Pancreatitis in dogs

Spaniel looking out window
Pancreatitis is a painful and potentially severe condition caused by the pancreas becoming inflamed. The cause of pancreatitis is often unknown, although eating too much high fat food is a key trigger in many cases. Many dogs recover from pancreatitis, but it can be life-threatening, so needs urgent veterinary treatment. Some affected dogs may develop long-term issues with their pancreas and may need to be fed special diets that are reduced in fat.

What is pancreatitis?

The pancreas is a small organ that produces enzymes and hormones. The hormones help to control blood sugar levels and the enzymes break down food. These enzymes sometimes activate too early whilst they’re still in the pancreas, and can irritate and attack the cells of the pancreas, causing it to become inflamed. This is known as pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis can happen just once, known as acute, or occur several times, known as chronic. Both acute and chronic pancreatitis can be mild or life-threatening.

Which dogs are more prone to pancreatitis?

Any type of dog can develop pancreatitis, but some dogs are more likely to develop it than others. Older dogs, dogs that are overweight, or those that are recovering from surgery appear to be more prone to pancreatitis. Some breeds, including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Boxers, Border Collies, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, terriers and other small breeds may be at increased risk.

What are the signs of pancreatitis in dogs?

Signs of pancreatitis can include:
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Stomach pain (your dog may appear bloated, hunch their back, or lower their front legs and head to ease the pain)
  • Being sick
  • Having bloody diarrhoea
  • Weakness
  • High temperature
Pancreatitis can be severe, so if you are concerned about your dog’s health always contact your vet immediately.

What causes pancreatitis?

The cause of pancreatitis is often unknown, although ingestion of a large amounts of high-fat food in one sitting is a common trigger. It’s important that dogs are not given unhealthy table scraps and fatty foods are kept out of paws reach from your dog.

Other risk factors that can contribute to pancreatitis include:

How is pancreatitis treated?

Pancreatitis can be life-threatening and must be treated by your vet. Veterinary treatment is usually supportive, but affected dogs may need regular monitoring as well as intravenous fluids and medications to help manage pain and nausea.

How long does it take to recover from pancreatitis?

If your dog is affected by pancreatitis they may need to be monitored and treated by your vet for several days. More severe cases can be more complicated and your dog may take a week or longer to recover. Chronic pancreatitis is a longer-term issue and although the disease can be managed, it can’t be ‘cured’ and will be present for life.

Can dog’s survive pancreatitis?

Many dogs affected by pancreatitis make a full recovery with veterinary treatment. Severe cases can be more difficult to treat and the outcome less predictable.

What can I feed a dog that’s had pancreatitis?

Dogs that have been affected by pancreatitis may need a special low-fat diet to reduce the risk of developing pancreatitis again. Your vet may discuss this with you and will help you find a diet that is suitable for your dog. They may also talk to you about not giving your dog fatty treats, such as cheese or fatty meat.

When to contact your vet

If you think your dog may be affected by pancreatitis, or you are concerned about their health or behaviour, then you should always contact your vet immediately. Pancreatitis can be very serious, so it’s important that you do not wait to see if your dog improves before seeking advice.

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information

Find a vet near you

If you're looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a vet page.