Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnoses and Treatment

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    Pancreatitis can be a scary diagnosis for your dog. However, treatment for pancreatitis in dogs is widely available today. Depending on the severity of the case, the treatment typically involves a combination of pain medications, IV fluids, anti-nausea medications, anti-inflammatories, antacids & sometimes antibiotics. Read below to learn more about viable treatment for pancreatitis in dogs. 

    What is Pancreatitis in Dogs?

    Photo Credit: VCA Hospitals

    The pancreas is a vital organ that lies on the right side of the abdomen adjacent to the stomach. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes which assist in food digestion and hormones such as inulin, which regulates blood sugar. These enzymes are emitted into the small intestine and then the hormones enter into the bloodstream. 

    Pancreatitis in dogs occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. The inflammation allows for these digestive enzymes to leak out into the abdominal cavity. It can become life-threatening to other organs if the inflammation spreads. This results in secondary damage to the liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, and intestines. 

    Pancreatitis can range from acute to chronic. The acute form of pancreatitis means it comes on suddenly, with no prior history of the condition observed. The chronic form of pancreatitis develops over time and often without symptoms. The majority of pancreatitis cases occur spontaneously. Those dogs that recover from an acute episode of pancreatitis may continue to have recurrent episodes of the disease, which is then referred to as chronic pancreatitis. Whether acute or chronic, pancreatitis can be severe or mild and result in pain.

    What are the Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs?

    In the majority of cases in dogs, the cause of pancreatitis, unfortunately, cannot be determined. Less commonly, the cause may be tracked back to a dog indulging in high-fat food or getting into the garbage. 

    It is also believed that some breeds are more prone to the development of pancreatitis, however, there isn’t a ton of evidence to back this up. These breeds include the Miniature Schnauzer, English Cocker Spaniel, and Miniature Poodle. 

    Additionally, dogs taking certain medications may be more prone to pancreatitis. Chemotherapy medications and some antibiotics are commonly known to cause inflammation of the pancreas. 

    Some other causes of pancreatitis in dogs include:

    • Obesity
    • Hypothyroidism
    • Severe blunt trauma
    • Diabetes mellitus

    What are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs?

    Oftentimes, signs of pancreatitis are not very apparent. Acute pancreatitis tends to present more severe symptoms while chronic pancreatitis may cause milder symptoms. However, common signs of the condition include: 

    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Abdominal pain displayed by yelping at touch, hunching the back, or assuming a praying position aka with their head and forelimbs on the floor and hind elevated. 
    • Diarrhea 
    • Fever
    • Lethargy
    • Dehydration 
    • Decreased appetite

    How Can Pancreatitis Be Prevented?

    Pancreatitis is a condition that NEEDS to be properly treated by a veterinarian but there are some steps you can take at home to help prevent it. 

    By reducing pancreatic effort and inhibiting pancreatic output, pancreatin-containing digestive enzyme supplements can aid certain dogs (but not all). You can get them as both over-the-counter and prescription.

    Fish oil may look counterintuitive at first due to its high-fat content, yet it can actually help lower blood lipid levels. A significant dose of fish oil may aid dogs with acute pancreatitis (this is about 1,000 mg per 10 pounds of body weight for dogs with high lipid levels; around half that amount for dogs with normal levels). Dogs who are taking fish oil should also be taking 5 to 10 IU of vitamin E, as well. 

    How is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

    To diagnose pancreatitis in dogs, your veterinarian will look at your dog’s medical history as well as conduct a physical examination that includes looking at their temperature, heart, gums, and stomach. Other tests include a blood test to measure pancreatic enzymes, a radiograph or ultrasound to rule out other causes, and fine-needle aspiration of the pancreas.

    What is the Treatment for Pancreatitis in Dogs?

    Successful treatment for pancreatitis in dogs depends on early diagnosis and prompt intervention. Diagnosis typically involves blood work. Depending on the severity of the case, pancreatitis is typically treated with a combination of pain medications, IV fluids, anti-nausea medications, anti-inflammatories, antacids & sometimes antibiotics. 

     

    In more mild cases of pancreatitis, the treatment is more dependent upon resting the pancreatitis and allowing the body to heal itself. In patients who are vomiting, fasting is necessary until the vomiting subsides. In these cases, anti-nausea medications may also be administered. Dogs who are not presented with vomiting as a symptom will be fed a low, highly digestible diet during the recovery period. 

     

    Analgesic medications will be administered to patients to manage pain while intravenous fluids aka IV fluids will be given to prevent dehydration by maintaining normal fluid and electrolyte balance. The majority of cases will also require anti-inflammatory medications. If coexisting infection is suspected, antibiotics will also be given. 

     

    The majority of dogs with pancreatitis are hospitalized for a few days while IV fluids and medications are administered. In addition, monitoring of the condition is critical to ensure symptoms are not increasing in severity and treatment is working properly. 

    In some cases, long-term management is necessary for the treatment of pancreatitis in dogs. These management tools include: 

    • Monitoring of fat intake 
    • Prescription low-fat diet 
    • Feeding smaller, more frequent meals instead of larger meals
    • Routine blood work performed by veterinarian on a regular basis 

    While the condition can be daunting, the treatment for pancreatitis in dogs doesn’t need to be. If your dog is displaying any signs of pancreatitis, seek out veterinary help immediately to increase the level of success of the treatment and management of the condition in your dog. 

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