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Pancreatitis in Dogs

Eilidh was a fun, happy, bouncy, six-year-old little miniature Schnauzer

Eilidh was a fun, happy, bouncy, six-year-old little miniature Schnauzer. She was brought into the surgery with a history of her owner recently noticing her vomiting regularly after eating, and being withdrawn and quiet, and she was off her usual food. On her examination I noted that she was unusually subdued, and her abdomen was uncomfortable to palpate and very firm and "tight". Eilidh was in discomfort and lethargic, and so I admitted her for fluid therapy and pain relief and further tests. Abdominal Ultrasound examination and Blood tests confirmed that Eilidh had acute pancreatitis. 

The pancreas is a delicate organ that sits alongside the small intestine. It is a particularly important organ, and its purpose is to help digest food and to regulate blood sugar. 

The term pancreatitis is when the pancreas organ becomes inflamed and swollen. Pancreatitis is typically described as either chronic or acute, with chronic meaning the condition has developed slowly over some time, while acute is when it appears suddenly. 

Dogs with pancreatitis are likely to suffer from a loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, and lethargy. They may also have abdominal pain and can quickly become dehydrated. In milder forms, symptoms are not quite as obvious, but may still include loss of appetite, lethargy, and diarrhoea. During an acute attack of pancreatitis, dogs may hunch up their backs, holding their rear end in the air with their front legs and head lowered onto the floor, in an odd “praying” stance. 

The prognosis for pancreatitis depends on the severity of the disease. Mild cases may just require a change of diet, while more severe cases will need urgent, aggressive medical treatment. If left untreated, pancreatitis may lead to long-term organ damage and even in severe cases, shock, and sudden death. So, you should contact your vet straight away if your dog is showing any signs of this disease. 

There seems to be a higher prevalence of pancreatitis in Border Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, miniature Schnauzers, Poodles and Yorkshire terriers. 

It is often difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of pancreatitis. One of the most common risk factors is scavenging, and sometimes the condition is triggered when a dog eats foods that high in fat or indigestible, rich foods. Severe trauma or surgery can also lead to pancreatitis, and it has been linked to the use of some drugs. Dogs with Cushing’s disease can also be prone to pancreatitis. 

If your Vet suspects that your pet has pancreatitis, they will provide supportive treatments, including pain relief and medications to reduce the pancreatic inflammation and to ease the vomiting and nausea symptoms. Your pet may be admitted to be hospitalised for intravenous fluids to ensure and maintain normal fluid and electrolyte balance, and to receive medications to relieve any abdominal pain and discomfort. 

Your vet may be able to give you a provisional diagnosis of pancreatitis based on your dog’s history and presenting symptoms. Various tests can be done to support their decision. These tests are likely to include a specific blood test called a canine pancreatic lipase test. Also, abdominal x‑rays and or an ultrasound scan may also be advised. 

Life expectancy for dogs diagnosed with pancreatitis is difficult to predict. In mild, uncomplicated cases, the prognosis is generally good, with most patients going on to make a full recovery. This is especially the case if high-fat diets and all human foods are then avoided. In more serious and recurring chronic pancreatitis cases, the prognosis can be more guarded with repeated episodes causing complicating factors such as single or multiple-organ failure. In the case of necrotising pancreatitis, a very severe and complicated form, portions of the pancreas and surrounding body tissues are destroyed. These severe cases require hospitalisation for urgent intensive care. 

Thankfully, little Eilidh had had a mild episode of pancreatitis and she recovered well after her treatments. She was now monitored closely and kept on a strict prescription diet to try to avoid any further episodes. 

If your dog is showing any symptoms of loss of appetite or vomiting, along with abdominal pain, please do contact your Vet clinic for an appointment. 


Alison Laurie-Chalmers,  

Senior Consultant,  

Crown Vets 

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