Reviewed by Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS.
Afflicting millions of dogs every year, pancreatitis is a condition that is characterized by inflammation of a dog’s pancreas. When your dog has received a pancreatitis diagnosis, it’s important to make sure that his treatment is smooth and that he is as comfortable as you can make him.
What is the pancreas?
Part of a dog’s digestive system, the pancreas is an organ that operates two super important functions. The first is to regulate your dog’s blood sugar level by producing glucagon and insulin. The other function is to produce enzymes to help with his digestion. These functions are called endocrine and exocrine respectively.
This organ is a very important part of the body since it involves the digestion of food along with its breakdown using digestive enzymes. Plus, the pancreas also controls the blood sugar level for a dog using insulin. The pancreas is found in the lower area of your dog’s stomach and the very beginning of his small intestine.
Pancreatitis happens when an outside source upsets the pancreas’s balance. The outside source can include something that isn’t part of his regular diet, a fatty meal, eating something out of the garbage, medications, or just eating something foreign. Sometimes you will never know what caused it as many cases occur without a known cause (‘idiopathic pancreatitis’).
It’s a dog owner’s responsibility to catch pancreatitis early and help to stop it from progressing. Remember that the sooner you stop pancreatitis in your dog, the easier it will be to stop its progression and to reduce pain and inflammation.
Pancreatitis Symptoms in a Dog
Depending on your dog, he may only have very mild symptoms of pancreatitis that can be easily missed or dismissed by dog owners. However, when blood work is done, your vet will see the abnormal levels that will indicate further testing. In other cases, a dog will show obvious distress that you won’t be able to ignore.
Here are symptoms of pancreatitis that you may see in dogs. Remember that your dog may have some or all of these symptoms. These symptoms can also indicate other problems, so it’s important that you take your dog to the vet for evaluation.
- Excessive panting
- Difficulty breathing
- Hunching of the back
- Increased temperature (fever)
- Not interested in water
- Air licking
- Abdominal distention
- Tender cranial abdomen
- Lack of appetite
- Prayer position
Types of Pancreatitis in a Dog
Based on the fact that pancreatitis typically happens to a dog that is middle-aged or older and that these dogs are usually well cared for, it is urgent that you treat it early on. Remember that if it progresses too far, it has the possibility of being fatal. There are two types of pancreatitis:
Occurring suddenly with symptoms that can range from mild to severe, it’s is not unusual for your dog to play all day and have a normal routine and then suddenly start vomiting without warning. At this point, his symptoms will progress rapidly, so it’s important to get him to the emergency vet as soon as possible.
A dog that has acute pancreatitis may present with vomiting as well as moderate to severe abdominal pain, pyrexia, dehydration, lethargy, and diarrhea. You may hesitate to bring your dog to the vet, but it’s important to be overly cautious with this disorder.
Affecting dogs that have recovered from acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis can show signs that are similar to that of acute pancreatitis, but with milder symptoms and fewer severe complications. It’s not uncommon for a dog with chronic pancreatitis to have a normal abdominal ultrasound and blood panel and many won’t even have any obvious outward signs of pancreatitis. Some breeds, including Poodles and Cocker Spaniels, have a predisposition for chronic pancreatitis and many of these dog owners have learned to successfully prevent and/or manage the disease in their dog.
Keeping Your Dog Comfortable
When your dog is diagnosed with pancreatitis, your veterinarian will give you information on how to keep your dog comfortable. Here are a few of the steps that you can take to keep your pup comfortable while he recovers.
- Do not give your dog water or feed him for 24 hours. You want to make sure that his symptoms have subsided before he infests anything. This will allow his pancreas to rest as well as prevent inflammation*.
- Vomiting is a common symptom of pancreatitis, so it’s important that he gets medicine to stop the vomiting as well as restore his electrolytes. Your veterinarian can give you a prescription for the right medication for your dog and may issue an oral rehydration solution.
- Muscle tightness is also a symptom that dogs with pancreatitis can suffer from. If you have a chiropractor that treats dogs, he will be able to reduce the pain your dog is feeling and make him more comfortable. However, this isn’t something we would do during a pancreatitis flare up, as your dog would be in too much pain to tolerate it.
- Your veterinarian will probably prescribe a specific diet for your pup as a part of his treatment. Make sure you stick to the diet and don’t feed your pup any human food. When you stick to the healthy, low fat diet your vet suggests, it will help to ensure that he stays healthy since poor diets are typically what causes pancreatitis.
- Smaller portions throughout the day will also help your dog recover. Eating smaller portions will make their food easy to digest instead of giving them a large meal once a day.
- Watch your dog carefully as he recovers. Since pancreatitis can be fatal, you want to keep an eye out for symptoms that are getting worse and that should be reported immediately reported to your veterinarian. Always be ready to take your dog to the emergency vet if it is needed.
*Some vets are now feeding their patients with pancreatitis even in the first few days. There is a theory that this may help improve recovery times. Always follow the advice your vet has given for their patient.
Best Diet for a Dog with Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis has a tendency to recur frequently, so it is important that you monitor your dog’s health once he has received a diagnosis.
Although you may not be able to entirely prevent a recurrence, it’s important to take charge of your pup’s diet and make sure that they are eating the best dog food in order to reduce the risk. Here are some diet guidelines that you can follow for a dog that has pancreatitis.
- Give your pup a low-fat diet, which means you should check the dog food that you are feeding your pup to make sure that it has no more than 10 percent fat. Also, check for labels indicating that the food was designed for a dog with pancreatitis or weight management.
- While it’s a habit that is hard to break, you should not be feeding your dog table scraps or any human food – see our full list of what dogs can’t eat. It is very important that you understand that feeding your dog any leftovers will put his health at risk.
- Make sure that you are feeding your dog whole and fresh food that is easy for his digestive system to process. Foods like kibble that has lots of fat or human foods that have complex carbohydrates need to be avoided since they are hard to digest and can cause your dog health problems.
- You can also improve your dog’s health by giving him supplements. Ask your veterinarian about supplements he would recommend that will reduce inflammation as well as improve your dog’s overall health.
How long does pancreatitis pain last in dogs?
Typically, a dog that has pancreatitis will recover in just a few days. However, if you have a dog with a severely acute case of pancreatitis, it may take a little longer for him to get over his symptoms, sometimes up to a week or two along with correct treatment. Just keep in mind that even when your dog’s symptoms are gone, any changes that have occurred to his pancreas could be permanent.
What can you do to ease the pain of pancreatitis?
There are several things you can do to ease your dog’s pain when he is suffering from pancreatitis. Do not feed or give him water for 24 hours to let his pancreas rest, and, when you do start to feed him again, give him a bland diet to allow him to heal. Also, give him small portions that allow his digestive system to easily process the food. If he has issues with vomiting, make sure to get medicine from the doctor that will make him more comfortable. Above all, watch him carefully so that you can manage his symptoms early and take him to the vet if anything gets worse.
Is my dog in pain with pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis in dogs is usually accompanied by fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is an inflammation and swelling of the pancreas. Depending on his symptoms, he may be in pain until the symptoms are treated.
Do dogs with pancreatitis drink a lot of water?
Yes, a dog that is suffering from pancreatitis might drink a lot of water, which can actually help him. However, excess thirst could have other causes, such as diabetes or a urinary tract infection.