image of a sick dog with text - Pancreatitis In Dogs - Symptoms, Prevention and Causes

Pancreatitis In Dogs: Understand The Symptoms, Treatment And Causes

You Love Your Dog And Don’t Want To Lose Her: If She Has A Combination Of These Symptoms, Get Her Checked Immediately

Is your dog vomiting and no longer wants to eat? Maybe she seems to be in pain? It might be nothing to worry about, but it could be pancreatitis. Pancreatitis in dogs is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition.

As always, this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but rather, to help you make informed decisions to improve your dog’s health and wellbeing. Please, always seek your vet’s opinion, especially in the case of your dog being ill. 

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When my dog, Toxa, vomited a couple of times in a day, I wasn’t too worried: she vomits from time to time and it usually passes with no significant consequences.

Also, we had just moved house that same weekend, so I thought that the stress of the move might have upset her.

However, when she continued to vomit for 2 days running, I started to worry. On the morning of day 3, she no longer wanted to eat and I saw her stretching out in the prayer position – a symptom of stomach pain – and then later she went and laid in a corner in the garden.

I didn’t know at the time that these were typical signs of pancreatitis in dogs. I’ve had dogs all my life and until that point I’d been lucky enough to never have a dog suffer from it.

Pancreatitis IS NOT a condition you should try to treat yourself with homemade remedies: there are many things that us pet parents can do to avoid or manage pancreatitis in dogs, but if your dog is unfortunate enough to suffer an acute pancreatitis attack, please, turn to your vet immediately.

WHAT IS PANCREATITIS?

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. Why is this a problem? Let’s understand the role of the pancreas first.

The pancreas produces enzymes that are necessary for the digestion of food. The 3 enzymes that concern us most with respect to pancreatitis are:
Lipase – for digesting fat
Amylase – for digesting carbohydrates
Protease – for digesting protein

Under normal conditions, the enzymes are ONLY activated once they reach the intestines.

However, in pancreatitis, the enzymes activate as soon as they are produced, which causes damage to the pancreas itself and the surrounding tissue and organs.

The pancreas becomes inflamed and can even start to be digested by its own enzymes. It is an extremely painful condition which can, in worst-case scenarios, result in loss of life.

CHRONIC AND ACUTE PANCREATITIS

There are 2 forms of pancreatitis: chronic and acute. Either form can present as mild or severe.

Furthermore, the 2 forms are not mutually exclusive. Dogs that have chronic pancreatitis might suffer bouts of acute pancreatitis. Likewise, if your dog suffers from an acute pancreatitis, it may well lead to chronic pancreatitis afterwards.

CHRONIC PANCREATITIS

This is an ongoing, lower-level inflammation, that can often be managed by careful diet and is it usually less severe than acute pancreatitis.

ACUTE PANCREATITIS

Acute pancreatitis comes on quickly and your dog – like mine – may never have suffered from it before.

In acute cases, hospitalisation is likely to be necessary, as your dog will need to be on a drip to prevent dehydration and flush out toxins. Medication will be administered to stop her from vomiting (antiemetics) and to relieve her pain (analgesics).

Your dog might also be prescribed antibiotics to manage any potential infections.

In very severe cases, where the pancreas has been damaged or blocked, surgery may be required.

image of a sick dog with text - Pancreatitis In Dogs - How to help your dog

SYMPTOMS OF PANCREATITIS IN DOGS

Common symptoms of acute pancreatitis include

  • Repeated vomiting
  • Doesn’t want to eat
  • Signs of abdominal pain
  • Lies in a corner and doesn’t want to get up
  • Depression
  • Diarrhoea

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF A DOG HAS PANCREATITIS?

A blood test should be done when pancreatitis is suspected. This will measure, amongst other things, the levels of the amylase and lipase pancreatic enzymes, and a high level of these enzymes is one element of a positive diagnosis of pancreatitis.

Your vet may detect it with just the blood test, but in some cases an ultrasound is necessary too – this can also identify other, complicating conditions.

My lovely girl was displaying many of the symptoms of acute pancreatitis. Knowing what I know now, I should have taken her to the vet earlier, as soon as she started to show signs of stomach pain.

image of a sick dog with text - Stomach Pain In Dogs - Symptoms

SIGNS OF ABDOMINAL PAIN IN DOGS

If your dog has stomach pains, you may see one, or several, of these symptoms:

  • Restlessness – or – not wanting to move
  • Hunching (arching) the back
  • The prayer position (the chest down to the ground with front legs stretched out in front, and the rear up in the air)
  • Crying, whining or whimpering

WHAT CAUSES PANCREATITIS IN DOGS?

There are several known causes of pancreatitis, the most common being what your dog eats.

Ask most vets and they will tell you that Christmas and the Holidays are the most common times for cases of acute pancreatitis, as pet parents ‘treat’ their dogs to unhealthy snacks, cookies and fatty foods like turkey skin.

Whilst I do cook lean meat for my dogs as treats, they don’t get fatty table scraps and nor do they get wheat-based dog treats. There’s no way of knowing what my dog might have found and eaten in the garden of our new home though.

Other known causes of pancreatitis include trauma, infection, hypercalcemia (too much calcium), and certain drugs and toxins, some of which are found in tick and flea treatments and vaccinations.

Stress has also been cited as a possible cause, so I wondered whether the recent house move might have been responsible for my girl’s acute pancreatitis. I will never know what the actual cause was in her case.

There is still much that is not known about other causes of pancreatitis. Indeed, there may be multiple causes.

Any type of dog might suffer from pancreatitis, but it is more common in females than males. Age is also a factor; it is more common in middle-aged and older dogs.

It is also more common in overweight dogs. Inactive dogs are more likely to suffer from it too, so clearly adequate exercise and a healthy weight are important in prevention.

Certain breeds are more prone to it, including miniature schnauzers, yorkshire terriers, miniature poodles and cocker spaniels.

PREVENTING PANCREATITIS IN DOGS

Considering some of the potential causes of pancreatitis, there are clearly some things that we pet parents can do to limit the chance of our dogs having pancreatitis.

We can make sure they get adequate exercise, are not overweight, and not over-vaccinated (rather than automatically vaccinate annually, get a titre test done to see if a vaccination is required).

Diet is also key.

BEST FOOD OR DIET FOR DOGS WITH PANCREATITIS

If your dog has chronic pancreatitis, there are plenty of brands that offer a diet specifically for dogs with pancreatitis. However, it is well worth speaking to a holistic vet or dog nutritionist who will help you make the right, long-term dietary choices for your dog.

Many brands of dry dog food (kibble) have a very high percentage of carbohydrates, as they use things like potato, wheat and rice as cheap fillers. Raw-fed dogs, on the other hand, do not have a high intake of carbs.

A high carb diet is not good for even a healthy dog, as it has many potentially unhealthy consequences. So, if you feed kibble to a dog that has pancreatitis, you are unfortunately creating more, not less, work for her strained and inflamed pancreas.

To relieve strain on the pancreas during a period of acute pancreatitis in your dog, you should be opting for a diet that is low in fat, but also low in carbohydrates and not too high in protein either.

If you are in the UK, I highly recommend Bella & Duke 100% natural raw dog food.

They have several options suitable for dogs with pancreatitis.

Use this code to get it with a 50% DISCOUNT:

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WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE WORRIED YOUR DOG HAS PANCREATITIS

This is not a condition to ‘guess’ about and try to handle yourself. If your dog is displaying some of the symptoms listed above, you need to take her to see the vet.

HOW DO YOU TREAT PANCREATITIS IN DOGS?

Pancreatitis is potentially a very serious condition which must be treated by a vet in the first instance. Your vet may then help you draw up a controlled management plan to put into practice at home, once your dog is beginning to recover.

image of a sick dog with text - Pancreatitis In Dogs - How to help your dog

HOW TO COMFORT A DOG WITH PANCREATITIS

You might feel that being with you at home is the best place for your dog if she is unfortunate enough to have acute pancreatitis – I know that initially I was hoping that my dog wasn’t going to need hospitalisation.

However, in acute, severe cases, hospitalisation may be the only way to help your dog get better. She will need an IV, injectable medication and professional monitoring – things that a pet parent is simply not able to provide in the home.

Once she is better enough to leave hospital, follow your vet’s guidelines in terms of ongoing medication and care. Be sure she has somewhere comfortable at home where she can rest undisturbed.

It might be unrelated, but in Toxa’s case she seemed to be very cold, especially her paws, and she benefitted from having a blanket over her.

She was very clingy and didn’t want to be on her own. I needed to take time off work so that I could be at home and help her recover.

Make sure that you observe your dog when she goes outside to toilet – you need to know if she still has diarrhoea, if she is still vomiting, and you need to ensure she doesn’t eat anything that she finds on the ground.

If she does have diarrhoea, get some puppy pads in case she has a toilet accident in the house. Even house-trained, adult dogs can have accidents when they are really poorly.

If you need to pick her up while she is ill – and in the period afterwards, while she is recovering – make sure you don’t put pressure on her abdomen. This article explains the best way to pick up a dog, from toy size to giants.

WHAT TO AVOID FOR A DOG WITH PANCREATITIS

CERTAIN FOOD

First and foremost, in the case of acute pancreatitis, very fatty food should be avoided at all costs. Food that is high in fat will simply further inflame the pancreas. In the case of an acute pancreatitis in your dog, look for dog food with 2.5% or lower fat content.

One thing I learned when I started to research food and acute pancreatitis, was that probiotics should be avoided during a period of acute pancreatitis. Under normal conditions, my dogs get daily probiotics.

However, although some studies on people suffering from pancreatitis showed that probiotics could be beneficial, other studies have shown that probiotics can severely complicate a patient’s recovery, even leading to a higher mortality rate. So, given the doubt, I avoided giving her probiotics while she was suffering, and recovering from, acute pancreatitis.

WITHHOLDING FOOD FOR MORE THAN 48 HOURS

In the past, a common management method for pancreatitis in dogs was to withhold food for 3 days or more. Whilst withholding food for at least 24 hours is still recommended by some vets (this gives the pancreas a rest), withholding it for more than 48 hours is no longer recommended at all.

Studies show that the recovery time can be reduced if food is given in small amounts, and more regularly (think ‘little and often’) after 24 hours.

What’s more, a consequence of withholding food for more than 48 hours is the increased likelihood of ‘leaky gut’ syndrome.

Even if your dog is on a drip and getting nutrients through the IV, you still need to get some food in her intestines if she’s not eaten for 48 hours. If, like my dog, your dog is refusing to eat, one method to get food into her gut is to use a syringe (no needle attached!) and gently squirt some blended, liquid food down her throat. Your vet will advise on the best way to do this, how much and how often.

DRUGS THAT ARE BAD FOR DOGS WITH PANCREATITIS

Some vets advise not using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – in some studies they have been shown to cause gastric ulceration and kidney and liver damage.

AN EXAMPLE OF ACUTE PANCREATITIS IN DOGS: MY DOG’S CASE

Here is a day-by-day breakdown of my dog, Toxa’s, case.

DAY 1: She vomited a couple of times after each meal, within around half an hour after eating. She is fed twice a day and is fed on a raw food diet.

DAY 2: She vomited after eating, same as yesterday.

DAY 3: She refused breakfast and I saw her stretching out in the prayer position – a symptom of stomach pain – and then later she went and laid in a corner in the garden. She was drinking a lot of water.

I took her to the vet. They gave her medication to stop her vomiting and a powerful pain killer injection. They did a blood test and made a positive diagnosis of acute pancreatitis: her amylase and lipase enzyme levels were sky high.

She slept for the much of the evening and into the night (the pain killer made her rather dopey). However, she continued to display signs of abdominal pain.

She wasn’t vomiting, but she had no interest in eating either. She continued to drink a lot of water, and she began to dribble a lot, a possible sign of nausea.

DAY 4: I took her back to the vet and they gave her tramadol tablets for me to administer for continued pain relief. However, I saw absolutely no benefit from this, as poor Toxa continued to show signs of abdominal pain. She continued to refuse food.

DAY 5: We returned to the vet and she was hospitalised. She was put on IV fluids, and given strong pain relief (methadone) injections and anti-sickness medication.

DAY 6: She was still refusing food in the morning and she developed diarrhoea, a common consequence of pancreatitis. She ate a very small amount later in the day: she wasn’t interested in most food but did eat a little turkey breast and rabbit.

I made some bone broth (get the recipe here) and mixed it with cooked turkey breast and rabbit to make it into a runny, liquid food.

DAY 7: She ate little and often, actively looking for food later in the day. She was drinking plenty of water, but not as excessively. She played a little bit with a toy (she is usually very playful, so this was a positive sign).

DAY 8: From her behaviour, she seemed almost back to normal, wanting to play at every opportunity. She drank water – a little more than normal, but less than in previous days – and was clearly hungry, looking for food.

We continued with ‘little and often’ and I added in a small amount of her Bella & Duke ready-made, raw mince food which has a fat content of 2.5%.

If you are in the UK, I highly recommend Bella & Duke 100% natural raw dog food.

They have several options suitable for dogs with pancreatitis.

Use this code to get it with a 50% DISCOUNT:

c56173f

image of a sick dog with text - Pancreatitis In Dogs - Know the symptoms and help your dog

CONCLUSION

Pancreatitis – especially acute, severe pancreatitis – is a serious, life-threatening illness that needs to be managed by a vet. Common symptoms include repeated vomiting along with abdominal pain. Diet is key in prevention, recovery and control. There are many causes, including too much fatty food.

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REFERENCES

Whole Dog Journal

Dogs Naturally

Dogs First

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