In simple terms, pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas.
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: (1)
- 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 can be either mild or severe, but both will result in pain for your dog.
So, what causes pancreatitis in dogs?
There are quite a few reasons a dog may develop pancreatitis: (1, 2)
• 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.
• Genetics. Some dog breeds predisposed to pancreatitis include:
• Cocker Spaniel
• Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
• Miniature Schnauzer
• Yorkshire Terriers
• Certain medications
• Trauma to the abdomen
Clinical Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Dogs with pancreatitis typically display these common symptoms: (3)
- 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).
You may be advised to 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 should never replace diagnosis and treatment of pancreatitis by your veterinarian.
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 (4). You can check out our favorite canine probiotics here to promote your dog’s long-term wellbeing.