Pancreatitis in Dogs

Research shows that pancreatitis in dogs is one of the most common illnesses owners face.

Pancreatitis is a painful, potentially deadly inflammation and swelling of a dog’s pancreas.

A healthy pancreas produces insulin for a dog’s body, as well as unique enzymes that aid in the digestion and absorption of fats and proteins. These enzymes would be dangerous to the pancreas, but the organ has internal defenses that protect it.

These defenses start to collapse when the pancreas is inflamed and swollen, which can make it start to be broken down by its own enzymes.

The pancreas is very easily damaged and is also slow to heal [1].

Although rare, dogs that recover from acute pancreatitis may have recurrent bouts of this diseases and even develop chronic pancreatitis.

Naturally, you don’t want this to happen to your dog. Fortunately, studies haven shown that there are plenty of ways to diagnose and treat pancreatitis in dogs before it becomes a major health issue, and sometimes, prevention is also possible.

How Pancreatitis in Dogs Develops?

Acute pancreatitis in dogs comes on very quickly, but it is treatable [2].

Unfortunately, some dogs can suffer from recurrent bouts of pancreatic disease, and it will progressively get worse over time. This is known as chronic pancreatitis.

If the pancreas is severely inflamed, the enzymes that it produces can leak out into the abdomen and begin digesting other organs as well. This process will eventually damage the cells which produce these digestive enzymes.

This slows their production, and food can no longer be digested properly [3]. This is known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

Likewise, when many of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed, diabetes mellitus or “sugar diabetes” will occur and insulin therapy will be required.

What Causes Canine Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis in Dogs - Dog Pancreas Inflammation

There are many factors that can lead to pancreatitis in dogs and humans [1, 4, 5].

Since canine pancreatitis has a lot of similarities to this condition in humans, multiple studies (but not majority) with people have been used to draw conclusions on pancreatitis in dogs [6].

Dietary factors are often the cause of canine pancreatitis [7].

Trauma, being neutered and previous surgeries may also increase a chance of pancreatitis [7, 8].

The most common cause of dog pancreatitis is feeding a fatty diet or a lot of junk food [9, 10].

Even when your canine hasn’t been eating a high fat diet, it’s possible that pancreatic inflammation will occur just from eating a large amount of fatty foods at once. This is commonly observed around the holidays.

Poor gut flora has also been suspected as a possible cause for inflammation, and improving it may help to treat dogs for acute pancreatitis [11, 12, 13].

Interestingly, a sting from a scorpion can also cause an inflammation of a dog’s pancreas.

Some other causes of pancreatitis in dogs include:

  • Certain medications, especially those containing potassium bromide
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Hormonal diseases, including: hypothyroidism, Cushings disease, and diabetes mellitus
  • Obesity
  • Genetics
  • Trauma to the abdomen

Female dogs are more likely to develop pancreatitis than male dogs. Senior canines are also more likely to develop the disease than a younger dog.

A few dog breeds have been shown to be more prone to pancreatitis than others [8]. Some are likely to develop acute pancreatitis while others are prone towards chronic pancreatitis.

Canine pancreatitis prone breeds are:

  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Collies
  • Dachshunds
  • Boxers
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Briard
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • German Shepherd
  • Yorkshire Terriers

Being aware if you’re dog is more likely to develop pancreatitis can mean an effective prevention, early diagnosis and easy recovery.

How to Recognize the Symptoms?

The symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs vary, depending upon the severity of the disease [14, 15, 16].

Mild symptoms can include abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, dehydration, depression, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and a hunched posture.

If the disease has progressed, your dog may show more serious symptoms like heart arrhythmias, sepsis, and difficulty breathing.

How Pancreatitis is Diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will give the pet a thorough physical exam to diagnose pancreatitis, and rule out any other possible issues. Laboratory tests may be performed [17, 18, 19, 20].

A complete blood count, urinalysis, and a chemistry panel will all need to be performed. They will check amylase and lipase, the two pancreatic enzymes, and their blood levels [21, 22, 23].

A vet may perform other tests or take x-rays and ultrasounds as well.

Although very rare, a biopsy can also be performed to provide a more conclusive result [24].

Sometimes, diagnosis of canine pancreatitis has to be presumptive. Dogs with pancreatitis, especially those with a chronic case, are not always easy to diagnose using regular tests [14].

Treatments for Acute Pancreatitis

Canine pancreatitis is treated by a vet. Dogs that are not treated for acute pancreatitis will suffer severe consequences, including potential death [8, 25].

The first step to treatment of pancreatitis in dogs is to control the dehydration and electrolyte imbalance associated with the disease by giving your dog plenty of fluids. Analgesics and intravenous fluids may be given to the dog, too.

Pain can be controlled through rest and dog pain medications, such as meperidine, butorphanol or products such as Deramaxx.

Depending on the severity of the case, antibiotics may also be introduced, which is the most common treatment for serious cases [26].

Other treatments through supplementation are also available (discussed below) [27].

Once the dog is more comfortable, your veterinarian will start to control nausea and vomiting, as well as any other negative effects of the disease. Medications work best for this, but for severe cases, withholding all the food, water and drugs for 24-48 hours may be needed.

Depending on the severity of the case and the situation, food may be introduced after about a day. Small meals of easily digestible food are recommended. Ideally, it has to be high-carb, low-fat foods.

In rare cases where there are severe complications, the dog may need surgery.

Some holistic vets may advise detoxification besides the 24-48 hour fasting to “cleanse the system.” Pet owners need to be aware that such methods have been shown to be ineffective against canine pancreatitis, and probably most other diseases [28].

Change of diet and lifestyle

After a dog goes through pancreatitis treatment, it’s important to implement permanent changes to his diet and lifestyle, if that was the cause of acute pancreatitis.

Generally, vets recommend that you eliminate most fats from your dog’s diet. Low fat, medium carbohydrate and medium protein diets are recommended.

However, there’s some evidence showing that higher fat diets (40% of calories) can help with treatment of pancreatitis in dogs, but further bigger scale study is needed [29].

Hydration is vital. Until the full recovery is reached, you should monitor that your pet stays hydrated after the therapy.

A vet will schedule another appointment soon afterwards to make sure that your pet is going through recovery well.

What to feed a recovering dog?

Changes to a diet are necessary for a dog recovering from pancreatitis [2].

Studies show that high carbohydrate, medium protein and low fat ratio is best for the dog’s pancreas [30, 31].

Researchers have seen good response from dog foods with the above ratio. Dogs are also often supplemented with omega-3s, -6s and certain vitamins, such as vitamin E and digestive enzymes [30].

Digestibility is important. Overcooking your pet’s food can help with easy digestion. Starchy foods such as white rice or potatoes are a good choice.

Research shows that rice-based diets with soy hydrolysate works well [29].

If a dog starts to vomit, that means you need to stop feeding. Call your vet and update on the situation. Most likely, your pet will need to fast for another 24 hours.

Small meals are highly recommended. Feeding six to eight times a day with very small meals would be best at first. This has to do with not overworking your dog’s pancreas.

Gradually, you can start evening out the carb and protein ratio, as well as start to feed less times and more food per meal.

Chances of recovery

Success of the case depends on severity, initial diagnosis and therapy.

If the pancreatitis is mild and the dog has only had one episode, the chances of total recovery are very good.

Studies show if clinical remission is achieved through initial treatment, then prognosis is good for those dogs [32].

In other cases, pancreatitis may reoccur and get progressively worse [33].

Dogs that are experiencing pancreatitis for the first time with mild symptoms will likely do fine as long as the diet has been changed to low-fat foods. This will prevent any chance of recurrence of the issue.

Other canines may develop chronic pancreatitis, which eventually leads to pancreatic insufficiency and/or canine diabetes [33].

Treatment for chronic pancreatitis in dogs is also possible, but it is expensive and must be performed for the rest of the dog’s life. Such treatment involves the dog’s digestive enzymes being replaced with a replacement product, processed from the pancreases of cows and pigs.

Whether it is a mild or chronic case, a change in the dog’s diet is absolutely necessary.

How to Prevent Pancreatitis in Dogs?

There is no absolute preventative measure for acute pancreatitis in dogs [34].

However, a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise, feeding good dog food and doing it the right way, and keeping the dog hydrated is the best way to go about this.

Canine supplements that can potentially help with the disease are also available.

Avoid giving table scraps to your dog. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, it’s better to stick to specially formulated dog food only.

Staying away from junk foods and all the medications that may cause pancreatitis is advisable.

If your Fido displays any symptoms of pain or persistent nausea, it is important to get him to the vet.

Diagnosed early, dog pancreatitis and its associated diseases are much easier to treat than late developments of the disease. Dogs who receive good treatment often achieve fast and full recoveries.

Dog supplements

Certain supplements for dogs exist that may help with either preventing acute pancreatitis in dogs, or assisting in controlling the effects of chronic pancreatitis [26, 27, 35, 36].

Digestive enzymes

Giving digestive enzymes to dogs may be one of the ways to treat and possibly prevent pancreatitis in dogs [3, 37].

Studies have shown for certain pancreatic enzyme supplements to be very effective in treatment of pancreatitis in dogs while others were not at all effective [38, 39, 40, 41, 4243].

Ezyme supplements for dogs that have demonstrated the best results include:

  • Festal
  • Panteric Granules
  • Cotazym
  • Converzyme

Supplements with pancreatin may help with ensuring that a dog’s pancrease doesn’t get overloaded. There is some evidence showing that pancreatin may work best on dogs with pancreatitis [44, 45, 46, 47].

As the research shows, pancreatic enzyme supplements for dogs are highly individualistic. Your dog may or may not respond to supplement treatment. If there’s no response, then another enzyme supplement may be used instead as long as there are no adverse effects.

Dog owners need to be aware that a rare complication in the form of oral ulceration and bleeding from supplementing with pancreatic enzymes can occur [48].

Studies show that ulceration and bleeding in dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are related to powdered enzyme supplements [48, 49].

However, this form is still recommended as it’s the most effective form of treatment. It’s best to decrease the amounts if complications are observed [49].

Certain studies with humans demonstrated the relative effectiveness of Coenzyme Q10 for assisting with treatment of acute pancreatitis [50].


Fish oil supplements may also help dogs with acute pancreatitis.

Although efficacy on chronic pancreatitis is unknown, research has shown that fish oil given to dogs can help with lowering blood lipids and assisting with pancreatitis in dogs [5152, 53, 54, 55].

Choosing dog food with added enzymes and a healthy balance of Omega-3s and -6s is a good idea, but adding additional fish oil supplements to a dog’s diet may increase the chance of faster recovery or prevention.

Some adverse effects from consuming too much Omega-3s may be possible [56, 57].


Studies suggest that antioxidants for dogs may assist with canine pancreatitis [36, 58, 59, 60]. Vitamins given to dogs work well alongside other pancreatitis treatments.

A growing body of research shows positive effects of Vitamin B12. It seems that giving Colabamin (Vitamin B12) to dogs helps with pancreatitis recovery [32, 61, 62, 63, 64].

Antioxidants such as Vitamin E and Vitamin A have also shown positive signs in dogs with pancreatitis, but further research is required [30, 5865].

No side effects are observed from using antioxidants with dogs [66, 67, 68].


There’s some evidence that gut flora may have an impact on inflamation of the dog’s pancrease [11, 12, 13].

Improving your dog’s ratio of good bacteria through canine probiotics supplementation may assist with treating or preventing canine pancreatitis [13, 69].

No adverse effects from using probiotics in canines with pancreatitis were observed.

Take Home Message

Acute pancreatitis in dogs is a common, painful diseases that may be fatal.

The usual causes of canine pancreatitis are poor diet, lack of exercise and sometimes medicine, trauma or surgery. Genetics can also play a role.

Treatment of pancreatitis in dogs will depend on the severity of the case. A visit to a vet is essential. 24 hour fasting followed by a special diet with plenty of hydration is necessary.

Although low-fat, high-carb diets are recommended for dogs recovering from pancreatitis, some studies with canines show positive results on mid- to high-fat diets.

Chances of recovery are usually very good, especially with early treatment. However, in certain cases dogs may get worse, and develop chronic pancreatitis.

Total prevention cannot be guaranteed, but dietary changes and dog supplements can help.

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