by Brittany Silvers

How to Manage Pancreatitis in Dogs

How to Manage Pancreatitis in Dogs

Published: October 2020 | Updated: November 2022

In simple terms, pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, which is a glandular organ located behind the stomach.  

When we think of the digestive tract our minds usually go to the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. While these are major components of the digestive tract there are many other organs also involved, including the pancreas. 

What is Pancreatitis in Dogs?

In a healthy state, the pancreas is responsible for the production of hormones, such as insulin, as well as many digestive enzymes. These pancreatic enzymes are secreted in an inactive state, and once they reach the small intestine, they become activated and are able to begin digesting foodstuffs. 

By secreting these enzymes in an inactive form, the pancreas protects itself from being digested by the enzymes. However, when pancreatitis occurs, the enzymes are activated in the pancreas, causing damage and pain to the animal. 

The condition can either be acute or chronic: 

  • Acute Pancreatitis is a rapid and severe occurrence of the disease; the condition has not occurred previously, and inflammation can spread to other organs quickly.
  • Chronic Pancreatitis is when the disease develops slowly and over time; symptoms may be sporadic or be lacking entirely. It can occur if acute conditions happen repeatedly.

Both acute and chronic pancreatitis in dogs can be either mild or severe, but both will result in pain for your pooch.

What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?

The exact cause of pancreatitis is unknown, but it is believed to be the result of an inflammatory reaction that occurs when the pancreas becomes irritated or inflamed. 

Pancreatic inflammation can be caused by a number of different factors, including:

  • High-fat diet. Even if your dog doesn’t regularly eat a diet high in fat, a single fatty meal (like all those table scraps from Thanksgiving) can induce acute pancreatitis.

  • Obesity: Obesity is defined as an excessive accumulation of body fat. Excess weight puts pressure on the abdominal organs, especially the liver, making it difficult for the animal to perform normal physical functions such as digesting food and moving about normally.

  • Diabetes: The pancreas is an organ in dogs that produces insulin, a hormone required for the metabolism of food. In dogs, diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly. When the body isn't able to produce enough insulin to function properly, this could lead to inflammation. 

  • Genetics. Some dog breeds predisposed to pancreatitis include:
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Boxers
  • Dachshunds
  • Collies

  • Certain medications: Certain drugs taken orally or injected into the body can irritate the pancreas, causing it to become inflamed. These drugs include insulin and chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer. 

  • Trauma to the abdomen.

  • Infections: Bacterial infections can damage the pancreas and cause acute pancreatitis if they spread through the body and reach this organ. Viral infections also can cause acute pancreatitis in dogs if they go undetected long enough for them to become severe and cause damage to this organ.

  • Pancreatitis can also develop as a result of other conditions, such as hypercalcemia (high blood levels of calcium), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland), and systemic disease (a condition that affects multiple parts of the body).

    Clinical Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs

    Dogs with pancreatitis typically display these common symptoms: 

    • Vomiting
    • Fever
    • Diarrhea
    • Lethargy
    • Loss of appetite 
    • Severe abdominal pain

    If you notice symptoms like this in your dog, it is important to get them to the vet right away, as this disease may lead to death if not treated. Your vet will likely use multiple methods to diagnose pancreatitis, including but not limited to blood tests, ultrasounds or radiographs, and a physical examination.

    What’s the Prognosis for Dogs With Pancreatitis?

    During the initial treatment, IV fluid therapy along with medication for nausea, vomiting, and infection may be provided by your veterinarian. 

    Most likely, you will withhold food for anywhere from a day to a few days to allow the pancreas time to rest. When you begin adding food back in, you will need to ensure that the dog food is low fat and highly digestible (this may need to be a prescription or specially formulated low fat diet).

    It may be recommended that you feed smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. And pay close attention to ensure your dog does not ingest something that could cause a recurrence.

    *A word of caution* While the management of pancreatitis can usually be successful at home, this is a very serious and potentially life threatening condition if left untreated. DIY home remedies for pancreatitis in dogs should never replace the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatitis by your veterinarian. 

    Reducing Risk with Diet

    A healthy diet is important for all dogs, but special considerations should be implemented for dogs with recurrent pancreatitis. The following are important factors to remember: 

    • Dietary indiscretion: Dogs love to eat and many will eat whatever they perceive as food. Making sure your dog doesn’t get into foods they shouldn’t have is important. 
    • Include healthy fats: Fats shouldn’t be avoided altogether, but table scraps should be avoided. Fish, for example, contains healthy fats and other sources of rich nutrition for your dog. 
    • High protein: Low protein is associated with pancreatitis, so ensuring your dog is receiving high quality proteins like those from grass-fed beef are helpful. 
    • Incorporating veggies: Vegetables can help reduce inflammation in your dog’s body, therefore reducing the risk of pancreatitis. 

    How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Pancreatitis Again?

    As with most gastrointestinal issues, prevention is key. While there is no one-size-fits-all guaranteed way to prevent canine pancreatitis, it is important to make sure that your dog always has access to clean, fresh water so they remain hydrated, are kept active and exercising, and provided a healthy balanced diet in the proper amount spread throughout the day. 

    Steer clear of feeding your dogs human food and stick to a well-formulated canine diet. While diagnosing or treating pancreatitis, be sure to visit your veterinarian to determine the best path back to a healthy gut for your dog. 

    As a preventative management measure, probiotics for dogs may go beyond maintaining regular balance of bacteria in the gut and be able to mitigate the chances of a dog contracting pancreatitis. You can check out our favorite canine probiotics here to promote your dog’s long-term wellbeing.  

    Veterinary Care

    Pancreatitis is a painful condition that can be very distressing for both you and your dog. Fortunately, it can be managed with the help of your veterinarian. If you suspect that your dog may have pancreatitis, make an appointment immediately so that your veterinarian can diagnose and treat the problem before it becomes serious or chronic.

    And remember, high-quality probiotics can make all the difference. FullBucket’s Daily Dog and Canine Probiotic Paste can help on a daily basis, as well as during urgent care situations.

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