Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs: Identifying And Treating The Inflammation of The Pancreas

symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Pancreatitis is an inflammatory disease that is considered very common in dogs by most veterinarians. It is defined as an inflammation of the pancreas, or better said a dystrophy of its glandular tissue. It is a disease that affects the permeability of the pancreas’s pipelines that could lead to the development of cancer and other complications. This particular organ has an important role in the absorption of nutrients from food and digestion.

In dogs, pancreatitis can be acute and chronic. Both types appear because of inappropriate feeding, while in some cases they appear because of a genetic predisposition to this disease. Examples of dog breeds that are prone to having pancreatitis are the Yorkshire Terrier and the Poodle.

Veterinarians find diagnosing pancreatitis a difficult process. This is because a dog’s pancreas is hard to examine by medical methods. Thus, this disease can sometimes be mistaken for other illnesses when the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs are not clear. Cholecystitis or the inflammation of the gallbladder, enteritis or the inflammation of the small intestine, or various complications that can occur after a surgery could be misleading.

Also, middle-aged female dogs or older ones are prone to experience pancreatitis more than younger or male dogs. If you have senior pets at home, read on how to care for your old dogs in order to better care for them. Besides Poodles and Yorkshire Terriers, other dog breeds that usually are subjects of pancreatitis are Cocker Spaniels and Miniature Schnauzers.

General considerations and symptoms

Pancreatitis is a disease that could endanger the life of your canine pet. The pancreas is a gland that works as part of the endocrine system by producing insulin and as part of the digestive system by producing different enzymes that help to digest food. Unfortunately, if these enzymes are activated within the gland, the pancreas begins to digest its own glandular tissue, creating inflammation or pancreatitis.

A diagnose and the treatment of this disease are meant to identify all the causes that triggered it and pancreatitis itself. This disease is best prevented by reducing obesity through a diet poor in fats and by preventing other conditions associated with pancreatitis. Likewise, our piece on preventing dog obesity is a good read.

Symptoms of the pancreas’s inflammation

Among the typical symptoms of a dog’s pancreas inflammation are vomiting, loss of appetite, anorexia, depression, diarrhea, weakness or collapse, dehydration, shock, fever and abdominal pain, but sometimes they can be of mild intensity or vague.

Dogs may exhibit signs of abdominal pain by continuous movements, body tremors, crying, jumping, stiff body or an arched back position. However, the main symptom of pancreatitis is considered to be abdominal pain that lasts for a few hours or even days. The severity of this disease and the response to treatment varies from case to case. Sick animals may die either from serious complications or lack of response to the administered treatment.

Dog in pain

Another early sign of pancreatitis in dogs is the presence of jaundice that appears after periods of pain. Jaundice is easy to identify because it practically means a dog’s skin portions turn yellow. Pancreatic insufficiency manifests by oily diarrhea, progressive and constant weight loss, as well as diabetes. It appears as a complication to chronic pancreatitis and it mainly causes malabsorption. In this case and generally too, the history and the evolution of a dog’s pancreatic problems are the most important.

A history that includes intermittent periods of weight loss and jaundice is characteristic of this disorder. However, the confirmation of such diagnosis in the early stages of evolution is difficult. An ultrasound and an abdominal radiography could be very helpful in establishing a quick diagnosis.

Depending on the situation, many other tests may be needed, such as a gastroscopy. This test is necessary especially when veterinarians must come up with a differential diagnosis. The calcification of the progressive fibrosis areas of the pancreas might lead to narrower pancreatic ducts or even to obstructed pancreatic ducts, which favor the occurrence or retention cysts. In turn, these retention cysts can get infected and create abscesses.

The complications they cause are due to the perforation of the neighboring tissues and organs, causing affections, such as peritonitis, ascites or a very dangerous form of inflammation in the chest area.

Details about a dog’s pancreas

The pancreas is a V-shaped gland located between the pylorus and the duodenum. The pancreatic pipelines lead the digestive enzymes formed inside it in the digestive tract. This organ has a large number of functions including the release of these digestive enzymes that help with the disintegration of food. Also, it produces protective agents meant to counter-attack the stomach acid when food reaches the duodenum.

Another equally important function of the pancreas is to protect itself against self-digestion with its own enzymes. As for its functions, it has an endocrine function and an exocrine function. The endocrine pancreas is represented by the Langerhans cells, which secrete hormones that intervene in the regulation of blood glucose concentration and digestion. The exocrine function of the pancreas consists in the production of enzymes that are necessary for the digestion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates too.

Causes that generate pancreatitis

The inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis, is caused by a gland disorder that can no longer prevent the activation of the digestive enzymes when they are still inside it. Pancreatitis can be acute, with no effects on long term, or chronic, which implies a permanent abnormal gland. The chronic cases of pancreatitis usually involve periods of acute illness. The factors among which you can find a clear answer about what causes pancreatitis in dogs are obesity, high levels of lipids in their blood, very greasy food intake, other diseases and steroids.

Numerous cases of pancreatitis occur after people organize dinner parties when dogs are often given pork meat and other fat foods to eat. However, there are cases that occur without an obvious cause too. Remember that some human food should not be given to dogs, and you can read all about it in our piece on proper nutrition for your pet.

Beagle dog try to scrounge a fish from the table

Sometimes the symptoms associated with pancreatitis might not be obvious or they might be unclear. Conversely, there are cases when the signs are obvious and severe. Regardless of the situation, some dogs can fully recover after the administration of appropriate medical treatment and diet. There are also dogs that might even die because of this affection in case they have a severe form or suffer from intense side effects.

The evolution of pancreatitis is usually unpredictable and it does not last for a limited amount of time. The complications of this disease include stroke, inflammation and fluid accumulation in a dog’s abdomen, sepsis, respiratory disorders, cardiac arrhythmias, renal and liver failure, abnormal clotting and bleeding. Recessive pancreatitis, pancreatic abscess, diabetes mellitus and pancreatic enzyme secretion can also be caused by chronic pancreatitis. The presence of one or more of the above problems may worsen any dog’s chances of recovery.

A presumptive diagnosis of this disease may be set relying on a dog’s medical history and on a clinical examination. Tests that can confirm the presence of this disease are quite complex and include complete blood tests, radiographs, ultrasounds and even a biopsy. Known causes of pancreatitis include obesity or hyperlipidemia, trauma, decreased blood flow to the pancreas, toxins, drugs, chronic renal failure, infectious agents and obstruction of the pancreatic duct.

Dogs that are affected by mild cases of this disease usually have an easy prognosis and they get better after the administration of appropriate treatment. In cases of serious illness or complications with concurrent disease, the prognosis is not at all encouraging.

Treatment methods for pancreatitis in dogs

The most effective methods to treat pancreatitis in canine specimens is to allow the pancreas to rest, to help in its work and keep it under medical observation in order to prevent any possible complications. If your dog often suffers from vomiting, the treatment that must be administered immediately consists of not giving it food, water or medicine for at least 24 hours. In this way, the pancreatic activity will decrease and it will not produce digestive enzymes anymore. Depending on the dog’s reaction to this method, it can start eating again after 24 hours or more.

In general, eating small portions of easily digestible food that is rich in carbohydrates and low in fat is recommended.

Most cases require the hospitalization of the sick dog for a minimum period of 3 to 4 days and sometimes longer. There are several objectives that must be dealt with in such cases. First, the circulation of the blood flow throughout the dog’s body and especially in the pancreas must be maintained.

Preventing the pancreas from producing new enzymes is also essential during the treatment. Additional effects can be taken into account, such as the removal of the activated enzymes from the dog’s blood and managing the dog’s abdominal pain. Complications may occur in both acute and chronic stages of pancreatitis.

The second step is a treatment using lots of fluids. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance are symptoms met among dogs that are suffering from pancreatitis. The low intake of water is often, so fluid therapy is needed. Fluids can be administered venous or subcutaneously and this is definitely not a home treatment for pancreatitis in dogs. Dogs that suffer from acute pain can be treated with painkillers and with antibiotics to protect them from various infections.

All these methods should only be accepted if they are recommended by a specialist. In addition, there are cases when pancreatitis is triggered because of a certain medical treatment. That treatment has to be stopped, but this is not a decision you can take by yourself. If, instead, it was caused by a toxin, an infection or other condition, the appropriate treatment should be started immediately. Therefore, regardless of the situation, the help of a veterinarian is essential.

How to treat your dog to be healthy

There are also rare cases in which, due to intestinal complications of pancreatitis or an abscess triggering, the sick dog should be operated. If the affected dog did not respond to treatment, it may require urgent surgery. This option is known to have a high anesthetic risks and high chances of complications compared to a simple medical treatment.

However, the chances of recovery without surgery are much lower for some canine specimens. The cases that often need surgery include the obstruction of vas deferens of bile and pancreas, severe inflammation of the pancreas and of the pancreatic abdominal cavity or abscess.

Long-term treatment for pancreatitis

The evolution of pancreatitis in dogs can be hard to predict. In most cases, if the affection did not worsen and the dog went through just one pancreatic crisis, then its full recovery is most probable. The only measure that must be taken in order to prevent the reoccurrence of pancreatitis is to avoid foods rich in fats. On a not so bright side, there are cases when this disease progresses fast or returns after being treated successfully.

Dogs suffering from acute pancreatitis can recover, but they can also have serious complications. The risk of suffering from this disease is increased for overweight dogs, those that suffer from diabetes, Cushing syndrome, hypothyroidism, epilepsy and disorders of the gastrointestinal tract.

Dogs that have repeated episodes of pancreatitis should eat foods low in fats in order to decrease the risk of a new crisis. But even so, some animals end up suffering from chronic pancreatitis, a condition that can trigger the development of diabetes mellitus and pancreatic insufficiency, also called the indigestion syndrome. In case of pancreatic insufficiency, the nutrients from food are removed without being digested.

A canine specimen suffering from this disease often has a huge appetite, diarrhea and loses weight. Although it is eating a lot, that dog might starve to death. The treatment for pancreatic insufficiency lasts a lifetime and it is expensive, but manageable. A dog’s digestive enzymes are replaced by products obtained from pigs’ pancreases’ or beef products that contain high amounts of digestive enzymes. Taking nutritional supplements might be required as well.

Prevention and maintenance

Obese dogs will have to be put on a diet by a proper diet specialist who should exclude fats from its food and some of its medication. Regular examinations are useful for any veterinarian because early detection and treatment of other diseases that can cause predisposition to this one is very important in preventing it. Conversely, if your dog already had an episode of acute pancreatitis, then you should carefully feed it and increase the quantity of food gradually during a week. Read on our article on ways to ensure your dog stays healthy to give you more

Food and water will not be reintroduced in the life of a sick dog earlier than 2 to 3 days after the abdominal pain and the vomiting have stopped or sooner than the veterinarian recommends. You should start with small amounts of water, then small amounts of food that is low in fats and easy to digest. Your pooch might have to eat certain foods for the rest of its life or it might be okay to return to a normal diet.

Depending on the severity of the disease, your veterinarian will recommend specific diets. The duration of their administration varies according to the stage of the disease. Foods high in fats should be avoided throughout the life of the dog in order to reduce the risk of recurrence.

Foods never to feed your dog

Once again, remember that pancreatitis can be prevented by keeping your dog’s weight under control, avoiding feeding it large amounts of food in one meal, avoiding fatty foods and red meats. In addition, if you notice that your dog vomits repeatedly, then restrict its access to food and water and seek medical help as soon as possible. If you already know how to handle these situations because your dog had this affection before, then seeking immediate medical help might not be necessary. Do not skip the next routine checkup or schedule one right now if you have not already.

Importance of right care

The success in terms of keeping this disease under control and cure it are early diagnosis and prompt medical treatment. A dog’s pancreas has to rest and it does so during fluid therapy. By not administering food, a dog’s pancreas is no longer required for the function of digestion because feeding is done intravenously. Ideally, any affected canine specimen should be hospitalized in case it shows signs of pancreatitis.

Regular blood tests are necessary in order to monitor the fluid therapy and the stage of the disease. You may be given medications to treat your dog’s abdominal pain and to control its vomiting. Antibiotics are not usually necessary, but they are indicated for infections.

Dog at the vet for check up

Not giving a dog water and food for a few days might be too much to handle for a caring dog owner. That is also among the reasons why hospitalization is ideal and highly recommended. You might not have the heart to do the right thing, which is exactly what your beloved canine friend needs at the moment. Although hospitalization might be a little expensive, you should think of the well-being of your pooch and stand by its side until it feels better, like you would do for any other member of your family and for friends too. As pet owner, make sure your are prepared by reading on our piece on health insurance for your beloved pet.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.