The pancreas is an important organ that is located on the right side of the abdomen, adjacent to the stomach [ 1]. The pancreas performs many functions, including the production of insulin and the production and secretion of various digestive enzymes such as amylase, protease and lipase [ 1]. These digestive enzymes are critical for the digesting of foods, and the insulin assists in the regulation of body metabolism and blood-sugar levels [1 ]. Pancreatitis occurs when there is “inflammation” of the pancreas. The digestive enzymes that are inactive until they arrive at the small intestines become active in the pancreas, resulting in swelling, pain and digestion of the pancreas [1 ].


Acute pancreatitis occurs as a sudden onset of the disease with no previous appearance of the condition. It may become life threatening to nearby organs if the inflammation spreads [ 1].



This condition occurs slowly, overtime, and sometimes with no symptoms. It can result in repeated recurrence of acute pancreatitis [ 1].
Both cases of pancreatitis can range from mild to severe.


Causes of Pancreatitis

Some causes of pancreatitis include:

  • Long exposure to high-fat diets
  • Obesity
  • Severe blunt trauma
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Certain medications or toxins (cholinesterase inhibitors, potassium bromide, thiazide diuretics
  • Genetic predisposition [ 1 ]

Some breeds such as the schnauzers are prone to developing pancreatitis. Older dogs may develop the disease also [ 1 ].


Signs and symptoms of pancreatitis may include:

  1. Diarrhea
  2. Lethargy
  3. Gagging
  4. Swollen abdomen
  5. Restlessness [ 2]
  6. Fever
  7. Dehydration
  8. Irregular heartbeat
  9. Vomiting
  10. Belly pain
  11. Loss of appetite


Several tests can be undertaken to find out if your dog has pancreatitis. Along with your dog’s history and a physical exam your veterinarian can perform one or more of the following tests:


  1. Imaging studies to evaluate the pancreas
  2. Chemistry tests for kidney, pancreas and blood sugar
  3. Complete blood count
  4. Hyperthyroidism
  5. Pancreas specific tests [ 2 ]

After ruling out these conditions, your vet may place your dog in a hospital setting where he/she can observe them. Heart and respiratory rates may be measured every 15 to 30 minutes. Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, your vet may choose to change your dog’s exercise routine and diet.


Successful treatment of pancreatitis is dependent on how early it is diagnosed.


  1. In mild cases of pancreatitis (edematous pancreatitis) the body may be allowed to heal by “resting” the pancreas. This is done by withholding oral foods and fluids [ CITATION Ern09 \l 9225 ]. It prevents the pancreas from releasing its digestive enzymes which would further injure itself and surrounding organs. Intravenous fluids are given to maintain normal electrolyte and fluid balance [ 3]. Analgesics and antibiotics may be used in more serious cases. This procedure typically spans two to four days.
  2. Some other treatment methods include use of anti-vomiting medications and specialised diet allocations.


Most dogs will recover with no long-term consequences. However, in severe and repeated occurrences of pancreatitis, some debilitating conditions may occur:


  1. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
    If a substantial number of cells which produce the digestive enzymes in the pancreas are destroyed, this could severely reduce food digestion [3 ]. This known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). The dog can be given enzyme replacement powder to help with food digestion.
  2. Diabetes mellitus
    Diabetes can occur if too many cells that produce insulin are destroyed.
  3. Painful adhesions between the abdominal organs could happen in severe cases [ 3 ].
  4. Poor fat digestion can also occur.


Acute pancreatitis cannot be prevented but steps can be taken to reduce the risks for your dog:


  • Avoiding fatty foods
  • Not letting your dog become overweight
  • Not allowing your dog to have access to garbage
  • Avoid feeding table scraps

If your veterinarian can identify what caused the pancreatitis, he or she can take decisive action to reverse it. If it is related to the diet, then your dog can be put on specialised foods with highly digestible ingredients which normally have less fat and lower protein levels. Pancreatitis, if left untreated could lead to more debilitating conditions. See your vet if you believe that your dog is showing signs and symptoms of pancreatitis.


[1] E. Ward, “Pancreatitis in Dogs,” 2009. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 01 February 2019].

[2] B. Richard, “Exocrine Secretions of the Pancreas,” Colorado State University, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 January 2019].

[3] S. Bill, “Acute Pancreatitis in Dogs,” Pet Health Network, May 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 01 February 2019].

[4] A. K. Club, “Pancreatitis in Dogs – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment,” American Kennel Club, 17 December 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 06 Ferbruary 2019].


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