A Primer On Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a large, elongated gland that sits transversely behind the stomach. 

The pancreas is an amazing organ that performs two vital functions:

  • producing hormones such as insulin
  • producing enzymes that help in the digestion of food

Dogs of any age, sex, or breed, and occasionally cats, can get pancreatitis. Unfortunately, there is a poor understanding of the exact cause. However, there is often a parallel between pancreatitis and corticosteroids or rich, fatty diets. For example, the times of the year when veterinary ERs see an influx of pancreatitis cases are Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Further reading: Canine Pancreatitis: What Causes It?

A Primer On Pancreatitis in Dogs


When your dog’s pancreas becomes inflamed, digestive enzymes can spill into the abdomen. The spilled enzymes can damage nearby organs, such as:

  • the liver
  • bile ducts
  • gall bladder,
  • or intestines

Pancreatitis can occur suddenly in either a mild or severe form. 

Dogs that recover from sudden episodes can also continue to have bouts of illness that return repeatedly.

What does it look like

Signs of pancreatitis in dogs or cats often vary and can depend on the other organs involved.

Typical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Severe attacks can cause shock, collapse, and even death.

The early symptoms may not always be evident at first. However, pancreatitis is potentially life-threatening. The medical definition of pancreatitis is simple: “inflammation of the pancreas.” But, like all serious conditions, there is more to it than that.

Diagnosing pancreatitis

Diagnosis is based on physical signs, laboratory tests, and x-rays or ultrasound. Diagnosis can be difficult, and your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist or veterinary teaching hospital.

Treating pancreatitis

Management of pancreatitis depends on early diagnosis and prompt treatment. 

Withholding oral fluids and food can let the pancreas “rest.” However, your dog might need IV fluids for a few days. Some veterinarians also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications.

Dogs that are in shock from a severe attack need emergency treatment which involves:

  • intravenous fluids
  • antibiotics,
  • and other medications

What is the prognosis

The prognosis depends on several factors:

  • the spread of the damage
  • the severity of the inflammation
  • response to the initial treatment

Dogs that suffer severe or repeated attacks can develop long-term problems. For example, damage to the pancreas can result in a lack of digestive enzymes. As a result, such a dog needs daily enzyme supplementation with all their meals. Severe or chronic pancreatitis can also result in diabetes because the damaged pancreas can no longer produce insulin.

Related articles:
Pancreatitis in Dogs: The Perplexities of Pancreatitis
Canine Pancreatitis: What Causes It?

Further reading:
Pancreatitis in Dogs

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