Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis in Dogs: Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Pancreatitis is a common disorder in dogs that can become life-threatening if not properly treated. Finn breaks down the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of pancreatitis.

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Pancreatitis is inflammation of your dog’s pancreas, a vital organ that releases digestive enzymes like lipase and amylase, aids in your dog’s processing of food, and helps control blood sugar levels. It’s located on the right side of your dog’s abdomen, adjacent to the stomach.

There are two functions of the pancreas: the exocrine function and the endocrine function. The exocrine function secretes bicarbonate and enzymes responsible for breaking down certain proteins, carbs, and lipids. The endocrine function is entirely related to blood glucose through insulin and glucagon secretion.

In a healthy dog, those secreted enzymes are activated not when they are released but when they make their way to the small intestines. In an unhealthy dog with pancreatitis, those enzymes are activated immediately upon release and end up doing damage to the pancreas itself, surrounding tissue, and other organs close by. 

Let’s learn more about the causes of pancreatitis and the treatment options available. 

Are Certain Breeds More Prone to Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis doesn’t discriminate based on breed and can occur in any dog. Some breeds, however, are more susceptible to the disease. Miniature schnauzers, miniature poodles, and cocker spaniels may be more likely to develop pancreatitis. It’s also more common in middle-aged to older pups, overweight dogs, and females.

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How Many Forms of Pancreatitis Are There?

There are two different forms of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. 

  • Acute pancreatitis is more sudden and occurs with relatively no previous conditions, and can be life-threatening. It’s more visible than chronic pancreatitis.
  • Chronic pancreatitis develops over time, gradually and typically without symptoms. It usually is a result of repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis.

What Are the Causes of Pancreatitis?

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Vets believe several risk factors bring on pancreatitis:

  • A high-fat diet
  • Obesity
  • Dietary indiscretion (a dog that typically eats anything they find off the ground, table scraps, garbage)
  • Endocrine diseases
  • Some prescription medications
  • Genetic predisposition

Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatitis

While it’s important to watch for any symptoms that may arise in your dog, not all of them will be noticeable. 

Some common symptoms of acute pancreatitis in canines are:

  • Severe lethargy
  • Abdomen pain
  • Nausea
  • Repetitive vomiting 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever or body temperature
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal posture
  • Dehydration 

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Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis aren’t as obvious and might appear over a longer period of time. The less noticeable signs and symptoms include decreased appetite (to not eating at all), abdominal pain, fatigue, and vomiting. If you notice that your pet is showing any of the symptoms above, consult a veterinarian immediately. 

How Is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

Pancreatitis is difficult to diagnose as the symptoms aren’t always obviously related to the pancreas. Sometimes the signs are typically vague and overlap with other disorders. 

Routine blood tests aren’t always reliable in detecting the disease, either. Hence, veterinarians have to perform pancreas-specific tests (once symptoms are conveyed) that help identify abnormalities in line with the condition.

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Pancreas-Specific Blood Tests

If pancreatitis is in question, your dog’s vet can perform pancreas-specific blood tests that help determine a diagnosis. These tests include serum lipase and amylase and serum pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity. 

While these tests don’t always reveal the root issue, they’ll detect a complete blood cell count and irregularities in the function of your pup’s internal organs, which will ultimately help your vet narrow down the issue at hand.


Veterinarians use ultrasounds to detect pancreatic inflammation if there is any present. It’s also a way to rule out other medical issues that your dog may be experiencing. 

Even this evaluation proposes its own set of challenges, as an ultrasound image can’t always capture the entire organ (it’s sandwiched between the stomach and colon, two organs that are typically gas-filled and obscure part or all of the pancreas). 

Abdominal X-Rays

While x-rays don’t guarantee a diagnosis of pancreatitis in your pup, they’re still considered necessary due to the great degree of overlap in clinical signs between pancreatitis and other gastrointestinal or hepatic diseases. Ultimately, they’ll help your vet rule out conditions with similar symptoms.

Your Dog’s Medical History

Your dog’s medical history can help determine a proper pancreatic diagnosis. Be hypervigilant if you think your dog is experiencing symptoms of pancreatitis. Symptoms paired with your dog’s medical history, changes in their diet, as well as medications they’re on will help your vet with a diagnosis. 

How Is Pancreatitis Treated?

You should absolutely rely on the assistance of a specialist to help treat your dog’s pancreatitis. Because the disease is hard to detect and the causes aren’t fully known, there’s no clear treatment path. 

Ultimately, it’s about making your pooch feel as comfortable as possible. Here are a handful of strategies that your vet will likely recommend when it comes to treatment.

  • IV fluids or fluid therapy to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance
  • A prescribed low-fat diet
  • A 24 hour fast (no food or water)
  • Pain medication by injection
  • Supervision to keep your pup from eating table scraps
  • Antibiotics

Preventative Care

While it’s not completely avoidable, there are some preventative measures you can take to decrease your pup’s chances of getting pancreatitis. 

Here are some ways you can help protect your pup:

  • Avoid feeding high-fat foods to your pet, including table scraps or other fatty treats. 
  • Keep your pet at a healthy weight.
  • Actively monitor with your dog’s intestinal health. 

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How Long Does It Take Dogs To Recover From Pancreatitis?

A mild case of pancreatitis paired with the right care will usually go away within a few days of diagnosis. The more severe cases have a guarded prognosis and often require a week or longer hospital stay.

Long-Term Effects

For the vast majority of dogs that have been diagnosed with pancreatitis, there aren’t any long-term effects. However, you should keep a close eye on your pet to see if there are any noticeable changes in their lifestyle. 

There have been instances of dogs that have recovered from pancreatitis but then suffer from diabetes and require insulin injections for the rest of their lives. 

Fortunately, most dogs go on to live long and healthy lives once they are given the proper care and treatment. 


We’ve covered a lot about pancreatitis, its causes, diagnoses, treatments, preventative care, and additional facts that are good for pet parents to be aware of. 

While some breeds are more susceptible than others, pancreatitis can develop in virtually any pup. 

Pancreatitis is diagnosed by pancreas-specific lab tests, ultrasounds, abdominal x-rays, and a deep dive into your dog’s medical history. It can be treated in several ways, including fluid therapy, a prescribed nutritional plan, fasting, medication advised by your vet, and antibiotics. 

If you want to learn more about how you can keep your dog happy and healthy for as long as possible, explore Finn’s blog about all-things-doggo here


Pancreatitis in Dogs - Symptoms, Treatment, & Prevention | American Kennel Club

Pancreatitis in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital

Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment | PetMD

The Role of Imaging in Diagnosing Pancreatitis | MSCPA

Pancreatitis in Pets | Upstate Vet



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