Pancreatitis in Dogs

The canine pancreas is an organ that is located next to the stomach and first part of the small intestines.  It is composed of 2Pancreatitis in Dogs parts: the smaller endocrine portion, which is responsible for secreting hormones such as insulin and glucagon, and the larger exocrine portion, which produces enzymes that help digest food.

Canine pancreatitis is a condition of inflammation within the pancreas.  In a normal canine pancreas the digestive enzymes are stored in granules before they are released into the small intestines.  Pancreatitis occurs when the digestive enzymes are activated within the pancreas and cause auto digestion.  This causes inflammation within the pancreas which spreads to the stomach, intestines, and liver due to their proximity to the pancreas.  If there is severe pancreatitis the inflammation can spread throughout the entire body.

Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs

There are various causes of canine pancreatitis.  However, there are many cases of pancreatitis that are determined to be idiopathic (no cause can be found). The following are a list of underlying causes of canine pancreatitis:

1. Drugs – L-asparaginase and azathioprine (chemotherapy), potassium bromide (anti-seizure),Pancreatitis and Dogs prednisone (anti-inflammatory), and sulfa containing antibiotics.
2. Minature Schnauzers are a breed that appear to be predisposed to pancreatitis.  They are also a breed that are susceptible to developing hyperlipidemia (high circulating fat levels) which is a predisposing factor to developing pancreatitis.
3. Endocrine conditions – Hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus
4. Hypercalcemia (high calcium level in blood) often secondary to parathyroid tumor or cancer.
5. Trauma

Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs

The most common signs of canine pancreatitis are vomiting, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, and lethargy.  Although these are classic signs of canine pancreatitis it is important to realize there are other conditions that can cause these signs in dogs.  To diagnose pancreatitis your veterinarian will need to perform diagnostic tests on your dog.

Diagnosing Pancreatitis in Dogs

A complete blood count, chemistry profile, and urinalysis will provide your veterinarian with a baseline.  This will allow your veterinarian to determine if your dog has other conditions, such as kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, or liver disease, that might be causing your dog to be sick.

Lipase and amylase are enzymes that are measured on routine blood chemistry panels and although they are pancreatic enzymes they are not reliable markers of pancreatitis in the dog.  This is because they are also produced in other organs.  There are, however, tests (SNAP cPL and Spec cPL) that can measure the level of specific canine pancreatic lipase in the blood.  These tests are more reliable in determining if there is pancreatitis because they only measure the lipase from theTreating Pancreatitis in Dogs pancreas.

The ideal imaging test for canine pancreatitis is ultrasound.  This is a very important test when evaluating for pancreatitis.  If pancreatitis is present the pancreas will appear thickened and have the appearance of inflammation within and around the pancreas.  Abdominal radiographs (xrays) are not useful in making a diagnosis of pancreatitis.

Treatment of Pancreatitis in Dogs

The treatment for canine pancreatitis is hospitalization, intravenous fluid, anti-vomiting medication, pain medication, and possibly antibiotics.  Previously the belief was that in order for canine pancreatitis to resolve the dog must be fasted for extended periods of time.  The thought was without any food or water going into the gastrointestinal tract the pancreas would not be stimulated and therefore the inflammation would resolve.  More recently this approach has been questioned given that people with pancreatitis have shorter hospital stays and less complications when they are fed earlier in the course of their treatment.  When a dog with pancreatitis is fed it is very important that they only eat low fat food.  This diet should also be continued at home as a preventative measure for pancreatitis.

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Dr Peter Nurre

Peter Nurre, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include internal medicine and cardiology.

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