Most veterinary facilities, including our Dr. Treat team, see a pancreatitis uptick around the holidays when rich foods are plentiful and often shared with the family dog. Learn if your dog has a high pancreatitis risk, and when to seek veterinary attention.
But, this organ’s larger role—98%—is devoted to an underappreciated, vitally important function—secreting digestive enzymes to break down and use food. Dogs can develop pancreatitis—a common inflammatory condition that results in painful digestive dysfunction, ranging in severity from mild and chronic to acute and life-threatening.
Of canine pancreatitis cases, 90% are idiopathic (i.e., no known cause), but veterinarians can attribute 10% of these inflammatory conditions to a specific underlying disease or event, such as the ingestion of fatty or unfamiliar foods. Most veterinary facilities, including our Dr. Treat team, see a pancreatitis uptick around the holidays when rich foods are plentiful and often shared with the family dog. Learn if your dog has a high pancreatitis risk, and when to seek veterinary attention.
What is canine pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic, and has many potential underlying causes. Although veterinary medicine professionals continue to research canine pancreatitis, we know this condition begins when digestive enzymes are activated before being released. This abnormal occurrence causes destruction inside the pancreatic cells, attracting immune cells and inflammatory mediators that perpetuate inflammation, which can spread systemically to damage blood vessels or other organs. Mild to moderate pancreatitis can resolve with treatment and supportive care, but complicated cases have a high mortality rate.
What are pancreatitis signs in dogs?
Pancreatitis may present suddenly, or can persist at a chronic low level. Chronic inflammation produces mild, vague signs, but acute inflammation results in marked and sometimes severe illness. Dogs’ common pancreatitis signs include:
- Abdominal pain
What are canine pancreatitis risk factors?
Some dogs are more likely to develop pancreatitis than others, including those with underlying diseases that can impair their metabolism or digestion. Because of genetic factors and altered fat metabolism, miniature schnauzers are more susceptible to pancreatitis than other breeds. Other pancreatitis risk factors include:
- Cushing’s disease
- Certain medications
- Yorkshire terrier, poodle, or Cavalier King Charles spaniel breed
- High cholesterol or triglycerides
- Table scrap or trash ingestion
How is pancreatitis diagnosed in dogs?
Diagnosis can be tricky, because no single test alone can confirm pancreatitis. If—on the basis of your dog’s clinical signs and risk factors—your veterinarian suspects your four-legged friend has pancreatitis, they will perform a combination of the following tests:
A standard blood panel (complete blood count [CBC] and chemistry) can help determine hydration status and overall organ function, but an additional pancreas-specific test (e.g., Spec cPL, Snap cPL, precision PSL) can lead to a quick pancreatitis diagnosis. Although the test result may be negative, your veterinarian cannot rule out pancreatitis.
To rule out intestinal obstruction, fluid accumulation, or tumors, your veterinarian performs X-rays if your dog has been vomiting or has abdominal pain signs.
Ultrasound is the best tool for observing the pancreas, and an experienced veterinarian can diagnose pancreatitis based on ultrasound alone in 60% to 70% of cases.
How is canine pancreatitis treated?
Dogs who have mild, chronic pancreatitis are usually stable overall, and their risk for severe complications remains low. Ultra-low-fat commercial foods are the ideal treatment, but fat makes food palatable, and dogs who have a poor appetite may refuse to eat this type of diet. A nutritionist-formulated, home-prepared diet can be beneficial for many dogs. To improve the control and reduce the recurrence of your dog’s pancreatitis, your veterinarian will also focus treatment on correcting your four-legged friend’s underlying conditions.
Acute pancreatitis can be life-threatening, so you should immediately seek veterinary care for your dog if they are vomiting, lethargic, and refusing to eat. Acutely ill dogs are generally hospitalized for several days to receive the following treatments:
Fluids correct dehydration, combat ongoing fluid losses from vomiting or diarrhea, and improve circulation and blood pressure to ensure vital organs receive adequate oxygen.
The pain pancreatitis causes can compromise your dog’s recovery. Strong opioids and other analgesics can help relieve your four-legged friend’s pain.
Antiemetics, acid reducers, and appetite stimulants
These medications reduce nausea and vomiting, and enhance your dog’s appetite so they feel like eating.
For your dog who has pancreatitis to make a complete recovery, their calorie and nutrient requirements must be fulfilled, and food can help reduce intestinal complications during pancreatitis. A feeding tube can help dogs who refuse to eat until they’re feeling better.
Can canine pancreatitis cause complications?
Pancreatic inflammation can permanently damage cells that produce insulin and digestive enzymes, resulting in secondary disorders. Insulin deficiency causes diabetes, and enzyme deficiency causes exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). These disorders are manageable with medications and lifestyle changes, but dogs with permanent damage and abnormal function are prone to developing recurrent pancreatitis bouts. If recurrent pancreatitis becomes severe, your dog can face life-threatening organ failure or blood-clotting problems.
Canine pancreatitis is no picnic, and our Dr. Treat team is here to help your dog avoid this inflammatory condition. When you enroll your dog in a Dr. Treat One™ membership, our innovative approach to preventive care includes breed identification, genetic health testing, and routine screenings that uncover latent health problems and determine your four-legged friend’s individual disease risk.
If your dog develops sudden illness signs, our 24/7 virtual care team can book a same-day appointment, or refer you to an emergency facility. Get started with our expert team by checking out our website or downloading the app.