Reviewed by Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS.
- Pancreatitis in dogs occurs when the natural balance of their pancreas is offset. This could be due to your dog eating extremely fatty foods eating from the trash, certain medications, or from a genetic predisposition to the condition.
- It is important to recognize the symptoms of pancreatitis as soon as possible in order to prevent the spread of the inflammation to other organs. If this occurs, pancreatitis may become fatal for your dog.
- Providing your dog with a low fat diet and giving them small servings of food can reduce the symptoms and inflammation that can occur during flare-ups of pancreatitis. Talk to your vet about what food and pain medication you should get to make your dog’s recovery as smooth as possible.
Afflicting many 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 their treatment is smooth and that they are as comfortable as possible. This condition is characterized by frequent vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea which is usually caused by an upset pancreas. It’s important to know how much food and water to give them throughout the process of recovery and what other things you can do to support your dog during this time. Through this article I will help you to understand what the pancreas does, the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs, and what you can do to help your dog during their recovery.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is an organ that is part of your dog’s digestive system. This organ is found in the lower area of your dog’s stomach and at the very beginning of his small intestine. Its two main functions are to regulate your dog’s blood sugar levels through the production of insulin and glucagon and to produce enzymes to help with their general digestion. This organ is extremely important since the digestive enzymes it releases help to digest the food that your dog intakes each day.
Pancreatitis in dogs occurs when an outside source upsets the pancreas’ normal 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. Pancreatitis in dogs has also been shown to occur due to a genetic predisposition, the development of endocrine diseases, or severe blunt trauma. Sometimes you will never know what caused it as many cases occur without a known cause (‘idiopathic pancreatitis’).
As a dog owner, it is your responsibility to notice when your dog is showing symptoms in order to stop it from progressing. Remember that the sooner you spot pancreatitis in your dog and get them the medical attention that they need, the easier it will be 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 pet parents. However, there are several tests that can be done in order to determine whether your dog has pancreatitis or not. This includes checking your dog’s medical history, blood work, and physical examination. If any of these tests indicate abnormalities such as a high concentration of pancreatic enzymes, your vet will conduct further testing such as a radiograph or an ultrasound. In other cases, a dog will show obvious distress that you won’t be able to ignore.
Here are symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs that you may see. Remember that your dog may have some or all of these symptoms. These symptoms can also indicate other problems, so if you notice your dog showing any of these symptoms it’s important that you take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
- Excessive panting
- Difficulty breathing
- Repeated vomiting (several times within a few hours or periodically over several days)
- Hunching of the back
- Increased temperature (fever)
- Severe dehydration
- Air licking
- Belly pain
- Tender cranial abdomen
- Yellow dog poop or diarrhea
- Lack of appetite
- Prayer position
Types of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Pancreatitis in dogs has been seen to be more prominent in healthy dogs that are middle-aged or older. Because of this, it’s urgent that you treat it early on in order to make sure that your dog can live a healthy and happy life. Remember that if it progresses too far, it has the possibility of being fatal. There are two types of pancreatitis:
This form of pancreatitis occurs suddenly with symptoms that can range from mild to severe. In this case, it’s not unusual for your dog to play all day and have a normal routine and then suddenly start vomiting without warning. At this point, their symptoms will progress rapidly, so it’s important to get them 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, shock, dehydration, severe lethargy, and diarrhea. If acute pancreatitis occurs in your dog, you may hesitate to bring them to the vet, but it’s important to be overly cautious with this disorder. If you wait too long to bring your dog to the vet, this pancreatitis may become life-threatening to other organs and surrounding tissues if the inflammation spreads. The inflammation that is associated with acute pancreatitis can lead to the organs in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract, such as your dog’s liver, bile ducts, small intestine, and gallbladder, being damaged by the pancreatic enzymes. This can be a result of untreated severe pancreatitis, so it’s important to seek emergency veterinary care as soon as you notice any symptoms of pancreatitis in your dog. It is also important to know that if your dog has acute pancreatitis, they will probably get it again at some point in their life.
This form of pancreatitis occurs mostly in dogs that have previously recovered from acute pancreatitis and its symptoms are a milder version of the symptoms your dog may face when dealing with acute pancreatitis. This form can also develop slower than normal pancreatitis and result in fewer severe complications. It’s not uncommon for a dog with chronic pancreatitis to have normal results in a blood test or a physical examination and still have chronic pancreatitis. Some breeds, including Poodles and Cocker Spaniels, have a predisposition for chronic pancreatitis so 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 provide you with 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 they recover.
- After they receive their diagnosis, do not give your dog water or feed them for 24 hours. You want to make sure that his symptoms have subsided before he infests anything. This will allow their pancreas to rest as well as prevent inflammation from spreading to other organs in the body.*
- Vomiting is a common symptom of pancreatitis, so it’s important that they get medicine to stop the vomiting as well as restore their electrolytes. Your veterinarian can give you a prescription for the right pain and anti-nausea medications 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. Wait until the flare-up has subsided so your dog can be as comfortable as possible during the treatment.
- Your veterinarian will probably prescribe a specific low fat 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. Avoiding a high fat diet will help to ensure that your dog stays healthy since diets that contain a lot of fatty foods are typically what cause pancreatitis in dogs. Some pet food delivery services offer customized meals, but you can also make a homemade diet that fits into the diet plan your vet suggests.
- After your pup stops vomiting, serving them smaller frequent meals throughout the day will also help them recover. Eating smaller portions will make their food easy to digest instead of giving them a large meal once a day. This will prevent the production and release of too many digestive enzymes and will thus reduce inflammation.
- 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 veterinary advice you were given before following any outside advice.
Best Dog Food for a Dog with Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis has a tendency to flare up frequently, so it is important that you monitor your dog’s recovery and symptoms once they have received a diagnosis. One major part of this is making sure that your dog has a proper diet for reducing their symptoms.
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 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 low fat foods. You should learn how to properly check the label on the dog food that you are feeding your pup. Make sure to check that the food has no more than 10 percent fat and see if the food was designed for dogs with pancreatitis or who need help managing their weight. Make sure to check these facts with store-bought food as well as with companies that deliver fresh dog food to your doorstep.
- 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. In order to prevent pancreatitis flare-ups, it is very important that you do not feed your dog any leftovers, since doing so will put their health at risk, especially if the food contains high amounts of fat.
- Make sure that you are feeding your dog whole and fresh healthy 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. If you want to cook your own food for your dog, using ingredients like rice, cooked chicken breast, egg whites, barley, and cooked vegetables is good since they are low in fat and are very nutritious. If your dog is not sensitive to dairy, feeding them small amounts of low fat cottage cheese could incorporate a lot of protein into their diet and add some moisture to their diet.
- Make sure that your dog has the pain medications they need so their recovery process can be as painless as possible. Having your dog take their pain medication with their food can help reduce the discomfort and pain that can come with a pancreatitis episode so make sure you talk to your veterinarian about getting the best possible medication for your furry friend. You should ask for veterinary advice about whether getting your dog anti-nausea medication would be a good idea to help with the recovery process.
- 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 that has been diagnosed with severe acute pancreatitis, it may take a little longer for them to get over their 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 their pancreas could be permanent so it’s important to eat a lot of low fat food to prevent any future flare-ups from occurring.
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 them water for 24 hours after their diagnosis in order to let their pancreas rest. When you do start to feed them again, give them bland, low fat food to allow them to heal. Also, give them small portions that allow their digestive system to easily process the food. If he has issues with vomiting, make sure to get pain medicine from the doctor that will make him more comfortable. You can also get them supplements if the veterinarian recommends them. Above all, watch them carefully so that you can manage their symptoms early and take them 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 that can spread to other organs if it isn’t treated soon enough. Depending on their symptoms, they may be in pain until the symptoms are treated, which could take one to two weeks depending on the severity of the symptoms.
Do dogs with pancreatitis drink a lot of water?
Yes, a dog that is suffering from pancreatitis might drink a lot of water due to pancreatitis causing dehydration. However, excess thirst could have other causes, such as diabetes or a urinary tract infection. If you notice your dog is drinking a lot more water than normal, take them to the vet to make sure that your furry friend is okay.