About 1.5% of all dogs population get some form of an exocrine pancreatic disorder during their lifetime. Most of these are pancreatitis cases, with only a small percentage being caused by other disorders such as pancreatic tumors or cysts.
While any dog can develop pancreatitis, there are certain breeds that seem to be more prone to the condition. Breeds at a higher risk include:
- Miniature Schnauzers
- Yorkshire Terriers
- Poodles (all sizes)
- Cocker Spaniels
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherds
Symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs can be divided into two categories: early physical signs and other clinical symptoms. Early physical signs are those that are directly related to the pancreas itself, while clinical symptoms are those that result from the pancreas malfunctioning.
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What is pancreatitis exactly? How do vets describe it?
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a small, pear-shaped gland that is located in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach. It has two main functions: producing digestive enzymes and secreting insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels).
When the pancreas becomes inflamed, these functions are disrupted and can lead to a variety of different symptoms. In severe cases, pancreatitis can be life-threatening.
There are two main types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis is a sudden onset of inflammation that is often short-lived ( resolved within a few days). Chronic pancreatitis is a more long-term form of inflammation that can cause irreversible damage to the pancreas.
What causes pancreatitis in dogs?
There are many potential causes of pancreatitis in dogs, but the exact cause is often unknown. Potential causes include:
- Viral infections (such as parvovirus or adenovirus)
- Bacterial infections (such as salmonella, E. coli, or Streptococcus)
- Fungal infections
- Protozoal infections
- Exposure to certain toxins or medications (such as corticosteroids, estrogen, or tetracycline antibiotics)
- Abdominal trauma
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Pancreatic pseudocysts
- Autoimmune diseases
- Genetic disposition
- Obesity is also a risk factor for pancreatitis, as fat deposits in the pancreas can lead to inflammation. Dogs who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop pancreatitis, and the condition is often more severe in these dogs.
What are the early physical signs of pancreatitis in dogs?
The most common early physical sign of pancreatitis is abdominal pain. This can range from mild discomfort to severe pain that causes your dog to cry or whine when touched. You may also notice that your dog is reluctant to move or walk, and may adopt a hunched-over position.
Other early physical signs of pancreatitis include:
- Loss of appetite
If your dog is showing any of these signs, it’s important to contact your veterinarian right away. Early diagnosis and treatment of pancreatitis is crucial for a good outcome.
What are the other clinical symptoms?
As pancreatitis progresses, other clinical symptoms may develop. These include:
- Weight loss
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Ascites (fluid accumulation in the abdomen)
- Respiratory distress
If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, it is considered a medical emergency and you should bring them to the vet immediately.
How to keep an eye on the symptoms: The best way to observe at home
The best way to observe your dog for signs of pancreatitis is to pay attention to their daily routine and look for any changes. This includes things like their energy level, appetite, and bathroom habits.
If you notice any changes in your dog’s behavior, or they start showing any of the signs listed above, contact your veterinarian right away.
How is pancreatitis diagnosed in dogs?
If your dog is showing any signs of pancreatitis, the first step is to contact your veterinarian. They will likely recommend bringing your dog in for a physical examination and may also recommend some or all of the following tests:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Biochemical profile
- Abdominal radiographs (X-rays)
- Abdominal ultrasound
- CT scan or MRI
- Pancreatic biopsy
These tests can help to confirm a diagnosis of pancreatitis and rule out other potential causes of your dog’s symptoms.
How is pancreatitis treated in dogs?
Treatment for pancreatitis depends on the severity of the condition. For mild cases, treatment may be as simple as rest and supportive care at home. This may include a bland diet, fluids to prevent dehydration, and pain medication.
For more severe cases, hospitalization and intensive care may be necessary. Treatment may include IV fluids, pain medication, antibiotics, antacids, and nutrition support. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged tissue or to drain pseudocysts.
What is the prognosis for dogs with pancreatitis?
The prognosis for dogs with pancreatitis depends on the severity of the condition. For dogs with mild pancreatitis, the prognosis is generally good and most dogs make a full recovery.
For dogs with more severe pancreatitis, the prognosis is less favorable. Some dogs may require long-term treatment or may not recover fully from the condition. In some cases, pancreatitis can be fatal.
Preventing Pancreatitis in Dogs
There are some things that you can do to help prevent pancreatitis in your dog. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding excessive fat in the diet
- Avoiding certain medications or toxins that may trigger the condition
- Regular check-ups with your veterinarian
If your dog is at risk for pancreatitis, working with your veterinarian to develop a plan to prevent the condition can help to keep your dog healthy and avoid potentially serious complications.
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Hi there! My name is Ben Domb, an owner of two pets and I am one of the co-founders of OurPets HQ. I have several years of experience as a pet care professional in the New England region having spent time in various roles including a stint at a veterinary hospital in Upstate New York, Syracuse area. I am a certified pet care professional and mostly spend my time researching pet nutrition and sharing my thoughts in various blogs and columns. With quarantine and COVID restrictions, I have been spending a lot of time a lot with my dogs and cat and loving it! I also run a small consulting business providing advice to parents on pet nutrition, and especially safe homemade options to try. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org