HOW TO Treat Your Dog’s Pancreatitis

Last Week: HOW TO Manage Your Dog’s Periodontal Disease

Your dog has been moping around lately, refusing to eat and occasionally vomiting. When she lies down, she’s constantly tossing and turning. You take her temperature and see she has a fever.

While these symptoms may indicate other gastrointestinal problems, you should take your dog to the vet and have her tested for pancreatitis. This disease occurs when your dog’s pancreas becomes inflamed, causing digestive enzymes to leak so that the pancreas actually begins to “digest itself,” according to Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, on

Your dog may get a sudden (acute) case of pancreatitis, or it may be chronic, occurring over a period of time. Both types are serious and may be fatal, particularly acute pancreatitis, so it is important to have your vet examine your dog.

Canine pancreatitis mostly affects older female dogs that are obese, according to Smaller breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers and Yorkshire Terriers are more susceptible to the disease.

What Can Cause My Dog to Get Pancreatitis?

These are some of the most common causes for inflammation of the pancreas, according to Mar Vista Animal Medical Center and

  • Nutrition – Dogs with diets high in fat, who have recently gotten into the trash, or who are routinely fed table scraps seem to have a higher incidence of the disease
  • Obesity
  • Genetics – Smaller breeds are more susceptible
  • Medications such as potassium bromide, some anti-cancer drugs and some antibiotics
  • Metabolic disorders such as hyperlipidemia (high amounts of lipid in the blood) and hypercalcemia (high amounts of calcium in the blood)
  • Hormonal diseases such as Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus
  • Conditions that could affect blood flow to the pancreas, such as abdominal surgery, trauma to the abdomen (e.g., being hit by a car) or shock
  • Previous pancreatitis

What are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis?

For mild to moderate cases of pancreatitis, Mar Vista reports that your dog may show any of these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Very painful abdomen – Your dog does not lie down completely, she changes position often or lies on her chest with her backside in the air
  • Abdominal distention
  • Lack of appetite
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Hunched posture
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In severe cases, your dog may experience the following conditions:

  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Sepsis (body-wide infection)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a life-threatening condition that results in multiple hemorrhages
  • Organs surrounding the pancreas can be “autodigested” by pancreatic enzymes released from the damaged pancreas and become permanently damaged.

How is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

Your vet will rule out other conditions by giving your dog a thorough physical exam and performing a complete blood count, chemistry panel and urinalysis, according to

Until recently, a reliable blood test was not available to detect canine pancreatitis. However, the new SPEC cPL (“specific canine pancreatic lipase”) test effectively measures the levels of enzymes in a dog’s pancreas. It can detect 83 percent of pancreatitis cases and excludes other possible diseases in 98 percent of cases, according to Mar Vista. The test can be run overnight by a reference lab.

Your vet may also take X-rays and perform an ultrasound to help with the diagnosis. Ultrasounds have detected 68 percent of pancreatitis cases (X-rays have only detected 24 percent), and they can also image other organs and “even collect fluid from the belly easily,” Mar Vista reports.

How is Pancreatitis Treated?

According to, these are the goals of treating your dog’s pancreatitis:

  • Rehydrate – Since your dog is probably dehydrated and has an electrolyte imbalance, supplemental fluids will be given to her intravenously. In cases of acute pancreatitis, your dog will probably need to be hospitalized for a few days.
  • Provide pain relief – “Pancreatitis is a painful condition and pain management is not only humane but important in recovery,” writes Mar Vista. Your vet may prescribe pain relievers such as meperidine or butorphanol. Antibiotics may also be administered because, although pancreatitis is not a bacterial disease, Mar Vista reports that bacteria from the diseased intestine commonly invades other organs. Supplementing your dog with reishi, a natural analgesic and immune-system booster, can also provide pain relief and help to counteract the immuno-suppressant activities of some antibiotics.
  • Control vomiting – If your dog’s vomiting is severe, food, water and oral medications must be withheld for a day or more. Your dog can then usually start eating small amounts of bland, easily digestible food. In more severe cases, tube feeding may be necessary to ensure your dog gets proper nutrients.

If your dog doesn’t improve, surgery may be needed to remove any masses or blockages. “The dangers of surgery force this to be a drastic, lifesaving method,” writes

Chronic pancreatitis can lead to diabetes mellitus or pancreatic insufficiency (also known as maldigestion syndrome). For dogs with pancreatic insufficiency, the nutrients in the food they eat are not digested. Dogs with this disease usually have ravenous appetites, diarrhea and weight loss – so even though they are eating normally, they can actually starve to death. Pancreatic insufficiency can be treated, but the process is lifelong and expensive.

Although pancreatitis can be an unpredictable disease, if your dog has a mild case, the prognosis for recovery is good, according to You will need to feed your dog a diet that’s low in fat and high in protein to prevent future occurrences or complications.

Can I Prevent My Dog from Getting Pancreatitis?

Experts think pancreatitis is generally caused by a poor diet, according to “Always feed your dog high quality dog foods with a good source of protein and fat,” recommends. “Real chicken, beef, lamb, duck and seafood should be the first ingredient. Avoid foods listing food coloring, meat by-products, corn gluten, soybean meal and artificial flavoring.”

You should also avoid giving your dog table scraps and other food that can be toxic to her, such as chocolate and onions.

If your dog is overweight, you should be sure she gets regular exercise in addition to a healthier diet.


Next Week: HOW TO Treat Your Dog’s Vomiting

Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

Laura Goldman

Laura Goldman is senior social media writer for i Love Dogs, Inc. She does love dogs. And elephants and turtles. Along with writing about the loves of her life, Laura likes to play with her two pound pups and tell anyone who'll listen just how awesome Pit Bulls are.

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