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 to prevent the spread of the inflammation to other organs. If this occurs, pancreatitis may become fatal for your dog. If it does spread, it is important to know how to comfort a dog with pancreatitis.
- 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. For a smoother treatment and recovery process, it’s crucial to know how to comfort a dog with pancreatitis. It’s especially 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. I highly recommend you to pay special attention to how your pet is feeling during this time. You can do this by reading your dog’s body language; some pups look for affection when they are feeling sick while others prefer to spend a quiet time alone.
Through this article I will help you understand canine pancreatitis, the common symptoms, and 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 connected to the small intestine via the small pancreatic duct. 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. In many cases, pancreatitis occurs without a known cause—this is called idiopathic pancreatitis.
As I always remind dog owners, it is your responsibility to notice when your pet 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 the case, a dog may only have very mild symptoms of pancreatitis. This can be easily missed or dismissed by many pet parents. However, several tests can be done to determine whether a dog has pancreatitis or not. To arrive at a diagnosis, a vet will look at your dog’s medical history, order blood work, and do a 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. If diagnosed, it’s urgent that you treat pancreatitis early on 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.
Below, I made a list of symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs that you may notice. Remember that your dog may have some or all of these symptoms. Note that these symptoms can also indicate other problems, so if you notice your dog showing any of these, 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
According to studies, pancreatitis can happen to dogs at any age, but it is more prominent in middle-aged or older dogs. 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 I urge you to be very 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 mild pancreatitis occurs mostly in dogs that have previously recovered from acute pancreatitis and its symptoms are a milder version. 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 this condition. Some breeds, including Poodles and Cocker Spaniels, have a predisposition for chronic pancreatitis so dog owners of these breeds must learn how to successfully prevent and/or manage the disease.
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 ingests 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 this and 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.
- Since fatty foods are some of the most common causes of pancreatitis in dogs, your veterinarian will probably prescribe a specific low-fat diet for your pup as a part of his treatment. Make sure your dog eats only low-fat foods and doesn’t eat any human food. Avoiding high-fat dog food and a generally high-fat diet will help to ensure that your dog stays healthy. Some pet food delivery services offer customized meals, but you can also make a homemade diet that fits into the program your vet suggests. Making your own dog food will put you in control over what goes into your dog’s body.
- After your pup stops vomiting, serving them smaller frequent meals throughout the day will 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 to your veterinarian. Always be ready to take your dog to the emergency vet if it is needed.
*Some vets advise feeding dogs with pancreatitis 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 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. 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 dog’s diet and make sure that they are eating the best food in order to reduce the risk. Here are some of my diet guidelines 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 it is 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.
- Dietary indiscretion, the veterinary medicine term for when a dog eats practically anything, is proven to cause pancreatitis. It then makes sense to watch your dog’s diet especially if he is already diagnosed with pancreatitis. While it’s a habit that is hard to break, you should not be feeding your dog table scraps, leftovers, or any human food. Doing so will put their health at risk or a possible pancreatitis flare-up 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 to give your dog pain medication religiously. They need this so their recovery process can be as painless as possible. Having your dog take their pain medications with their food can help reduce the discomfort and pain that can come with a pancreatitis episode. You should also ask for veterinary advice about getting anti-nausea medication. Depending on the case, some vets might prescribe intravenous fluid therapy.
- You can also improve your dog’s health by giving him supplements. Ask your veterinarian about supplements to reduce inflammation as well as improve your dog’s overall health.
How long does pancreatitis pain last in dogs?
Typically, a dog with pancreatitis will recover in just a few days. However, if it is a severe acute pancreatitis, it may take a little longer for a dog 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 their pancreas could be permanent so it’s important to give them a lot of low-fat food to prevent any future flare-ups.
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.
Do dogs with pancreatitis drink a lot of water?
Yes. Because pancreatitis likely causes dehydration, a sick dog might drink water more often than normal. Note, however, that excess thirst can also be caused by other health issues like urinary tract infection (UTI) or diabetes. 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.