Pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas is a common, extremely painful, and potentially life-threatening condition in animals, particularly dogs and cats. 

Dog owners need to be familiar with the signs associated with pancreatitis so they can act timely and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. When it comes canine pancreatitis time is of the essence. 

Lately, the use of probiotics for dogs with pancreatitis has sparked some serious interest. Just like you, your dog can benefit a lot from probiotics, as long as they are used in accordance with the vet’s tips and orders. 

What is Pancreatitis?

In simple words, pancreatitis in dogs is inflammation of the pancreas. To better understand why a simple inflammatory condition has the potential to trigger so much pain and even be life-threatening, we need to start with a short lesson in pancreatic anatomy and physiology. 

Anatomy and Physiology of the Pancreas 

The pancreas is an integral part of the digestive system. As a glandular organ, the pancreas is located in the right abdomen and laid along with the duodenum (the first portion of the small intestine). Its elongated shape closely touches the stomach, liver, and transverse colon (the middle section of the large intestines)

The pancreatic roles in the body can be classified in two groups:

  • Endocrine

  • Exocrine

The exocrine part of the pancreas is responsible for secreting bicarbonate and digestive enzymes and releasing them into the small intestine via its ducts. The bicarbonate maintains normal pH (as opposed to the stomach’s acidic pH) in the intestines, and the digestive enzymes help with the digestion processes – food breakdown and nutrient absorption.

The endocrine part of the pancreas secretes over ten different hormones. However, the two most important ones are insulin and glucagon. Insulin and glucagon are responsible for keeping the blood sugar levels within the normal range and storing and breaking down fat.

What Happens in Case of Pancreatitis? 

In the case of pancreatitis, the pancreas cells get damaged and die as a result of the inflammatory processes. The life-threatening part of the inflammation starts when the cells secreting digestive enzymes start breaking and leaking the digestive enzymes outside their ducts and into the surrounding tissues.

Once leaked, the digestive enzymes do what they usually do – digest, but in this case, the enzymes digest the pancreas itself. As mentioned, with the pancreatic duct destroyed and the pancreatic tissue submitted to digestion, the digestive enzymes pose a danger to the closest organs – liver and stomach. 

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

In fur babies, just like in people, there are two forms of pancreatitis and each form has its unique clinical manifestation:

  • Acute inflammation of the pancreas

  • Chronic inflammation of the pancreas

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis in dogs occurs suddenly and in dogs with no previous pancreatitis history and without warning signs.

A dog with acute pancreatitis will show the following signs and symptoms:

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Appetite loss

  • Diarrhea (yellow or bloody)

  • Frequent vomiting

  • Hunching (so-called “praying position”)

  • Lethargy

  • Fever

  • Dehydration

  • Bloating

If left untreated, the acute pancreatitis causes the dog’s health to deteriorate quickly, eventually culminating in:

  • Organ failure (kidneys, heart, lungs)

  • Septic shock (if the inflammation spreads to other abdominal organs)

  • Death

Chronic Pancreatitis

The chronic pancreatitis in dogs is defined as smoldering and low-grade yet continuous inflammation of the pancreas.

A dog with chronic pancreatitis will exhibit signs and symptoms like:

  • Intermittent (occasional) vomiting

  • Occasional diarrhea

  • Colitis (inflammation of the large intestine)

  • Appetite changes

The intensity of the symptoms accompanying chronic pancreatitis is less severe than the one associated with acute pancreatitis. 

Although, not life-threatening, if left unmanaged, the chronic inflammation of the pancreas increases the chances of developing type 1 diabetes in dogs. 

Additionally, as the damaged pancreatic cells are slowly replaced with scar tissue, the inflammation may result in pancreatic insufficiency. 

Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs 

Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs 

There are several potential risk factors and underlying causes associated with canine pancreatitis. Pinpointing the exact cause and giving the answer to what caused the pancreatitis is often impossible. 

Therefore, in over 90% of cases, the condition is labelled as idiopathic pancreatitis in dogs. 

Food Indiscretions

Just like in people, pancreatitis in dogs is usually associated with dietary indiscretions (popularly known as “garbage gut”).

Severe acute pancreatitis in dogs is often the consequence of eating a particularly high-fat diet and meals. For example, pancreatitis in dogs is particularly prevalent during holidays when dogs are fed high-fat table scraps like chicken and turkey skin.

Dogs prone to scavenging, stealing food from countertops or garbage cans are also prone to developing acute pancreatitis.

Finally, it is worth noting, that modern dog diets, although formulated for dogs might be the reason for the pancreatitis frequency in dogs. This is because most modern diets lack the digestive enzymes the dog’s natural diet offers, causing the pancreas to overwork. 

Obesity

Obesity is an important risk factor for many health conditions in dogs, including pancreatitis. Obesity contributes to the pancreatic inflammation by altering the fat metabolism. High triglyceride levels in the blood are associated with both obesity and pancreatitis.

Overuse of Certain Prescription Drugs

Corticosteroids and antibiotics have been considered as main culprits in the pancreatitis etiology. Today, we know that steroids are not contributing factors, but antibiotics are still suspected.

Recently, the use of seizure medications and chemotherapy are frequently mentioned as potential risk factors for pancreatitis in dogs.

Genetics

Certain dog breeds are at higher risk of developing pancreatitis, possibly because of their fat metabolism problems.

For example, acute and chronic pancreatitis are prevalent among:

  • Dachshunds

  • Miniature Schnauzers

  • Poodles

  • Yorkshire terriers.

  • Boxers

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

  • Cocker Spaniels

  • Collies

Severe Trauma

Severe trauma can trigger pancreatitis in dogs. Many events can be classified as severe trauma – from car hits to abdominal surgeries (not related to the pancreas itself).

Infectious Diseases

Certain infectious agents, like Leishmania and Babesia canis, in addition to causing systemic health issues are also responsible for triggering pancreatitis in dogs.

Hormonal Imbalances

Concurrent hormonal problems, like hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and diabetes increase the risk of chronic pancreatitis. 

Toxin Exposure

Some toxins, like organophosphate insecticides wreak havoc on the dog’s organism causing an array of health issues, including pancreatitis. 

Natural Remedies for Pancreatitis

Natural Remedies for Pancreatitis

There is a natural way of supporting dogs with pancreatitis – in terms of both prevention and management. 

Diet

Diet is in the center of pancreatitis development in dogs. Feeding a natural, balanced and nutritionally complete dog food is a good way of minimizing the chances of a pancreatitis episode. Taking good care of your dog’s digestive health goes a long way. It goes without saying that fatty food options and high-grain food options are off limits. 

Kibble is not the right option for dogs prone to pancreatitis because of several reasons - they are sprayed with oils, usually have high carbohydrate content, are low in moisture, and lack digestive enzymes and live nutrients. 

Exercise  

Regular exercise is vital for preventing obesity. Regular exercise helps with pancreatitis management by keeping the body weight within the normal range. 

Probiotic Supplements

Probiotics can have a positive effect in dogs with pancreatitis in terms of improving digestion and promoting overall gut health.

Other Supplements

Fish oil and digestive enzyme supplement products are also beneficial.  

In some human studies, patients with pancreatitis improved after being supplemented with vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and methionine. 

Antioxidants, prebiotics, and natural anti-inflammatory agents are also helpful. 

When to Talk to Your Vet

In dogs with pancreatitis, especially acute, things can go from bad to worse really fast. That is why you need to seek veterinary attention whenever you suspect pancreatitis in your dog. Only a trained veterinarian can differentiate between acute and chronic pancreatitis.

The vet will start with a complete physical examination and review your dog’s health history. The veterinarian will also perform blood work analysis (snap blood tests) to check the levels of digestive enzymes in your dog’s body. The Spec cPL test measures one of the pancreatic enzymes, the lipase, thuse serving as a conclusive test for confirming the pancreatitis diagnosis. 

More often than not, the veterinarian will order additional diagnostic procedures, including abdominal ultrasound and x rays. Both the ultrasound and x rays will give a better insight into the dog’s overall health condition. 

Based on the test results, the vet will craft an individually tailored treatment plan for your dog.

The first aid kit for dogs with pancreatitis includes pain medications, iv fluids, and antibiotics. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, the dog is usually hospitalized. In the case of severe acute pancreatitis, surgery is the only option. 

Once the episode is over, and before releasing your dog from the clinic, the veterinarian will talk to you about management. In dogs with the acute form, the goal is preventing future episodes, and in dogs with chronic form, the goal is minimizing their frequency and severity.

In those terms, the veterinarian will talk to you about a proper diet (including probiotic and enzyme supplementation), healthy body weight maintenance, and regular exercise regimen.

Some dogs with pancreatitis recover completely and others need to obey the vet’s orders and stick to the management strategies completely. If there are any suspicions, the vet may suggest monitoring your dog with the Spec cPL test. 

Probiotics for Dogs with Pancreatitis

The use of probiotics in animals and pets in particular is a relatively new field. Although there are several studies, most conclusions are derived from studies in people. 

From what is known the use of probiotics in canine pancreatitis cases can have beneficial effects. One beneficial effect is that they introduce new “good” bacteria to the GI system thus helping with food digestion. 

However, there can also be some side effects, especially if the probiotics are introduced during an ongoing pancreatitis episode. One human study showed that probiotics can make pancreatitis cases worse. 

Therefore, dog owners need to talk to their trusted veterinarians in terms of choosing the right probiotic product and giving it at the right time.

Different Types of Probiotics for Dogs

Different Types of Probiotics for Dogs

As live bacteria whose features provide an array of health benefits to dogs, probiotics are increasingly popular among dog owners. As the demand for probiotics rises, so does the number of probiotics available on the market. 

The problem is probiotics are classified as nutraceuticals and do not undergo strict regulations during production and labelling. 

One research showed that the lack of regulations gave space for manipulations and some probiotics do not contain any live bacteria while others claim to contain nonexistent bacteria types. 

This indicates that choosing the right probiotic for your dog can be a challenging process. Plus, different probiotic products based on the type of bacteria they contain are better suited for different purposes. 

In a nutshell, you should always ask your trusted vet which probiotic product is best for your dog based on its needs. 

Our Final Thoughts

Sadly for some dogs with pancreatitis the prognosis is poor. This only emphasizes the importance of prevention, prompt treatment and adequate management. 

Providing proper care – avoiding high fat foods, adding healthy supplements to the menu, practicing a healthy exercise regimen and maintaining a healthy body weight, can help your dog a lot, not just in terms of preventing inflammations of the pancreas but in terms of overall health and well-being. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are probiotics good for dogs with pancreatitis?

Probiotics are good for dogs with pancreatitis because they introduce healthy bacteria that help with digestion and promote the dog’s immune response. However, probiotics must not be used during an active acute pancreatitis episode. 

Do probiotics help with pancreatitis?

Some probiotic products can help dogs with pancreatitis when used properly. The use of probiotics for pets needs to be discussed with a licensed vet familiar with the patient’s health status and issues. 

What can I give my dog for pancreatitis?

Following your veterinarian’s tips you will give your dog pain medications and antibiotics. After that to prevent future pancreatitis episodes, you can give your dog probiotics, digestive enzymes and other supplement products. 

Is there any natural way of treating pancreatitis in dogs? 

Cases of pancreatitis in dogs are an emergency and require an immediate veterinary attention. After stabilization, there are natural ways of supporting your dog’s pancreatic health - diet, exercise and supplementation. 

Are the natural probiotics safe for pets?

Luckily, yes, some natural probiotics like kefir, yoghurt, and goat milk are generally safe for pets.