless.

Let’s look at what causes pancreatitis in dogs, its clinical signs, how it’s diagnosed, and even what to feed a dog with pancreatitis.

How Do Dogs Get Pancreatitis?

First of all, pancreatitis is not an infectious disease, so it is not transmitted from one dog to another. It is basically caused by the organ’s inability to function properly, and that might happen because of corticosteroid medications or fatty meals, for example. A dysfunctional diet with a high fat intake can cause pancreatitis in dogs and humans alike.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to be mindful when it comes to feeding your canine friend and avoid giving him or her all sorts of ‘human’ treats, such as bacon or worse, pork rinds.

Clinical Signs

But how can you know whether your dog is about to develop pancreatitis or has a mild form already? The truth is that you can’t, at least not in the very early stages of the disease. If you do notice some symptoms, the illness has already progressed to the point that your dog might require treatment, not just a change in diet.

Some of the signs you might see in a dog that has pancreatitis are (but are not limited to) vomiting, nausea, lethargy, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a decreased appetite. Pancreatitis can be acute and can take the form of a severe shock, in which case the dog could be severely depressed and even die.

How to Test for Pancreatitis in Dogs

If you are under the suspicion that your canine companion is suffering from pancreatitis, take him or her to the vet as soon as possible. The vet will use a series of diagnostic methods to determine whether your dog actually has this disease. Lab tests can indicate an elevated white blood cell count, for example, but this can show up in a variety of other illnesses.

Tests that can track pancreatic enzymes in your pet’s blood should be used and are the most helpful criteria when it comes to detecting any type of pancreatic disease. A lot of progress was made in this respect over the years, and a new test was developed and it can even tell whether the dog has an incipient form of pancreatitis even if the animal’s enzymes are within the normal limits.

Pancreatitis can also be diagnosed thanks to radiographs, for instance, as well as ultrasonography, but imaging methods are less conclusive if the equipment isn’t up to date. Pancreatic inflammation is typically associated with a form of mild peritonitis, so ultrasonography could prove to be useful. However, most pancreatitis cases go undiagnosed, and that’s how dogs end up suffering from chronic cases of the illness.


Mild pancreatitis calls for supportive treatment, which basically means that the dog is not allowed to have liquids or food for an amount of time until the organ has had the chance to recover. As such, fluids, glucose, and vitamins are administered intravenously or subcutaneously to make sure that the pet does receive the right quantity of nutrients even if they aren’t fed to him.

Analgesics will be given intravenously, as well, in an attempt to control the pain. With forms that are a bit more severe, the dog might have to receive medications to control diarrhea or vomiting, along with anti-inflammatory drugs. If this has been happening for a while and the vet suspects that an infection has developed, too, the dog might also have to receive antibiotics.

Since there’s also an acute hemorrhagic form of pancreatitis, the treatment could also involve intensive care consisting of medications that can counteract the shock, and antihemorrhagic drugs, along with various intravenous fluids.


Pancreatitis often goes unnoticed, and that’s why most dogs that are brought in for a consultation will have a more severe form, not the mild one. For the mild one, the prognosis is good so long that the animal gets quality, aggressive treatment as soon as possible. However, for dogs that are in shock or depressed, the prognosis is guarded or very guarded (depending on the pet’s health status).

How Long Can a Dog Live with Pancreatitis?

The vast majority of the dogs that have experienced a bout of mild pancreatitis will recover without any particular long-term consequences. Unfortunately, if there are repeated episodes, there could be some complications.

Given that the pancreas has two main purposes (to secrete digestive enzymes and produce insulin), there could be two outcomes to the situation where a dog suffers severe or repeated episodes of the disease. On the one hand, the pet’s body might become incapable of producing digestive enzymes (in which case the illness is called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency), and on the other, the dog’s pancreas could become unable to produce insulin (in which case he or she will suffer from endocrine pancreatic insufficiency) and get diabetes.

Under the first circumstance, the dog will have to receive a powder consisting of enzyme replacements and will have to do so either until the pancreas is fully recovered or for as long as possible. If the dog gets diabetes mellitus as a result of his pancreas not functioning properly, the pet parent will have to administer insulin to their canine friend for the rest of his/her life.

Can Dogs Get Pancreatic Cancer?

Just like humans, dogs can get pancreatic cancer, too, and it goes by the name of insulinoma. It is a fast-growing malignant type of cancer that can cause anything from extreme weakness to seizures and various neurological abnormalities.

The pet’s life expectancy largely depends on the health status of the dog, the type of pancreatitis that he or she suffers from, and whether or not there aren’t any adjacent complications.

What Should I Feed a Dog with Pancreatitis

Meal portion control and weight loss are recommended for dogs that are overweight and they are the first steps to building a healthy digestive system.

Avoid feeding your dog foods that are high in fat, and it would also be a good idea to avoid buying supermarket dog food. Stick to a diet recommended by a veterinarian. Feed your dog an optimal amount of protein and introduce omega 3’s (fish oils) into your canine friend’s diet to reduce triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Never feed treats like pig’s ears or jerky to a dog that suffers from pancreatitis.



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