Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas which can occur in many mammals, including dogs. This inflammation is caused by early and inappropriate activation of an enzyme in the pancreas, which erodes the organ and causes it to eat itself. This can cause discomfort and pain; in progressed cases, it presents serious risks to your dog. Please keep reading to educate yourself on the symptoms of pancreatitis in your dog and what can be done about it.
What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?
It’s a common theory that dogs who eat trash or fatty human foods may develop pancreatitis because of their poor diet. It’s true that a dog who eats a high-fat diet (particularly, fatty human foods) is more likely to develop pancreatitis. Some other risk factors are:
Certain medications, like chemotherapy drugs and certain antibiotics
However, the reality is, that 90 percent of pancreatitis cases in dogs are idiopathic (this means they have no identifiable root cause). The above are risk factors that lead to a greater chance of developing pancreatitis, but your dog does not need these factors present to develop pancreatitis.
Are Certain Breeds More Likely to Develop Pancreatitis?
Yes, certain dogs are more predisposed to certain illnesses. In the case of pancreatitis, there are a few breeds that are more likely to develop pancreatitis. This includes the miniature schnauzer, English cocker spaniel, and a few other small terrier breeds like West Highland White Terriers . These dogs have certain genetic make-ups that make them more likely to have immune system disorders such as pancreatitis. However, any breed can get pancreatitis.
Is Pancreatitis a Serious Condition in Dogs?
Yes, pancreatitis is a very serious disease. There are essentially two forms of pancreatitis.
Acute onset pancreatitis occurs suddenly with no previous signs or symptoms of the condition
Chronic pancreatitis may cause a lower pain level, but it sticks around over time
The symptoms gradually set in over weeks or months as opposed to abruptly starting
Acute pancreatitis is more likely to be fatal. If your dog has recurring acute pancreatitis (this means your dog suffers from several bouts of sudden and painful cases of pancreatitis) the inflammation can spread to other organs and the blood. This could cause diseases like perforation of the intestines and blood clotting disorders.
Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Because pancreatitis is very serious, it is extremely important to know the symptoms as a dog owner. Symptoms will vary depending on whether the dog has a case of mild or severe pancreatitis.
Symptoms of Mild Pancreatitis in Dogs
Symptoms of Severe Pancreatitis in Dogs
Dogs with severe pancreatitis will begin by showing the symptoms listed above. If left untreated, it can progress to more severe disease, at which point, the following symptoms may occur alongside the symptoms of mild pancreatitis.
Sepsis (A dangerous side effect – This is a body-wide infection in which inflammation creates toxins which are then released into the blood.)
Disseminated vascular coagulation (A dangerous condition characterized by blood clotting and internal hemorrhaging.)
In the most extreme cases, the enzymes present in pancreatitis can eat away at the pancreas and move to other organs. After these enzymes cause damage to any organ, the damage is irreversible.
What to Do If Your Dog Has Symptoms of Pancreatitis
The first order of business if you notice any of the above symptoms in your dog is to call your vet. If it’s after business hours, call an emergency vet. If your dog is stable, your vet will likely ask you to bring them in ASAP. If your dog is not stable or showing signs of severe pancreatitis, they may come to you or suggest an emergency clinic.
How is Pancreatitis in Dogs Diagnosed?
Your vet may do several things to diagnose pancreatitis in your dog. You can expect your vet to do several or all the following diagnostics:
Review your dog’s medical history. Pancreatitis is more common in dogs that had pancreatitis before, frequently eat fatty foods, or have a genetic predisposition to pancreatitis.
A physical exam where the vet will check for abdomen distention and pain.
Blood tests. Vets will look for clues like an increased white blood cell count and elevated enzymes. There is a particular blood test that has shown to be accurate in diagnosing pancreatitis in dogs.
Surgery. Performing surgery and getting a sample of the pancreas is the most accurate way to diagnose, but most dogs are too sick or unstable to undergo surgery once they reach the vet.
Treatments for Pancreatitis in Dogs
Treatments for pancreatitis in dogs are centered around managing your dog’s pain and mitigating damage to the dog’s body.
The treatment for pancreatitis is a mixture of medicine and preventative measures.
Some common treatment courses you can expect if your dog has pancreatitis are:
Antiemetic medication (to resolve vomiting, if applicable).
Resting the pancreas (withholding liquids and foods for 24 hours)
Administering pain medication
Administering IV fluids (in severe cases)
Vigorous monitoring of your dog’s condition
You will need to manage your dog’s lifestyle and health going forward to prevent recurrent pancreatitis. Some long-term treatment plans include:
Monitoring food intake and not allowing high-fat foods (No table scraps or human treats!)
Feeding smaller, but more frequent meals throughout the day
Feeding only a prescription-grade low-fat dog kibble
Visiting your vet for regular follow-up appointments to check amylase and lipase levels
Can Dogs Recover from Pancreatitis?
If you get your dog treated at the veterinarian’s office for their case of pancreatitis, they will feel better very soon. However, to ensure long-term recovery, you will need to be vigilant about monitoring your dog’s lifestyle, particularly their diet.
We all love to give our dogs a special treat now and again, but unfortunately, even just an occasional scrap of human food can have serious consequences. To ensure long-term recovery from their pancreatitis, you will need to stop allowing your dogs to eat any human food. You will need to commit to putting your dog on a low-fat prescribed diet and only feed low-fat, veterinarian-approved treats to your dog.
If you do not make any changes to your dog’s eating habits after their case of pancreatitis, it can come back. Dogs who have had pancreatitis are much more likely to get it again in the future if nothing in their lifestyle is changed. This can spiral into recurrent acute pancreatitis which can be severe and even life-threatening.
Pancreatitis in dogs is serious and should be addressed as soon as possible. Thankfully, veterinarians have a multitude of remedies and treatments that will make your dog more comfortable and resolve the inflammation. It’s important that you seek veterinary care for your dog with pancreatitis and closely adhere to all follow-up care instructions from your vet.