Pancreatitis in Dogs


Why Should I Bring my Pet to Willows for Investigation and Treatment of Pancreatitis?

Willows is one of Europe’s leading small animal referral centres. Our state-of-the-art hospital is led by internationally renowned Specialists, committed to providing the highest standards of veterinary care. The Internal Medicine service at Willows is led by a team of recognised, accredited Specialists who have extensive experience of managing critically ill patients, often with complex medical complaints.

Our Internal Medicine team work closely with our Diagnostic Imaging Specialists, expert Anaesthesia and Analgesia Specialists supported by 24-hour Veterinary and Nursing staff, all of whom help to optimise the potential for our patients to make a full recovery. For the more complex cases such as biliary tract obstruction, our Internal Medicine team will work closely with Specialists in the Soft Tissue Surgery service who are available to intervene if, and when necessary.


What is Pancreatitis?

The pancreas is a small organ in the abdomen (tummy) which is responsible for releasing enzymes that digest food. These enzymes are activated when they interact with food and other chemicals in the gastrointestinal tract. The pancreas also releases important hormones such as insulin into the bloodstream.

Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed (tender and swollen). In most cases pancreatitis occurs for no apparent underlying reason, although it can have a particular cause (such as scavenging food). Pancreatitis most commonly affects middle aged to older dogs, however dogs of certain breeds (e.g. Cocker Spaniels and Terrier breeds) are more prone to developing the condition.


What are the Most Common Signs of Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from relatively mild signs (e.g. a reduced appetite) to very severe illness (e.g. multiple organ failure). The most common symptoms of pancreatitis include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain (highlighted by restlessness and discomfort) and diarrhoea.

Fig 1: The normal canine pancreas. It is a similar shade of grey to the surrounding fat.


How is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

The possibility that a dog may be suffering from pancreatitis is generally suspected on the basis of the history (i.e. loss of appetite, vomiting, etc.) and the finding of abdominal pain on examination by a Vet. Many other diseases can cause these symptoms, as such both blood tests and an ultrasound scan of the abdomen are necessary to rule out other conditions and to reach a diagnosis of pancreatitis. Although routine blood tests can lead to a suspicion of pancreatitis, a specific blood test (called ‘canine pancreatic lipase’) needs to be performed to fully support the diagnosis. An ultrasound scan is very important in making a diagnosis of pancreatitis. In addition, an ultrasound scan can also reveal some potential complications associated with pancreatitis (e.g. blockage of the bile duct from the liver as it runs through the pancreas).

Fig 2: A dog with pancreatitis. The pancreas is darker than normal and enlarged. The surrounding fat is brighter than normal and the intestine (seen in cross section) is also thickened.

What Treatment is Available for Pancreatitis?

There is no specific cure for pancreatitis, fortunately though most dogs recover with appropriate supportive treatment. Supportive measures include giving an intravenous drip (to provide the body with necessary fluid and salts) and the use of medications which combat nausea and pain. Most dogs with pancreatitis need to be hospitalised to provide treatment and to undertake necessary monitoring, however patients can sometimes be managed with medication at home if the signs are not particularly severe. At the other extreme, dogs that are very severely affected by pancreatitis need to be given intensive care, ideally in an Intensive Care Unit such as the one we have at Willows.

One of the most important aspects of treating pancreatitis is to ensure that the patient receives sufficient appropriate nutrition while the condition is brought under control. This can be very difficult, because pancreatitis causes a loss of appetite. In this situation it may be necessary to place a feeding tube which is passed into the stomach, through which nutrition can be provided. If a dog with pancreatitis is not eating and will not tolerate a feeding tube (e.g. due to vomiting), intravenous feeding (using a drip to supply specially formulated nutrients straight into the bloodstream) may be necessary, this is rare outcome.

Fig 3. A patient with an oesophageal feeding tube


What Can I Expect if my Pet is Treated for Pancreatitis?

It may be necessary for dogs with pancreatitis to be hospitalised for several days, fortunately though most patients with the condition go on to make a complete recovery, provided that appropriate veterinary and nursing care is provided. In some instances, dogs can suffer repeated bouts of the condition (called ‘chronic pancreatitis’) and this may require long term management with dietary manipulation and other approaches which the specialist will discuss with you in detail, as required.

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Internal Medicine

Find out more

To assist owners in understanding more about Internal Medicine we have put together a range of information sheets to talk you through the some of the more common Medicine conditions seen and treated by our Specialists.