Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis in Dogs

by Scritch

Pancreatitis is a common medical condition among dogs that is becoming more prevalent as the pet obesity epidemic progresses. Understanding the symptoms of pancreatitis can help you recognize signs of a serious condition in your dog. If you suspect pancreatitis, contact your vet immediately.

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The condition ranges from mild swelling of the pancreas to severe pancreatitis in which digestive enzymes cause damage to the pancreas and surrounding organs and tissue. Pancreatitis can be acute, where it appears suddenly with no previous symptoms, or it can become chronic, meaning repeated instances of pancreatitis. 


It can be difficult to pinpoint a single culprit of pancreatitis because there are a number of causes and risk factors. A major cause of pancreatitis is a high-fat diet or eating a large helping of fatty food in one sitting, such as fat-laden scraps from cooked meats. Some dogs may experience pancreatitis due to a genetic predisposition or chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, or hypothyroidism. It can also be influenced by certain medications, like immunosuppressant azathioprine, anticonvulsant potassium bromide, and chemotherapy drug I-asparaginase, according to the AKC.

What does the pancreas do?

This vital organ produces enzymes essential for digesting food. Without a healthy functioning pancreas, a pet can become malnourished and struggle to retain weight. If this condition persists without treatment, a dog that continues to lose weight and suffer from malnutrition can face serious health conditions such as fatigue, organ failure and coma. 


It may be difficult to detect symptoms of mild cases of pancreatitis, but common symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Restlessness

Pancreatitis is a serious condition that requires veterinary care, so if you notice these symptoms, it’s important to get your dog to the vet as soon as possible. 

Diagnosing pancreatitis

Because of the general symptoms, it’s not always easy to diagnose pancreatitis. Your vet’s diagnostic testing will typically include a physical examination, blood tests to measure pancreatic enzyme levels, and X-rays or ultrasound to rule out other potential conditions. 


Unfortunately, there is no straightforward treatment or cure for pancreatitis. IV fluids, pain management and rest make up the main pillars of treatment for pancreatitis in dogs. While the dog stays hydrated via IV fluids, no food or water will be given orally to avoid activating enzyme production. Severe cases of pancreatitis may require your dog to stay hospitalized for multiple days.

Recovering from pancreatitis

During recovery, your veterinarian may recommend a very bland diet or a prescription low-fat dog food. It’s important to refrain from sharing any table scraps and to vigilantly monitor your dog’s fat intake. Your vet might recommend feeding smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day (rather than one large meal) to prevent the pancreas from producing too many enzymes at once. 

Preventing pancreatitis

Keeping your pup healthy can help prevent pancreatitis as well as a number of other medical conditions. These are key preventive measures:

  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight
  • Never share fatty table scraps
  • Feed your pet a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • Make sure he gets plenty of regular exercise