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Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Pancreatitis in dogs is a very serious condition that can often be life-threatening. For this reason, it is important that dog owners know the signs before pancreatitis strikes. Should your dog exhibit any of these signs, it is critical that you get them to your veterinarian immediately. If they do not have an opening, then you will need to get your dog to an emergency clinic to be treated. Pancreatitis is NOT a health issue that can be treated at home with DIY treatments.
What is Pancreatitis?
The pancreas is a very important organ. Not only does it produce insulin to help sugar (carbohydrates) get into your dog’s cells for energy, it also produces and secretes enzymes that aid in digestion.
When the pancreas is working normally, the digestive enzymes only become active when they reach the small intestine. In dogs with pancreatitis, however, the enzymes activate as soon as they are released, causing inflammation (the “itis” means inflammation) and damage to the organ and sometimes surrounding organs. In some instances, the enzymes may begin to digest the pancreas itself, causing extreme pain to your dog.
Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs
The following are the most common symptoms in dogs suffering with pancreatitis:
- Hunched back
- Repeated vomiting (either several times within a few hours or periodically over several days)
- Pain or distention of the abdomen (dog appears uncomfortable and may whimper or yelp when touched)
- Loss of appetite
If your dog is presenting with one of these symptoms, keep a close eye on them. Should they exhibit multiple symptoms suddenly and all at once, seek veterinarian care immediately.
Dehydration with Pancreatitis in Dogs
Dogs with pancreatitis often have diarrhea or vomiting or both. This loss of fluids can cause a dog to quickly become dehydrated as the dog is losing fluids quicker than they can be replaced (the dog doesn’t feel like eating or drinking).
Dogs with a fever also require increased fluid intake, and this can also lead to dehydration.
Any dog that is lethargic and not drinking water, or cannot keep that water down, will become dehydrated quickly. Dehydration is a very serious condition that can ultimately lead to death. It is absolutely an emergency and if you suspect your dog is becoming dehydrated, you must get them to the vet or emergency clinic as quickly as possible.
Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Pancreatitis is a bit of a mystery because often the attack comes on without any prior history or warning signs. And sometimes, the exact cause is never truly determined, which can be frustrating for dog owners.
Having said that, there are a number of potential causes and risk factors that have been shown to bring on an attack of pancreatitis:
- A high-fat diet or meal
My vet told me once that vets never want to work the day after Thanksgiving or Christmas as on those days, dogs tend to be fed – or get into – foods they shouldn’t have. And the very next day, many of them wind up at the ER clinic!
- A history of dietary indiscretion (If you have a dog that will basically eat anything from crayons to entire burritos, they may wind up having a bout of pancreatitis)
- Hypothyroidism (or other endocrine diseases)
- Severe blunt trauma to the abdomen
- Certain medications or other toxins
- A genetic predisposition
Certain breeds such as Miniature Schnauzers and toy Terrier breeds, are believed to have a higher risk of pancreatitis.
Acute VS Chronic Pancreatitis
You may have heard the terms acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis and wondered what the difference is between the two conditions.
An acute attack of pancreatitis means it comes on very suddenly and your dog has had no prior incidence in the past. If the inflammation is allowed to spread to other organs, acute pancreatitis can become life-threatening.
As the name suggests, chronic pancreatitis is a condition that has developed slowly and over time. The condition often does not have symptoms and can be a result of repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis.
Both acute and chronic forms of pancreatitis can be mild, moderate, or severe in nature, and both result in abdominal pain.
Treatment of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Pancreatitis is relatively straightforward when it comes to treatment. The very first thing to address is your dog’s pain. This must be managed well to keep them comfortable.
Other common treatment protocols include:
- Intravenous fluids (IV therapy – in cases where dehydration is severe)
- Vigorous monitoring
- Anti-vomiting medication (to prevent dehydration)
- Restrictive diet – some vets call for restricting all food for 24 hours while many others suggest feeding your dog a bland diet of chicken and rice for a number of days. No high-fat foods, either human or dog – are allowed! In some instances, your vet may prescribe special low-fat and even ultra-low-fat commercial foods.
- Feed smaller, more frequent meals instead of one larger meal
- Have blood work rechecked periodically
Mild cases of pancreatitis typically have a good prognosis. Severe cases must be watched as there can easily be complications.
Once a dog has had a bout of pancreatitis, there is a high chance of reoccurrence. And this is why it is important for dog owners to be as educated as possible and follow the diet guidelines your vet sets forth. Always be on the lookout for those warning signs and be vigilant.
The good news is, you now know the signs and will be ready when and if another attack should occur.
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- Straus, M. “Canine Pancreatitis”. (2008) Retrieved from Whole Dog Journal https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/health/canine-pancreatitis/
- Kos-Barber, H, DVM. “What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs and How to Treat It”. (2020). Retrieved from PetMD https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/endocrine/c_multi_pancreatitis
- “Dehydration in Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments.” Retrieved from Animal Emergency Center of Memphis blog https://www.aecmemphis.com/site/vet-blog-memphis/2020/08/12/dehydration-in-dogs-causes-symptoms-treatment
- Ward, E., DVM, Panning, A., DVM, “Pancreatitis in Dogs.” Fetched from VCA Hospitals blog https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/pancreatitis-in-dogs
- Gardner, A., “Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments.” (2021) Retrieved from Fetch by WebMD https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/dog-pancreatitis-symptoms-and-treatment