Dog Health

What is Pancreatitis in Dogs?

May 18, 2023

Around the end of September of last year my papillon, Kitsune, was diagnosed with cervical IVDD.  They say when it rains it pours, and that certainly felt true when, not even a full month later, we ended up in the emergency vet again, this time with my Alaskan Klee Kai, Fenrir.  Little Fenrir had been throwing up, not wanting to eat anything, and just generally seemed unwell.  Long story short, Fenrir ended up being diagnosed with pancreatitis.  I had heard about pancreatitis before and had a general knowledge of what it was, but experiencing it for ourselves was a learning experience for sure.

pancreatitis in dogs

What is the Pancreas?

It would be hard to go into detail about pancreatitis without first making sure everyone knows what the pancreas is!  Some of you may already know, especially since people have a pancreas as well as dogs.  The pancreas is an organ that is located near the stomach and intestines.  It functions as a gland and plays a part in both the endocrine and digestive systems.

The pancreas plays many important roles, including helping to regulate blood sugar, secreting hormones such as insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin, as well as pancreatic polypeptides.  When it comes to the GI tract, the pancreas secretes pancreatic juice that helps to neutralize stomach acid, as well as digestive enzymes that are responsible for breaking down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

What is Pancreatitis?

pancreatitis in dogsVery simply put, pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas.  While that, in itself, doesn’t sound so horrible, pancreatitis in dogs can be a life-threatening condition.

Pancreatic inflammation, at its core, is caused when digestive enzymes that are normally released from the pancreas instead activate while still inside the pancreas.  These enzymes begin digesting and destroying pancreatic tissue.  Pancreatitis is, as you can imagine from that explanation, a very painful condition.

The most common symptoms of pancreatitis can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, general signs of pain such as walking with a hunched back or laying in a “praying” position, lethargy, fever, diarrhea, dehydration, and decreased appetite or unwillingness to eat.

Causes of Pancreatitis:

Pancreatitis can happen to any dog, no matter their age, breed, or sex.  The exact cause of pancreatitis is often unknown, but the following are thought to be risk factors:

  • A high-fat diet is thought to be the number one risk factor when it comes to dogs developing pancreatitis.  Often, just one very high fat meal can trigger the condition.
  • Dietary indiscretion, ie eating out of the trash or otherwise getting into things they shouldn’t can lead to pancreatitis.
  • Obesity.
  • Trauma to the pancreas can cause pancreatitis.
  • Medications and prior abdominal surgeries can be risk factors.
  • Exposure to toxins.
  • Hypothyroidism or other endocrine diseases.
  • Diabetes.
  • Cancer.
  • Biliary stones.
  • Hereditary disorders that impact how fat is metabolized.
  • Some dogs are thought to be genetically predisposed to developing pancreatitis.  This often includes small, toy, and terrier breeds of dogs.

When your dog is diagnosed with pancreatitis, your vet may tell you that it is either chronic or acute.

Acute Pancreatitis:

Acute pancreatitis is what most dog owners think of when they think of pancreatitis.  This is when pancreatitis symptoms come on suddenly in an otherwise seemingly healthy dog.

Chronic Pancreatitis:

Chronic pancreatitis, as the name suggests, develops slowly over time.  The symptoms of chronic pancreatitis may be more mild but persistent.  Chronic pancreatitis can lead to permanent changes in the pancreas, and can make dogs more likely to develop diseases such as diabetes, pancreatic insufficiency, and pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatitis is a Medical Emergency.

Severe acute pancreatitis can, unfortunately, lead to death.  Treatment often involves spending time in intensive care at the vets.  Thankfully, not all cases of pancreatitis are severe and mild cases, with treatment, generally come with an optimistic prognosis.

Like with many other medical condition, the faster pancreatitis is treated the better the outcome.  If your dog is displaying symptoms of pancreatitis contact your vet.

Dogs that recover from pancreatitis may suffer from permanent damage to the pancreas.  They should be monitored for diabetes and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

More Info Coming Soon!

pancreatitis in dogsI’m planning on covering topics such as how pancreatitis is diagnosed and treated in future posts.  Until then, if you have any questions please feel free to comment below.  However, keep in mind that I am not a vet and pancreatitis should be considered to be an emergency situation.  If you have reason to believe that your dog is suffering from pancreatitis, please contact your vet.

In case anyone is wondering, though, I won’t leave you hanging and will let you all know that little Fenrir is doing really well!  Thankfully he suffered from a mild case of pancreatitis that our vet was able to help us treat him on an outpatient bases.  It’s been 8 months now since Fen’s bout of pancreatitis and he, thankfully, hasn’t suffered any side effects and hasn’t had to deal with pancreatitis again in that time.

Comment below!  Has your dog ever suffered from pancreatitis?  What changes, if any, did you make to their lifestyle after being diagnosed?

pancreatitis in dogs

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