Pancreatitis in Dogs – Symptoms, Diet & More

Is your dog acting strangely? Perhaps they have abdominal pain and are extra tired? These may be signs of acute pancreatitis. Let’s learn more about this illness that dogs with obesity and a high-fat diet are susceptible to.

What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflamed pancreas. The pancreas is an organ on the right side of the stomach and produces enzymes that help digest food. These enzymes are secreted into the small intestine where the hormones can enter the bloodstream. Pancreatitis can be either acute or chronic, happening periodically. This inflammation may cause the enzymes to spill into the abdominal cavity where it damages surrounding organs such as the liver, gallbladder, and intestines. For some dogs who suffer from acute pancreatitis, the disease may recur, and become chronic.

Signs Your Dog Has Pancreatitis

Your dog with pancreatitis may have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Dehydration
  • A hunched back
  • Vomiting
  • Distended abdomen
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea

If your dog has more than one of these symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately. Dehydration is especially dangerous for dogs suffering from pancreatitis and they will likely need fluid replacement.

What Causes Pancreatitis?

There are a number of reasons your dog may develop pancreatitis. Here are some common causes of pancreatitis in dogs:

  • Diabetes mellitus
  • High fat diet
  • Dogs that eat anything without discretion
  • Obesity
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Certain medications
  • Genetic predisposition

This is why human food is particularly bad for dogs. Fatty pieces of meat, buttery pastries, and other table scraps are not advisable for any dogs, especially dogs with health issues.

How Your Dog is Diagnosed with Pancreatitis

First, your vet will look at your dog’s medical history. They will ask about their diet and exercise, and they will look at their weight over time. Then, your vet will require a blood test to check for pancreatic enzyme levels. They will also do a physical examination, checking your dog’s stomach, gums, temperature, and heart. Depending on the symptoms, your vet may request imaging such as an x-ray or ultrasound. If your dog does indeed have pancreatitis, your vet could use a small needle to remove the fluid build-up in the abdomen.

Treating Pancreatitis in Dogs

Your vet will likely treat your dog with some medication to bring the inflammation in their pancreas down. As a reminder from the American Kennel Club, “It is important to reiterate that pancreatitis is a serious condition, so home remedies shouldn’t be used in place of veterinary intervention. That said, some vets believe digestive enzyme supplements with pancreatin can help some (not all) dogs by reducing the work of the pancreas and inhibiting pancreatic secretion. These come in over-the-counter strength as well as prescription strength.”

What Your Dog Should Eat

Your dog’s recovery will start with lots of fluids to combat dehydration. If your dog is at the vet, they will likely get an IV.  Your dog should eat blander, low-fat foods for a while. Your vet will guide you with what kind of diet your dog should be eating while they recover. Going forward, depending on your dog’s underlying issues, fatty foods should be avoided. Only feed your dog high-quality commercial dog food or a diet directed by your veterinarian.

What’s the Prognosis?

In mild cases, the prognosis is good for acute pancreatitis in dogs. However, there can be complications such as hypothermia, hypocalcemia, or organ failure. These are, of course, in the poorest of outcomes. Some long-term complications may include altered pancreatic function due to destroyed enzyme cells. From that will follow poor food digestion that may require administration of a digestive enzyme replacement.

The best thing you can do is continue to follow up with your vet. If you know your dog suffers from an underlying disease such as diabetes, be sure to feed them a balanced diet and get appropriate exercise to avoid chronic pancreatitis.

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