Save up to 40% off + 2X Points with code: CalmSummer

Apply Code
Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Pancreatitis in dogs is a painful and periodically fatal inflammation of the pancreas. The disease has a sudden onset (acute) or a gradual progression with occasional flare-ups (chronic form).

Miniature Schnauzers and various Terrier and Spaniel dog breeds are genetically predisposed to pancreatitis. The main risk factor for pancreatitis is dietary indiscretions, which include high-fat foods. 

Other causes of pancreatitis include obesity, endocrine disorders, infectious diseases, traumatic injuries, and certain medications. The cause of dog pancreatitis remains unknown in most cases (idiopathic pancreatitis). 

Common pancreatitis in dogs symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, lying in an outstretched position, and fever. Signs of worsening pancreatitis in dogs are severe lethargy, depression, dehydration, seizures, shock, and collapse.  

The treatment for pancreatitis in dogs is medical or surgical, depending on the severity. A low-fat diet is critical for successful pancreatitis treatment. 

The prognosis for dogs with mild pancreatitis is good, while the prognosis for dogs with severe or complicated pancreatitis is guarded to poor. 

What is Pancreatitis in Dogs?

Pancreatitis in dogs is inflammation of the pancreas. The condition occurs as acute or chronic and is excruciating. 

The pancreas is an abdominal cavity organ with two roles, endocrine and exocrine. The endocrine function produces hormones (insulin and glucagon) that balance blood sugar levels. 

The exocrine secretes digestive enzymes and injects them non-active into the small intestine (duodenum), where they are activated. 

Dogs develop pancreatitis when the enzymes activate inside the pancreas and start digesting the pancreatic tissues. The enzymes leak and enter the bloodstream, causing damage to local and distant organs. 

The damaged pancreatic tissue loses its ability to produce hormones and digestive enzymes, increasing the risk of diabetes and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. 

Canine pancreatitis “is a relatively common, but often misdiagnosed, problem, according to a study, “Pancreatitis in the Dog: Dealing with a Spectrum of Disease,” published in In Practice in 2004. 

Pancreatitis causes abdominal pain, fever, and dog digestive problems. Extreme lethargy and dehydration combined with persistent vomiting and depression or shock are signs of worsening pancreatitis in dogs

Acute dog pancreatitis is life-threatening, while chronic pancreatitis causes recurring episodes of pain and harms the dog’s quality of life. 

Manage pancreatitis in dogs by following dietary recommendations, providing a low-fat diet, and avoiding high-fat foods and table scraps. Ensure the dog stays hydrated and provide small, frequent meals to avoid overloading the digestive system. 

What are the Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs?

The causes of pancreatitis in dogs are listed below. 

  • Dietary Indiscretions: The main cause of pancreatitis is unsuitable fatty foods. High-fat dog food alone does not trigger pancreatitis, but fatty dietary indiscretions (trash can raiding, fatty human foods, and table scraps) cause pancreatitis, reports a study, “Pancreatic Response in Healthy Dogs Fed Diets of Various Fat Compositions,” issued in the American Journal of Veterinary Research in 2009. 
  • Genetics: Certain dog breeds are predisposed to pancreatitis or other conditions that increase the risk of pancreatitis. High-risk breeds include Cocker Spaniels, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, Boxers, Dachshunds, Terriers, and Miniature Poodles. 
  • Obesity: Increased body weight is a major contributing factor to pancreatitis, explains Denise Elliott, BVSc, in an article “Nutritional Management of Canine Pancreatitis” published in the World Small Animal Association Congress Proceedings in 2006. 
  • Endocrine Disorders: Hormonal imbalances increase the risk of pancreatitis. Common endocrine disorders in dogs are Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, and diabetes.  
  • Traumatic Injuries: Blunt force trauma to the abdomen causes acute pancreatitis. The most common situation resulting in blunt force traumatic injuries in dogs is car accidents. 
  • Infectious Diseases: Pancreatitis in dogs is observable in the associated parasitic tick-borne disease babesiosis. Acute pancreatitis may represent the previously reported 'gut' form of babesiosis, according to a study “Acute Pancreatitis: A Newly Recognised Potential Complication of Canine Babesiosis” published in the Journal of the South African Veterinary Association in 2000.  
  • Certain Medications: Medications that trigger pancreatitis in some dogs are antibiotics (sulfonamides and tetracycline), immunosuppressants (azathioprine), chemotherapeutic agents (L-asparaginase), and antiepileptics (potassium bromide and phenobarbital). 
  • Idiopathic Pancreatitis: Idiopathic pancreatitis is pancreatic inflammation of unknown origin. Most cases of pancreatitis in dogs are thought to be idiopathic, reports a study, “New Insights into the Etiology, Risk Factors, and Pathogenesis of Pancreatitis in Dogs: Potential Impacts on Clinical Practice,” published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine in 2022. 

What is a Common Trigger for Pancreatitis in Dogs?

The most common trigger for pancreatitis in dogs is a high-fat diet. Eating a significant amount of fatty food in one meal is the number one risk factor for acute pancreatitis. 

“For instance, in the U.S., the day after the Thanksgiving holiday is one of the busiest days of the year for emergency vet visits due to pancreatitis,” says Amy Flowers, DVM, in an article “Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments” for WebMD published in 2024.  

Dogs are often fed fatty table scraps after holiday gatherings. Common culprits include bacon, ham,  grease, ham drippings, fat trimmed off meat or bones, and turkey or chicken skin. 

Avoid feeding dogs high-fat foods and table scraps, especially after holiday gatherings. Seek immediate veterinary care if the dog shows symptoms of pancreatitis, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain.

What are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs?

The symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs are listed below. 

  • Appetite Loss: Dogs with pancreatitis have reduced appetites or refuse to eat, which is known as anorexia. 
  • Repeated Vomiting: Repeated vomiting lasting for more than 24 hours is indicative of pancreatitis and contributes to dehydration. 
  • Diarrhea: Loose or frequent stools are seen in dogs with pancreatitis and cause dehydration if prolonged. 
  • Abdominal Pain: Pancreatitis is a painful condition. The pain affects the dog’s behavior, making it moody and easily irritable.  
  • Praying Position: Dogs adopt a specific praying position known as a position of relief due to the cranial abdominal pain associated with pancreatitis. 
  • Fever: Increased body temperature or fever is common for dogs with pancreatitis. Fever occurs when the body temperature is more than 103° F. 
  • Dehydration: Prolonged and intense vomiting and diarrhea in dogs cause dehydration, which manifests as loss of skin elasticity, sunken eyes, dry nose, and sticky saliva. 
  • Lethargy: Pancreatitis's pain and weakening effect make dogs prone to sleeping and more withdrawn than usual. 
  • Collapse and Shock: Collapse and shock are seen in the advanced pancreatitis stages and are considered emergencies. 
  • Seizures: Seizure episodes are severe signs of pancreatitis in dogs and the result of pancreatitis-induced encephalopathy or brain dysfunction. 

How does Genetics Contribute to My Dog's Pancreatitis?

Genetics contribute to your dog’s pancreatitis by predisposing it to the condition. Pancreatitis is prevalent among specific dog breeds, indicating a genetic component. 

Miniature Schnauzers are dramatically overrepresented in pancreatitis studies, states Jörg M. Steiner, DVM, in an article “Pancreatitis in Dogs and Cats” published by MSD Manual in 2020. 

Other breeds genetically predisposed to pancreatitis are Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Boxers, Miniature Poodles, and Terriers.  

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Collies, and Boxers are likely to develop chronic pancreatitis, according to a study, “Prevalence and Breed Distribution of Chronic Pancreatitis at Post-Mortem Examination in First-Opinion Dogs,” published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice in 2007. 

Persistent vomiting and diarrhea are early signs of pancreatitis. Withholding food for a specific timeframe, followed by a simple diet, is a simple means to ease pancreatitis in dogs. 

Can Pancreatitis Influence Liver Disease in Dogs?

Yes, pancreatitis can influence liver disease in dogs. The pancreas and liver sit close to each other, and inflammation of the pancreas easily spreads to the liver. 

Inflammation of the pancreas causes enzymes to leak. The leaked enzymes trigger damage to other organs, including the liver. 

Liver issues reduce its ability to process toxins and increase the release of mediators supporting inflammation. The effects of pancreatitis and dog liver disease fuel each other, creating a vicious cycle.  

What is the Treatment for Pancreatitis in Dogs?

The treatment for pancreatitis in dogs is fluid therapy, anti-nausea medications or antiemetics, pain relievers, steroids, surgery, and dietary modifications. 

Fluid therapy is the mainstay of pancreatitis treatment. The dog is given fluids intravenously to counter the dehydrating effects of vomiting and diarrhea. 

Anti-nausea and anti-vomiting medications are used to stop nausea and vomiting. Cerenia is a popular option for dogs with pancreatitis due to its additional abdominal pain-relieving properties. 

Pain relievers reduce abdominal pain, making the dog more comfortable. NSAIDs, or non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, relieve pain and inflammation simultaneously. 

Steroids, such as prednisone, are prescribed in complicated cases of pancreatitis and dogs that fail to respond to mainstream treatment protocols. 

Surgery is the treatment of choice for dogs with pancreatic abscesses or pseudocysts (newly formed pockets filled with pancreatic secretions). 

Dietary modification includes an easily digestible low-fat food formula that is soft on the dog’s stomach and pancreas. Some dogs need a low-fat diet temporarily, and others stay on specific dietary regimens for life. 

Alternative treatment options and supplements, such as herbs, CBD oil, probiotics, and dietary enzymes, are added to the mainstream strategy. 

How can I Comfort My Dog with Pancreatitis?

You can comfort your dog with pancreatitis by offering frequent, small, and low-fat meals, using antiemetics, and giving prescribed anti-pain medications. 

Small but frequent low-fat meals are ideal because they give the dog essential nutrients without overtaxing the pancreas. 

Antiemetics are medications that stop nausea and vomiting, while pain medications relieve pain and make pancreatitis episodes more tolerable. 

Always use vet-prescribed antiemetics and pain meds since many human drugs are dangerous to dogs.  

Can I Treat My Dog's Pancreatitis at Home?

No, you cannot treat your dog’s pancreatitis at home. Pancreatitis is a severe condition and requires veterinary treatment. 

Specific home remedies used with the vet’s approval are helpful. Popular options include bilberries, black mulberries, dandelion roots, milk thistle, slippery elm, and white birch. 

Natural home remedies are not enough to treat pancreatitis in dogs and must always be combined with mainstream treatments. 

How do I Know if My Dog Will Survive Pancreatitis?

You will know if your dog will survive pancreatitis after a veterinarian confirms the recovery symptoms. Improved appetite and resolution of vomiting and diarrhea are indicators that the dog is going to recover from pancreatitis. 

The prognosis for dogs with pancreatitis depends on the severity of the inflammation and the treatment response. 

Acute pancreatitis has a high mortality rate, but surviving dogs are able to fully recover, while chronic pancreatitis causes recurring pain and reduces the dog’s quality of life, reports a study “Pancreatitis in Dogs and Cats: Definitions and Pathophysiology” published in The Journal of Small Animal Practice in 2015. 

Promptly treated mild forms of pancreatitis in dogs have a good prognosis. The outcome is poor to guarded for dogs with clinical signs of depression and shock. 

Untreated acute pancreatitis is generally fatal as the inflammation progresses and takes a hemorrhagic form. 

Can Dogs Recover from Pancreatitis?

Yes, dogs can recover from pancreatitis. Dogs with mild inflammation of the pancreas recover. Improvement is visible within two to three days of treatment, and the prognosis is good. 

Dogs recovering from pancreatitis need medications for pain and nausea control. The long-term management is based on low-fat food formulas. 

Recovery is uncertain in dogs with severe forms of pancreatitis. The prognosis is guarded to poor for dogs with severe acute forms of pancreatitis and dogs with chronic forms accompanied by complications. 

Can Pancreatitis Affect Other Organs in Dogs?

Yes, pancreatitis can affect other organs in dogs. An inflamed pancreas leaks enzymes, causing damage and failure in other organs. 

Leaking pancreatic enzymes most damage the surrounding tissues and organs, such as the liver. 

Severe forms of dog pancreatitis are characterized by enzymes entering the bloodstream and traveling to distant organs. Heart and kidney damage are frequently associated with pancreatitis. 

When Should I Schedule a Visit to the Vet for My Dog's Pancreatitis?

You should schedule a visit to the vet for your dog’s pancreatitis immediately. Pancreatitis is an emergency. Dogs with pancreatitis require prompt vet attention and sometimes hospitalization. 

Unmanaged pancreatitis has serious consequences, increasing the risk of diabetes mellitus and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). 

Dogs with diabetes are unable to regulate their blood sugar levels, and dogs with EPI do not make enough digestive enzymes, resulting in poor nutrient absorption. 

Severe cases of acute pancreatitis in dogs are life-threatening, which accents the importance of seeking immediate veterinary care. 

Can CBD Oil Help Dogs with Pancreatitis?

Yes, CBD oil can help dogs with pancreatitis. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a natural hemp extract with non-addictive, non-psychogenic, and health-boosting features. 

Cannabidiol helps dogs with pancreatitis via its anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is the foundation of pancreatitis. 

CBD treatment reduces pro-inflammatory proteins (TNF-alfa, IL-6) in mice with pancreatitis, according to a study, “Anti-Inflammatory Role of Cannabidiol and O-1602 in Cerulein-Induced Acute Pancreatitis in Mice,” published in Pancreas in 2013.  

Cannabidiol relieves pancreatitis symptoms, mainly nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting are common in dogs with pancreatitis and have a debilitating effect. 

Cannabinoids may be useful anti-nausea and anti-emetic treatments for chronic conditions,according to a study “Evaluation of Repeated or Acute treatment with Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) or CBDA Methyl Ester (HU-580) on Nausea and/or Vomiting in Rats and Shrews,” published in Pharmacology in 2020. 

Consult the veterinarian before using CBD oil for dogs diseases to ensure safe administration. CBD is safe to combine with mainstream medications.    

Can I Give CDB Oil to My Dog with Pancreatitis Every Day?

Yes, you can give CBD oil to your dog with pancreatitis every day. No studies suggest that CBD oil worsens pancreatitis, supporting the safety of daily use. 

CBD is a supplement that is used periodically or continuously, like all nutritional supplements. Monitor the dog closely while on CBD and make adjustments if necessary. 

Ask the veterinarian how many CBD treats a day or CBD oil drops to give and for how long. The vet gives instructions based on the dog’s individual needs.