Pancreatitis in Dogs
Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a vital organ that regulates digestion and blood sugar in the body. Located near the stomach in all animals, the pancreas produces enzymes that help the body digest and absorb nutrients. It also produces insulin, the hormone that regulates glucose. If a dog develops pancreatitis, these systems can be disrupted. Learn more about pancreatitis in dogs, symptoms to watch for, treatment, and more in this article.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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What causes pancreatitis in dogs?
Normally, the enzymes made by the pancreas are inactive and only become activated to begin digestion once they reach the small intestine. If a dog has pancreatitis, the enzymes become activated beforethey reach the small intestine and begin digesting the pancreas itself, resulting in pain, discomfort, and other symptoms.
A diet high in fat is thought to be a contributing factor to pancreatitis in dogs. Miniature Schnauzers develop pancreatitis more often than other dog breeds which suggests a genetic factor.
Dogs may develop acute or a sudden onset of pancreatitis with symptoms ranging from mild or severe. Often, pancreatitis affects overweight and middle-aged or senior dogs. Recurrent episodes of acute pancreatitis develop into chronic pancreatitis, meaning the inflammation persists over a long period of time.
Certain medications may contribute to pancreatitis in dogs and should be avoided in dogs that have previously had or currently have pancreatitis. Concerned about your dog’s current medication? Be sure to talk to your vet, and never stop giving your pet medication without talking to your vet first.
Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Most often signs of pancreatitis range from lack of energy and decreased appetite to symptoms involving the gastrointestinal tract such as nausea, vomiting, painful stomach, diarrhea (sometimes with obvious blood), dehydration, and fever. In more severe cases, difficulty breathing, collapse, life-threatening shock, or death may occur.
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
Determining if a dog has pancreatitis is based on symptoms, bloodwork, and sometimes x-rays and/or abdominal ultrasound. There is also a test that evaluates an enzyme produced by the pancreas called cPL (canine pancreatic lipase) and when elevated, indicates pancreatitis. The history of your dog’s diet, medication, and symptoms along with test results help to diagnose pancreatitis.
Treatment for Dogs with Pancreatitis
Managing and treating pancreatitis depends on early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Treatment focuses on “turning off” the production of enzymes by the pancreas. This allows the pancreas to “rest” and heal.
Dogs diagnosed with moderate to severe pancreatitis need to be hospitalized and nursed back to health. Your vet will treat by withholding food and water by mouth and support hydration and electrolytes by giving fluids intravenously (IV). Other medications will be given via injection to manage pain, nausea, diarrhea, infection, and inflammation.
When discharged from the hospital, your vet will discuss additional medications, diet changes, follow-up visits, and what to expect moving forward.
Preventing Pancreatitis in Dogs
Pancreatitis can recur, so if your dog has been diagnosed previously, talk to your vet about what you can do to help prevent a recurrence.
Often, the cause of pancreatitis in dogs is unknown, therefore prevention remains challenging. If your vet thinks it could be a medication they may change or discontinue that medication. Perhaps your dog ate food with high-fat content or is overweight. Avoiding foods high in fat as well as changing to a low-fat diet can help. Always consult your vet before changing your dog’s diet if he has had pancreatitis.
Click on the following link to read more about obesity in dogs:
Annual health and wellness exams continue to be important to monitor your dog’s health, especially if they’ve previously been diagnosed with pancreatitis. Keep a close eye on your dog’s daily behavior and activity and keep a journal of any changes such as decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, painful belly, changes in breathing, decreased activity, or sleeping more than usual. If you notice any of these changes, make an appointment with your vet to determine the next steps.
Potential Problems with Chronic Pancreatitis
A damaged pancreas may cause a decreased production of digestive enzymes which leads to improper digestion of food, also known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). Your vet will discuss treatment options if your dog develops EPI.
Having a damaged pancreas also increases a dog’s risk of developing diabetes mellitus (DM) due to a decreased production of the insulin hormone. There are different treatment options available depending on the severity and ability of your dog to regulate their blood sugar. These include diet modifications and medications. Read more about diabetes mellitus in dogs by clicking on the following link:
When to Contact a Veterinarian
Have you noticed mild signs such as decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea? Or is your dog less active, painful, panting, and possibly has a fever? Any of these signs from mild to severe indicate that you should schedule an appointment with your vet. The sooner your vet determines the cause of your dogs’ illness, the sooner the appropriate treatment can help them feel better.
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