Pancreatitis in Dogs

Pancreatitis in dogs

Ask a vet online about treatment of dog pancreatitis

The pancreas is a flat, thin organ located in the front of the abdomen of the dog, near the stomach, that contains two major types of cells. One group of cells (endocrine pancreas) produces hormones (insulin, glucagon) that regulate blood sugar, and the other group (exocrine pancreas) produces digestive enzymes that are released into the intestines to break down food.

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the exocrine part of the pancreas. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it becomes painful and swollen and may affect the stomach, small intestine, and liver. Swelling and irritation of the pancreas and these other organs are responsible for most of the clinical signs seen, which include vomiting, dehydration, painful abdomen, lethargy, and poor appetite.

Two forms of pancreatitis exist: acute and chronic. Dogs most commonly develop acute pancreatitis, but chronic pancreatitis can occur and is more common in some breeds than in others. In many cases, the cause of pancreatitis is unknown, but eating foods that are unusual (such as human food or garbage) or high in fat is known to increase the risk for acute pancreatitis. Other risk factors include obesity and the presence of diseases of the liver, small intestine, or endocrine diseases such as diabetes mellitus or hyperadrenocorticism.

Without treatment acute pancreatitis may be fatal, and in some cases it is still fatal even with the best of care. The prognosis for dogs with chronic pancreatitis is relatively good, especially if flare-ups can be controlled by low-fat dietary therapy.

Partial transcript of a question asked about pancreatitis by a pet owner:

Pet parent:

My dog has been diagnosed with pancreatitis. I want to ask a vet for a second opinion about treatment of pancreatitis in dogs. She is in the hospital and my vet wants to put a tub down her throat to feed her into her stomach. He said this may work, but we may have to go to IV feeding if it doesn’t. My question is, why would we try the tube feeding when it may make her pancreatitis even worse? Everything I’ve read says that we don’t want to stimulate the pancreas further so I don’t understand why my vet would want to feed her into her stomach when this may make the disease worse! Please help! I don’t know what to do.

Veterinarian’s answer:


I am sorry to hear about all that you and your dog are going through. In a way, both you and your veterinarian have valid points and I can understand your confusion. Let me try and explain where your veterinarian is coming from.

I have attached a detailed feeding article and some additional information below, but here is a summary of the current thoughts on feeding.

In the past, the veterinary profession thought it was best to withhold all food from dogs suffering from pancreatitis flare-ups for days and days. Nutrition was provided via an IV as to bypass the pancreas and allow it more time to heal and remain undisturbed. As more and more data became available on pancreatitis, this idea began to look worse and worse. Pets that were fed via an IV were more likely to develop a condition called “leaky gut syndrome,” in which the cells in the intestine start to atrophy and die without receiving nutrition directly absorbed from the instestines. When this happened, the barrier to keep the natural bacteria found inside the intestines was lowered, and infections spread systemically. This is known as sepsis, and in and of itself is a life-threatening situation. In other words, now we are not only dealing with pancreatitis, we’ve added one of the worst possible situations on top of it, making the pet’s chances of recovery much more dire.

Luckily, we have the option of providing the pet with nutrition without the negative consequences associated with IV, or paraenteral feeding. This is known as enteral feeding. There is evidence that pancreatic secretions are suppressed during an attack of pancreatitis, so food delivered in this manner stimulates the pancreas less than we used to believe, while it helps maintain the health of the gastrointestinal tract and decrease inflammation and adverse side effects.

If enteral feeding does cause the vomiting to continue, which it can thought it is not common, the next best step is to place the tube directly into a part of the small intestine called the jejunum. This usually resolves any vomiting, and again is much better for the patient. IV feeding should only be used as a last resort option when these other two ways to deliver food have failed.

I hope this helps explain things. I think your vet is on the right course and you are in very capable hands. Best of luck with your dog, and hang in there! Let me know if you have any additional questions.

Best regards,

Dr. Laci