What Causes Pancreatitis Problems in Dogs?

High-fat diets can trigger pancreatitis.
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Canine pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed and swollen because of digestive enzymes invading pancreatic tissue. The disorder is more prevalent in overweight dogs; miniature schnauzers are highly susceptible to the condition. Anti-seizure and chemotherapy medications can sometimes cause pancreatitis, as can elevated levels of fat or calcium in the blood. Hyperthyroidism also is linked to pancreatitis, as is a high-fat diet. In fact, a bout of pancreatitis can be brought on by your pup eating even one high-fat meal.


Symptoms of acute canine pancreatitis include an unwillingness to eat, lethargy, severe abdominal discomfort, and in some cases, diarrhea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration. In extreme cases, your dog may go into shock or collapse. Chronic pancreatitis presents with lesser degrees of these same symptoms. If your dog suddenly begins to throw up and shows signs of severe stomach pain, take him to a vet immediately. Prompt treatment is essential, and these same symptoms can be an indication of bloat or gastric dilatation-volvulus, a potentially fatal condition if not addressed in short order.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A vet typically can diagnose pancreatitis through blood tests and X-rays or ultrasound, but the most definitive diagnostic tool is biopsy. Your vet usually will treat your dog’s pancreatitis by controlling pain and maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance. In severe cases, a blood transfusion may be helpful. A low-fat diet is often prescribed as well.


Pancreatitis can lead to or exacerbate diabetes, which typically requires vet-prescribed insulin therapy. Late-stage pancreatitis, referred to as necrotizing or hemorrhagic pancreatitis, requires aggressive medical intervention and is often fatal. Secondary infections can complicate pancreatitis, and must be addressed with antibiotic treatment.


Maintain your dog’s weight and feed him a low-fat diet. Some vets prescribe the equivalent of human cholesterol medication to control bloodstream lipid levels. A dog that experiences one bout of pancreatitis is susceptible to future occurrences. To guard against pancreatitis, avoid giving your dog high-fat human food, such as ham or bacon. Vets often see cases of pancreatitis rise after a food-related holiday when well-meaning pet owners give their dog fatty human “treats.”


The signs of pancreatitis are similar to numerous other canine disorders. If your dog begins to show signs of fatigue, an inability to eat or keep down food or difficulty moving or breathing, consult your vet as soon as possible. Many conditions are treatable and manageable if caught early.