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Pancreatitis in Dogs 

 When we think about major organs, the liver, kidneys, lungs and heart often pop into our heads first, but the pancreas is almost just as important. This powerful, leaf-shaped organ is part of both the digestive and endocrine families and is located to the right of the abdomen next to the stomach. It produces digestive enzymes and hormones like insulin to help control blood sugar. When the pancreas works properly, enzymes are secreted into the small intestine and insulin is dispersed throughout the bloodstream.

Pancreatitis in dogs can be life-threatening and occur without warning. Keep reading to learn the symptoms of pancreatitis, how to help prevent it and the treatment options for dogs who develop it. Here are some tips to stay ahead of this disease and help prevent recurrence.

What is pancreatitis? 

If your dog has pancreatitis it means that their pancreas is inflamed. When that occurs, digestive enzymes can be activated before they reach the small intestine. In other words, the enzymes try to eat and digest the pancreas and other organs. Pancreatitis can:

  • Be acute or chronic 
  • Have mild symptoms, be debilitating or even life-threatening
  • Happen at any age 
  • Happen to any breed  

Canine pancreatitis can be extremely painful and life-threatening. It’s essential that pet parents do what they can to help prevent this disease and avoid triggers if their dogs do develop it.

What causes pancreatitis in dogs? 

The primary cause of pancreatitis—and the easiest one to avoid—is high-fat foods, in the regular diet or as a one-time dietary indiscretion. The fat content of your dog’s food and how much they consume in one sitting are factors. That’s why veterinarians stress the importance of monitoring your dog’s consumption of human food or eliminating it altogether. Other pancreatitis triggers include:

  • Genetics 
  • Obesity 
  • Endocrine diseases like hypothyroidism 
  • Diabetes 
  • Damage to the pancreas 
  • Side effects from medication
  • Other GI diseases

 What are the warning signs of pancreatitis? 

Signs of pancreatitis in dogs include: 

  • Frequent vomiting
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Signs of dehydration 
  • Hunched back or symptoms of pain in the abdomen 
  • Fever 
  • Diarrhea, and soft and/or light-colored stools
  • Visual belly bloat
  • Increased drooling
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat 
  • Difficulty breathing 

 If these symptoms of canine pancreatitis are severe or continue for more than a day—or come back frequently—consult your veterinarian. If your dog is struggling to breathe, is in visual distress or has a fever, seek medical attention immediately. Also seek medical attention if they can’t keep any water or food down.

 Your vet will perform tests such as blood work or X-rays or do an ultrasound to diagnose the disease and any other internal effects.

What foods can cause pancreatitis in my dogs?

Any high-fat food, including dog food and food from a pet parent’s plate, can cause pancreatitis. Treats can be the culprits, too—so be sure to be mention them when discussing your dog’s diet with your veterinarian. If needed, your vet can recommend appropriate treats for dogs with pancreatitis.

Note that while acute pancreatitis has very obvious symptoms, more mild symptoms, like occasional vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and other GI issues, may indicate chronic pancreatitis. Therefore, it’s important to consult your veterinarian if you think your dog is prone to pancreatitis or displays any of the symptoms. They can tell you about the best food for dogs with pancreatitis and may even recommend a low-fat vet diet to help prevent triggers. At Petco, our pharmacy services can fill a variety of vet-authorized therapeutic food for your pup and have it sent conveniently to your door.

Can my dog survive pancreatitis? 

Yes. The key is seeking medical attention as soon as possible so your vet can diagnose what is going on and get your pet on a medication regimen. Once they determine your pet has canine pancreatitis, they may take the actions below, depending on the severity of the condition. Your vet will also help you determine what may have caused the pancreatitis so you can avoid it for your pet in the future.

Utilizing fasting or medication as an anti-vomiting treatment Your vet may use medication or withhold food and water to slow vomiting in dogs. Withholding food also helps reduce inflammation in the pancreas and allows it to function normally on its own.

Changing their diet Your vet may switch your dog’s regular food to a low-fat version that’s easily digestible. They may even prescribe the food.  

Administering pain medications, antibiotics and intravenous fluid Pancreatitis can be very painful, even in more mild cases. So, pain relievers are commonly used. For more severe cases, IV fluids may be necessary.

Overnight care Your vet may want your dog to stay at the clinic for a few days until the inflammation is under control. Pancreatitis in dogs can be life-threatening, especially if your pet exhibits signs of shock. They may want to monitor your pup and make sure they have access to the medical care they need.  

How long does it take a dog to get over pancreatitis?  

Dog pancreatitis recovery time is generally two to four days, but that depends on the severity of the attack. Once their pancreas has become inflamed, they may be more prone to flares in the future, so your vet may keep them on a low-fat diet.

If a flare is severe, it can contribute to long-term problems such as diabetes, adhesions and inability to produce digestive enzymes. Your vet may recommend or prescribe dog health and wellness solutions like digestive enzymes to aid in breaking down their food. You should always talk to your vet before giving your dog supplements if they are prone to pancreatitis—some can lead to more severe signs of pancreatitis in dogs.

Is there a cure for canine pancreatitis?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. One of the best defenses against pancreatitis is the prevention of flare-ups. Keep your dog on the diet your vet has recommended and only offer low-fat, easily digestible, approved treats for dogs with pancreatitis. Keep all trigger foods in a spot your dog cannot reach and remind your family and friends not to share human food with your pet.

If your dog does have a flare-up, seek treatment immediately. The most comfort you can provide for your pup is medical care to help reduce the inflammation and pain medication if needed. If your dog doesn’t currently have a vet, our veterinary services can help.

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