Primer On Pancreatitis

Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD
and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, which is found in the right side of the abdomen. 

The pancreas has two vital functions: to produce hormones such as insulin and to produce enzymes that help in digestion of food. Dogs of any age, sex, or breed, and occasionally cats, can get pancreatitis.

The exact cause is not known, although it is often associated with corticosteroids or rich, fatty diets.

When your dog's pancreas becomes inflamed, digestive enzymes can spill into the abdomen, which can damage nearby organs, such as the liver, bile ducts, gall bladder, or intestines.

Pancreatitis can occur suddenly in either a mild or severe form. 

Dogs that recover from sudden episodes can also continue to have bouts of illness that return repeatedly.

Signs of pancreatitis in dogs or cats often vary and can depend on the other organs involved.

Typical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain.

Severe attacks can cause shock, collapse, and even death.

Diagnosis is based on physical signs, laboratory tests, and x-rays or ultrasound. Ddiagnosis can be difficult, and your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist or veterinary teaching hospital.

Management of pancreatitis depends on early diagnosis and prompt treatment. 

Withholding oral fluids and food can let the pancreas "rest." Your dog will likely need to be on intravenous fluids for a few days. Anti-inflammatory medications are sometimes prescribed. Dogs that are in shock from a severe attack of pancreatitis need emergency treatment with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and other medications.

Prognosis depends on how much of the pancreas has been affected, how severe the inflammation is, and how your dog responds to initial treatment. 

Dogs that have severe or repeated attacks can develop long-term problems. For example, damage to the pancreas can result in a lack of digestive enzymes, so these must be replaced by enzyme tablets or powder given daily with food. Severe or chronic pancreatitis can also result in diabetes because the pancreas can no longer produce insulin.


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Related articles:
The Perplexities of Pancreatitis 
The House Is On Fire! Bridget's Pancreatitis
Holistic Look At Pancreatitis
Dog With Pancreatitis In Critical Condition
The Project That Is Cookie: Pancreatitis Up Close And Personal 
Pancreatitis: Cookie’s Blood Work 


  1. When I was younger I had a Rat Terrier die from an acute attack of pancreatitis. She was so small and it happened so suddenly, it was quite traumatic.

    1. Hi Jenna, so sorry about your pup. Yes, this CAN be deadly. If you'd like his story published, let me know.


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