If you've found this article, chances are that your dog is unwell, and you suspect that your dog may have pancreatitis, or your vet has diagnosed pancreatitis in your dog.
While this can seem overwhelming and stressful for you and your canine companion, arming yourself with all the information will help. Read on to learn more about what pancreatitis in dogs is, what causes it, and how to treat it.
This article was reviewed by our expert veterinarian, Chris Vanderhoof (DMV).
What is dog pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis in dogs is a very common and potentially life-threatening condition that affects the pancreas – an organ adjacent to the stomach that produces enzymes to assist in the digestion of food. The pancreas also produces hormones like insulin which regulates your dog's blood sugar and glucose metabolism. When this organ becomes inflamed, it is known as pancreatitis.
In a healthy dog, the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes into the small intestine, and only once these enzymes are safely in the small intestine do they become active and start to break down food. In a dog with pancreatitis, these enzymes immediately activate once they are released, causing damage to the tissues of the pancreas, surrounding tissue, and nearby organs.
Signs of pancreatitis in dogs
Pancreatitis can affect any dog at any time. According to veterinary research, generally, middle-aged and overweight dogs are at a higher risk of developing the disease, along with dogs diagnosed with hypothyroidism, diabetes, and Cushing's Disease.
In addition, certain breeds are more prone to developing pancreatitis. These breeds include Miniature Schnauzers, Yorkshire Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, and Miniature Poodles.
There are two types of pancreatitis: acute (which has a sudden onset) and chronic (which is a longer-term illness). Acute pancreatitis is the more common of the two.
*Common symptoms of acute pancreatitis include: *
- Abdominal pain;
- Vomiting that persists;
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:
- Loss of appetite and avoidance of food;
- Abdominal pain;
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
If you suspect your dog has pancreatitis, head to the vet as soon as possible. The sooner you begin treatment, the better, especially in preventing permanent damage to the tissues of the pancreas.
Pancreatitis is not easy to diagnose as many of the symptoms are not specific to pancreatitis. To rule out other causes of your dog's symptoms, your vet may run some routine blood tests.
X-ray for pancreatitis in dogs is mainly used to look for other causes of vomiting, like a foreign body or obstruction.
Your vet can do a specialized blood test for pancreatitis in dogs to look for elevated levels of pancreatic enzymes in the blood. While these tests are helpful, they aren’t always 100% correct.
Abdominal ultrasounds are a good way to diagnose pancreatitis in dogs with severe and acute pancreatitis, where the pancreas shows a change in size. Mild cases may not show up on an ultrasound.
Causes of dog pancreatitis
Many cases of pancreatitis in dogs are caused when a dog consumes a meal high in fat. Often this is from enjoying too many human snacks shared by well-meaning pawrents, but it is also commonly a result of your dog getting into the garbage for a good old scavenge.
That said, most cases of pancreatitis have no apparent cause.
While certain breeds are more prone to getting pancreatitis, other causes can be related to medications like antibiotics known to cause inflammation of the pancreas.
When it comes to pancreatitis, the earlier you get a diagnosis and begin treatment, the better. In mild cases, treatment usually starts with taking it easy on the pancreas by switching to a low-fat, easily digestible diet.
Medication prescribed is usually in the form of painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and medicine to control diarrhea and vomiting. Sometimes, antibiotics can be helpful if an infection is suspected.
Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration, so your dog may need to spend a few days in the hospital to receive intravenous fluids.
Severe illnesses like pancreatitis can affect your beloved canine companion at any time. The veterinary costs can escalate quickly in such emergencies, leaving you with massive bills to cover or a tough decision to make.
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How to comfort a dog with pancreatitis?
If your dog is vomiting, the advice would be to avoid giving your dog food, but make sure that they have access to plenty of fresh water.
Once the vomiting has stopped, switch to frequent smaller meals of easily digestible food low in fat.
Your dog will need plenty of rest, but if he's up to it, a short walk should be ok. Pay attention to your dog's body language; some dogs love extra cuddles when they're not feeling well, while others prefer to be left alone.
Make sure you follow your vet's recommendations, especially where medication is concerned. Anti-nausea and pain medication can help your pup feel more comfortable and should be administered as directed.
What is the dog pancreatitis death rate?
Dogs that are diagnosed with mild to moderate pancreatitis usually recover well. Severe pancreatitis can result in death in up to 33% of cases.
The earlier you get a diagnosis and begin treatment, the better.
What is the dog pancreatitis recovery time?
How long does it take for a dog to recover from pancreatitis? Most cases of mild pancreatitis in dogs require a short stay in hospital – around 2 to 4 days. After their release, your dog should return to its usual self within a week or two.
Severe cases of pancreatitis may require up to two weeks in hospital.
What is the best homemade food for dogs with pancreatitis?
A big part of treating pancreatitis in dogs is changing your dog's diet. Bland, low-fat foods that are easy for your doggo to digest are recommended. Your vet may prescribe a low-fat prescription diet containing all the vitamins, minerals, and proteins your dog requires.
Check with your vet if you want to make your own dog food. The following are safe foods for dogs with pancreatitis:
- Skinless chicken;
- Skinless turkey;
- Lean ground beef;
- Cooked egg whites;
- Boiled rice;
- Cottage cheese;
- Sweet potatoes.
Read more: Pork, Chicken, Beef, or Lamb: Is Any Meat Good For Dogs?
Treats for dogs with pancreatitis?
It can be hard not to give your best friend treats, but if you know your pup has pancreatitis or is predisposed to it, you need to think twice.
Chat with your vet about which low-fat treats are suitable for your doggo. If your vet is ok with you making homemade dog treats for pancreatitis, there are loads of healthy low-fat recipes online.
Is yellow dog poop a sign of pancreatitis?
There are many reasons for changes to your dog's poop. In the case of chronic pancreatitis, your dog's poop may turn light yellow and have a greasy appearance and foul odor.
What is necrotizing pancreatitis in dogs?
Necrotizing pancreatitis causes the pancreas's tissue to die, resulting from acute pancreatitis. This type of pancreatitis has a sudden onset and causes dogs to go into shock. If your dog is vomiting and in severe pain, the best would be to get to a vet as soon as possible.
What is the best test for dogs with pancreatitis?
Diagnosing pancreatitis in dogs can be tricky as many symptoms can be attributed to other conditions.
There are specific blood tests that test for the presence of pancreatic enzymes in the blood. While these are accurate, they are not 100% foolproof. Abdominal ultrasounds can be very helpful in identifying pancreatitis, particularly in acute cases when the pancreas is inflamed and abnormal enough in size or shape to show up. Milder or more chronic cases aren't usually diagnosable via ultrasound.
Can dogs with pancreatitis eat eggs?
Eggs are great for dogs with pancreatitis if they aren't cooked with butter, oils, or milk. We recommend avoiding giving the yolks to dogs with pancreatitis as these can be harder to digest. A dog with pancreatitis can eat egg whites.
How common is pancreatitis in dogs with diabetes?
Diabetes and pancreatitis are both diseases of the pancreas, so it's not surprising that between 30% and 40% of dogs with diabetes get pancreatitis. Because of this link, it's essential for parents of diabetic dogs to make sure their doggos stick to a low-fat diet.
Dogs with recurring or chronic pancreatitis are more at risk for developing diabetes and should be monitored closely.