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Pancreatitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Pancreatitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments | BetterVet

Pancreatitis is a common cause of vomiting and abdominal pain in dogs.

So, what causes pancreatitis in dogs, and how can we diagnose and treat it?

What causes pancreatitis in dogs?

The most common cause of pancreatitis in dogs is a high-fat diet or ingestion of a fatty meal from raiding the trash. But it can also occur for no known reason – often referred to as idiopathic pancreatitis. 

The pancreas is a small organ that sits just next to the stomach. It’s involved in the production of digestive enzymes that help break down food. Pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes inflamed as a result of these enzymes being activated too early. 

Your dog is also at higher risk of developing pancreatitis if they:

  • Are overweight/obese
  • Have recently had surgery
  • Are taking certain medications such as chemotherapy
  • Suffer from other health problems such as diabetes or hypothyroidism

Some breeds are also more susceptible to pancreatitis than others. Miniature Schnauzers, English Cocker Spaniels, and other miniature and toy breeds are more likely to suffer from the condition.

Symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs

Pancreatitis can be a mild illness for some dogs, but for others, it can be serious. The symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs will vary depending on how severely they are affected. 

Common symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs are:

  • Vomiting

  • Decreased appetite

  • Abdominal pain

  • Diarrhea

  • Weight loss

  • Lethargy 

  • Dehydration 

For some dogs, pancreatitis is an acute condition that comes on all of a sudden, but for other dogs, it can be a chronic or ongoing problem that may cause some occasional acute flare-ups.

  • Acute pancreatitis - the symptoms come on very quickly and tend to be more severe.
  • Chronic pancreatitis - usually develops slowly over time with only mild or intermittent symptoms.

Acute pancreatitis is more common, but both can cause dogs a lot of pain and discomfort. 

If you notice your dog is suffering from any of these symptoms, you should take your pet to the vet as soon as possible to get them checked over.

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Diagnosing pancreatitis in dogs

Pancreatitis can be tricky to diagnose, as often the symptoms can be non-specific and mild. The vet will examine your pet to check for abdominal pain and temperature and will also need to assess how dehydrated they are. 

A routine blood test can be very helpful in diagnosing pancreatitis and increases in enzymes such as amylase and lipase can be an indicator of an inflamed pancreas.

It’s also quite common for some of your dog’s liver markers to be elevated as well. But sometimes, a dog’s blood results can appear completely normal. There is a more specific test that looks at levels of canine pancreatic lipase in the blood. 

Sometimes, abdominal x-rays can be helpful as it’s important to rule out other causes of your dog’s vomiting or pain. An ultrasound scan of your dog’s abdomen is very useful as it allows the vet to assess the size of the pancreas, as well as the other organs around it.

How to treat pancreatitis in dogs

When it comes to how to treat pancreatitis in dogs, it all depends on how severely affected your dog is and what their symptoms are.

It also depends on whether it is acute or chronic, and generally, treatment is symptomatic and supportive.

For dogs with mild symptoms or chronic pancreatitis, they can be treated at home. This often consists of:

In more severe or acute cases, dogs might need to stay for a few days at the vet for treatment involving:

  • IV fluids

  • Pain relief

  • Nursing care

  • In very severe cases, a feeding tube may be required 


Most dogs recover from pancreatitis within one to two weeks, depending on the severity of their illness.

How can pancreatitis in dogs be prevented?

After your dog has recovered from pancreatitis, they may be at risk of developing it again in the future.

But there are things you can do to reduce the chances and to manage chronic cases, such as: 

  • Feed a low-fat diet – your vet can advise you on suitable foods, and usually, a prescription diet is recommended

  • Use low-fat treats – chicken or vegetables are best, and avoid fatty foods like cheese

  • Keep your dog slim and active – maintaining a healthy body weight will help prevent pancreatitis as well as other illnesses. Make sure your dog is fed appropriate portion sizes and gets plenty of daily exercise.

In conclusion, we don’t always know what causes pancreatitis in dogs, but it can be triggered by a high-fat diet or ingestion of a fatty meal.

Dogs with underlying health conditions or who are overweight are also at risk, as well as certain breeds such as Miniature Schnauzers.

The symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs can be mild or severe and acute or chronic onset. They usually include vomiting and abdominal pain.

When it comes to how to treat pancreatitis in dogs it usually involves symptomatic and supportive treatments either at home or in the hospital.

If you are concerned your dog may have pancreatitis, you should contact your veterinarian.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs?

The symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs include vomiting, lethargy, inappetence, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. The symptoms may be mild or severe and can be acute or chronic onset.

Are some dog breeds more susceptible to pancreatitis?

Yes, toy and miniature breeds are more susceptible to pancreatitis, particularly English Cocker Spaniels and Miniature Schnauzers.

Is a grain-free diet good for dogs with pancreatitis?

Dogs suffering from pancreatitis need to eat a low-fat diet. Grains are not fatty, but there are some concerns about grain-free diets and heart disease in dogs. Always speak to your vet about the most suitable diet for your pet.

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