Pancreatitis in Dogs

The pancreas is a pale pink glandular organ that sits just under the stomach, and one of its main jobs is to secrete digestive enzymes to help break down the food dogs eat. When the pancreas becomes inflamed (pancreatitis), the digestive enzymes are released, damaging the tissue in the pancreas and around it. The result can be a metabolic catastrophe. The living tissue becomes further inflamed, and toxins are released into circulation and can cause a body-wide inflammatory response. If the pancreas is affected so much so to disrupt its ability to produce insulin, diabetes can result. In short, pancreatitis can be a life-threatening condition.

What Causes Pancreatitis?

In most cases, we never find out what causes it, but we do know some events that can cause pancreatitis:

  • A sudden high fat meal is the classic cause of canine pancreatitis. The sudden stimulation to release enzymes to digest fat seems to be involved.
  • Diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, and hypercalcemia can potentially lead to pancreatitis.
  • Use of certain drugs can predispose a pet to pancreatitis, exposure to organophosphate insecticides has also been implicated as a cause of pancreatitis.
  • Trauma to the pancreas that occurs from a car accident or even surgical manipulation can cause inflammation, and thus pancreatitis.
  • A tumour in the pancreas can lead to inflammation of the adjacent pancreatic tissue.
  • Obesity has been found to be a risk factor because of the altered fat metabolism that goes along with it.

Signs of Pancreatitis

The classical signs in dogs are appetite loss, vomiting, diarrhea, painful abdomen, and fever or any combination thereof. A dog exhibiting any or all of these symptoms should be seen by a veterinarian.


The most important feature of treatment is aggressive intravenous fluid therapy, in the hospital if the patient’s clinical signs are severe enough. Pain and nausea medication is needed for comfort and restores interest in food. Sometimes, patients must stay in the hospital for many days. A low-fat diet is usually prescribed when the pet finally goes home and is used for the remainder of the pet’s life in some cases.

Written by Campbell River Veterinary Hospital