Understanding Pancreatitis in Dogs – What You Should Know

Pancreatitis is a serious and painful disease that can profoundly impact your dog’s health and quality of life. Learn to recognize the symptoms and understand the causes — and find out how it can be treated using an integrative approach.

Pancreatitis doesn’t just affect humans. It also occurs in dogs and causes painful inflammation in the pancreas. Any suspicion of this disease requires a visit to the vet — or in some cases, a trip to the closest emergency hospital. As a dog parent, you need to know the signs and causes of pancreatitis, and how it can be treated from an integrative medicine perspective.

WHAT DOES THE PANCREAS DO?

The pancreas is an organ that regulates blood sugar levels and aids in the digestion of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It produces insulin, which helps control glucose metabolism, as well as digestive enzymes that help break down food in the small intestine.

PANCREATITIS CAN HAVE A VARIETY OF CAUSES

Various factors, including dietary indiscretion, such as foods high in fat, can cause pancreatitis in dogs. Vets often see pancreatitis cases during the holidays when people feed their dogs fatty leftovers from their own meals.

NOTE: Some breeds are more susceptible to pancreatitis, such as miniature Schnauzers, Yorkshire terriers, and Shetland sheepdogs.

Other causes may include trauma, certain medications or toxins, infections, or underlying medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus and hyperlipidemia.

SYMPTOMS TO WATCH OUT FOR

If you notice any of the following signs in your dog, it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian. These symptoms can have several causes, but may also indicate pancreatitis, so a proper diagnosis is important:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain and/or bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Gums and whites of the eyes look yellow (jaundice)
  • In severe cases, difficulty breathing and low blood pressure

NOTE: Some dogs with abdominal pain may hunch their backs. This can be an involuntary response in which the dog’s stomach is pulled inward, causing the back to arch upwards. This posture can help the dog feel better.

THE INTEGRATIVE APPROACH TO PANCREATITIS

An integrative treatment plan for dogs with pancreatitis typically includes a combination of medications and dietary changes. The latter may include a low-fat diet that is easy to digest and contains high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Other supplements such as probiotics, herbs, and digestive enzymes may also be included, depending on the dog’s individual needs.

  1. Low-fat diet: A diet low in fat is a good idea for dogs diagnosed with pancreatitis because it can help reduce inflammation and irritation in the pancreas, and decrease the amount of fat metabolized by the pancreas. A low-fat diet may also help reduce symptoms associated with pancreatitis, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Furthermore, it may reduce other health risks associated with high-fat diets, such as obesity and diabetes.

Note: If your dog has pancreatitis, work with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to determine the best diet for him

  1. Prebiotics and probiotics: Pancreatitis disrupts the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut, so a dog with pancreatitis may benefit from prebiotics and probiotics to help restore that balance. Prebiotics and probiotics also reduce inflammation, a common symptom of pancreatitis.
  2. Herbs: Herbs such as slippery elm can relieve inflammation and reduce digestive problems. Slippery elm contains mucilage, which helps soothe and coat the digestive tract; acts as a demulcent by binding to irritating substances and aiding in their removal from the intestines; and reduces inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
  3. Gut Health Formula (formerly Gastriplex) from ThorneVet: This supplement contains bovine pancreatic enzymes that help with the digestion of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, etc. It also helps relieve abdominal discomfort and bloating associated with indigestion, and aids in the absorption of vitamins and minerals from food particles.
  4. Digestive enzymes: These help break down proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and other nutrients into small particles for easier absorption. They also replenish natural enzymes lost due to poor diet or age-related decline.

Note: Digestive enzymes can help reduce diarrhea, gas, and constipation.

Pancreatitis Can Be Acute or Chronic

Acute pancreatitis is a sudden and severe inflammation of the pancreas that can cause life-threatening complications. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can even led to death.

Chronic pancreatitis is when the inflammation doesn’t go away and worsens over time. Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are usually milder than those of acute pancreatitis. They may include abdominal pain, weight loss, and oily-looking stools. A dog with chronic pancreatitis may appear to have symptoms that wax and wane for long periods; he may even be asymptomatic.

HOW IS PANCREATITIS DIAGNOSED?

Pancreatitis in dogs is typically diagnosed with a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging tests, such as an abdominal ultrasound or x-ray:

  • A complete blood count (CBC) may be taken to look for signs of infection or inflammation.
  • A biochemical profile is also often done to measure the levels of enzymes released by the pancreas, such as amylase and lipase.
  • If blood test results are inconclusive, an abdominal ultrasound examination may be ordered to help diagnose pancreatitis.

If your vet doesn’t proactively ask for a lab test specific to pancreatitis, ask for a SNAP or Rapid cPL test, especially if you suspect your dog ate a food item that’s high in fat, which can trigger pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is a serious disease, but it is possible to successfully manage and treat it. A holistic or integrative veterinarian will help you address the underlying cause of the condition in your dog, and create a treatment plan tailored specifically for his individual needs.


Christine Caplan is a Certified Vet Tech, and a long-time PR veteran and content marketing expert who brings her unique understanding of social and digital media to connect dog lovers to brands both on and offline. She lives with three hounds – two “doxies” and a beagle/basset hound mix – who constantly teach her about life and companionship (mylifewithdogspdx.com).

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