What Is Pancreatitis in Dogs? Causes & Treatment

Four Minutes
Dec 21, 2022

Put simply, pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, and it can be caused by a few different things. Whether your dog is genetically predisposed to pancreatitis or they just love to sneak bites of human food, it’s important to understand the pancreas disease so you can protect your dog if they present symptoms of it. Let’s find out more about this disease, how to keep it at bay, and how to treat it if your dog is diagnosed.

How Does  Pancreatitis Impact Dogs?

The pancreas has two functions: producing insulin (endocrine function) and producing enzymes (exocrine function).3

In a healthy dog, the pancreas produces and secretes inactive digestive enzymes, sending them to the intestine to aid in food digestion. However, in a dog with pancreatitis, these digestive enzymes activate while they’re in the pancreas, causing inflammation. It also causes the enzymes to digest the organ itself over time.3

Acute pancreatitis is a short-term onset of the disease, so the damage to the pancreas is reversible, or at least not severe. Meanwhile, chronic pancreatitis means there is permanent damage to the pancreas.

What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?

Pancreatitis may appear after dogs eat a high-fat meal. This may mean they found your table scraps in the trash, stole your avocado toast, ate the christmas cookies off the coffee table, or you gave them their favorite fatty treat. However, 90% of cases are actually not from a high-fat diet or dietary indiscretions.

Some cases are caused by dogs ingesting a toxic plant or other toxins like xylitol. There are also some antibiotics and chemotherapy medications that have been shown to cause pancreatitis. Further, many dog breeds are just genetically predisposed to the disease. Some cases of pancreatitis don’t have a clear cause.

Predisposed breeds

While miniature schnauzers may have an incredibly high risk for this disease, it can affect any dog. That said, many toy breeds and designer dogs are more at risk of pancreatitis than other breeds.

Here are some breeds with a known genetic predisposition to pancreatitis:

Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs

Diagnosing pancreatitis is tricky, because it can either be an acute disease or a chronic illness. If your dog is hit with severe symptoms suddenly, it’s likely an acute case. Meanwhile, more persistent but less severe symptoms could point to a chronic issue. The symptoms of acute pancreatitis are similar to the symptoms of chronic pancreatitis, just more severe. The chronic disease can also flare up as acute pancreatitis.

In either case, it’s important to take your dog to a veterinarian whenever these symptoms make themselves known. Any form of pancreatitis is a sign of a vital organ failing to do its job. There are several signs that can indicate pancreatitis in dogs. Symptoms for the disease are numerous and can vary.4

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis

  • High fever
  • Vomiting
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Little or no appetite
  • Diarrhea

Diagnosing Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis is difficult to diagnose for a few reasons. The signs of pancreatitis in dogs are similar to other diseases and not pancreas-specific. Routine blood tests and abdominal X-rays may help, but unless it’s a severe case, likely won’t detect anything abnormal. Ultrasounds can help diagnose pancreatitis, but only if the pancreatic swelling is noticeable.

There is a new test that only some vets offer, called the Canine Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity test (cPLI), which only needs a small blood sample. It measures for high values of pancreatic lipase, which indicates pancreatitis. This is the only way to truly diagnose pancreatitis.5

Treating Pancreatitis in Dogs

Treatment for pancreatitis in dogs consists largely of supportive care. Depending on the severity of your pet’s condition, they may need more aggressive care. But no matter what, they will have to be hydrated with intravenous fluids and your vet will work with you to provide ongoing nutritional support.

Treating acute pancreatitis

If your dog has acute pancreatitis, they’ll need aggressive medical treatment and likely a lengthy stay (ranging from a few days to a few weeks) at an animal hospital to prevent the condition from advancing. This is especially true for dogs who have gone into shock. Acute pancreatitis treatment costs usually range between $2,000 – $5,000.4

Meanwhile, dogs with chronic pancreatitis or a mild but acute case, may be treated as out-patient or only need a few nights stay at an animal hospital. This can range from $500 – $2,500 depending on the treatment.4

A vet’s first and best defense against pancreatitis is intensive intravenous fluids. Depending on your dog’s symptoms, they may administer pain, antinausea, and stomach-protectant medicines, as well as antibiotics. They may also give your dog a feeding tube to provide nutrition.

Once your dog is home and starting to recover, your vet will recommend a temporary low-fat diet. However, some cases may require a permanent change to your dog’s diet. A bland low-fat diet will help take the load off your pet’s pancreas and keep them healthier.

Prognosis for Dogs With Pancreatitis

Your dog’s prognosis depends on the severity of the disease as well as how aggressive the treatment is. Acute pancreatitis can send your dog into shock, or in extreme cases, cause death. But in most cases, your dog will recover without any long-term consequences.

However, both acute and chronic pancreatitis may cause severe damage and scarring to the pancreas. Depending on how much of the vital organ is damaged, it can cause pain or other pancreatic diseases4:

  • Diabetes mellitus: When the part of the pancreas that creates insulin is severely damaged, it may cause diabetes. This disease affects how the body produces or processes insulin, which regulates blood sugars.
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI): When the part of the pancreas that creates digestive enzymes is severely damaged, it won’t be able to produce enough. This lack of digestive pancreatic enzymes means the body has a harder time digesting foods.

How Pet Insurance Can Help With a Pancreatitis Diagnosis

Pancreatitis diagnosis, treatment, and long term care can run up hospital bills. Especially since acute pancreatitis can result in a few nights stay at an animal hospital. Dog insurance can help make pet health emergencies like this more affordable.

For example, a Boston terrier in North Carolina was diagnosed with and treated for acute pancreatitis. The entire exam and treatment cost the family nearly $3,900. However, MetLife Pet Insurance reimbursed $3,600 of the cost.1,6

Investing in a MetLife Pet insurance policy gives you peace of mind. We cover diagnostic testing, hospitalizations, injuries, illnesses, and more.2 Ensure quality care for your pet (and wallet) by getting a free quote today.

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1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

2 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

3 “Pancreatitis in Dogs: Cause, Diagnosis and Treatment,” BluePearl Pet Hospital

4 "What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs and How to Treat It,” PETMD

5 “Pancreatitis in Dogs - Pancreas-Specific Lipase.,” VCA Animal Hospitals

6 All claims paid amounts are based on MetLife internal claims data from October 2022.

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