Pet Care Blog

Pancreatitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Dr. Ricky Walther
sick dog lying on couch

The warning signs of pancreatitis in dogs may not always be obvious at first or they might be mistaken for a less serious disease - and yet, the condition could still be life-threatening.

So, if your canine companion tends to indulge in fatty foods or is genetically predisposed to pancreatitis, you might want to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of this condition in dogs.

Pro tip: Pancreatitis can be a very expensive condition to treat, especially if your dog suffers from a severe case. Thousands of dollars in diagnosis and intensive care treatment might be necessary, depending on the severity of the disease. Pet insurance can help cover these expenses. Look for a policy that reimburses at least part of the costs of a therapeutic diet in case it is needed as part of your dog’s treatment plan.

What Is Pancreatitis? What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs? Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs How Is Pancreatitis in Dogs Diagnosed? How to Treat Pancreatitis in Dogs Moderate or mild pancreatitis Severe pancreatitis What Is the Prognosis? Can Pancreatitis Be Prevented? Final Words

Pancreatitis in dog (Image source: American Kennel Club)

What Is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis in dogs occurs when the pancreas is inflamed and swollen. It is caused by the early, inappropriate activation of a digestive enzyme within the pancreas due to pancreatic damage. This causes the pancreas to digest itself. The enzymes destroy the pancreatic tissue and cause damage to the nearby organs as well.

There are two forms of pancreatitis in canines:

  • Acute pancreatitis, which usually comes on suddenly, with no previous signs of the condition before. If the inflammation spreads, it can also affect other organs. Acute pancreatitis can quickly lead to chronic systemic inflammation (SI), shock, and even death, and for that reason, it must be treated aggressively and as soon as signs are seen.

  • Chronic pancreatitis develops slowly, over time, and often without symptoms. This condition can cause permanent changes in the pancreatic tissue. Chronic manifestations of the condition include diabetes (about 30% to 40% of canines with diabetes also have pancreatitis) or more rarely, [exocrine pancreatic insufficiency](" Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital") (loss of digestive enzyme production).

Even though these two forms of the disease often can’t be differentiated clinically, the symptoms of acute pancreatitis are usually more severe.

What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?

In 90% of cases, the cause of pancreatitis in canines is unknown, but there are certain things that might trigger it:

  • Fatty foods. Eating high-fat foods, especially human foods such as fatty pieces of meat, uncooked bacon, gravy, poultry skin, or too much peanut butter.

  • Drugs that are known to cause inflammation of the pancreas include, but are not limited to, some antibiotics, the anti-seizure drug potassium bromide, as well as those used in chemotherapy treatments.

  • Hormonal imbalance, most commonly hypothyroidism, high calcium levels, and diabetes.

  • Pancreatic duct obstruction or backflow, i.e. blockage or reflux of the enzyme ducts in the pancreas.

  • Blunt trauma to the pancreas, such as a car accident or a fall from a height.

  • Some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to pancreatitis, like Miniature Schnauzers, who are prone to problems with high triglycerides, and English Cocker Spaniels, who tend to suffer from immune-mediated diseases, where the immune system might attack the pancreas. Other breeds prone to pancreatitis are Miniature Poodles, as well as some Terrier breeds. Small breed dogs, in general, are more likely to suffer episodes of pancreatitis. Overweight and older pups might also be more susceptible to pancreatitis.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs

As we mentioned earlier, pancreatitis can present as a long-term illness (chronic pancreatitis) or as a sudden-onset illness (acute pancreatitis).

In general, chronic pancreatitis is less common in dogs than acute pancreatitis. The most common clinical signs of chronic pancreatitis include:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy

Dogs with acute pancreatitis usually show more serious symptoms like:

  • Persistent vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe lethargy
  • Severe dehydration
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hunched back
  • Fever
  • Shock

If your canine companion exhibits one of these symptoms, and only from time to time, be sure to keep an eye on them. However, if they exhibit multiple symptoms at once and more frequently, call your vet as soon as possible.

Pancreatitis in Dogs cartoon showing healthy pancreas versus inflamed pancreas (Image source: Australian Dog Lover)

How Is Pancreatitis in Dogs Diagnosed?

When performing a physical exam to diagnose pancreatitis, your vet will ask about your pet’s medical history and check their stomach, heart, gums, and temperature.

Pancreatitis can be hard to diagnose because, in many cases, the symptoms aren’t specific to the pancreas, which means that routine blood work won’t always be helpful. If the vet suspects your pet has pancreatitis, they might recommend a pancreatic-specific test called specific canine pancreatic lipase (SPEC cPL), in addition to full screening blood work, which detects 83% of pancreatitis cases in dogs.

X-rays aren’t very helpful either, but if the dog is vomiting persistently, abdominal X-rays are used to rule out a potential obstruction of the intestines or stomach caused by a foreign body (something your pooch has eaten).

Ultrasound only detects 68 percent of cases of pancreatitis, but it also gives an opportunity to look at other organs and potentially catch additional complicating factors.

How to Treat Pancreatitis in Dogs

Moderate or mild pancreatitis

Dogs with moderate to mild pancreatitis might be hospitalized for one or a couple of days for IV fluid therapy to help with dehydration. In some cases, the vet might decide that the fluid should be administered subcutaneously (under the skin). This is more common in mild cases of pancreatitis.

Dogs with mild to moderate pancreatitis are also treated with pain-relief medication, stomach protectants, and anti nausea medication. Typically, a low-fat diet is prescribed during the recovery period. A permanent change in diet might be recommended in canines with a previous history of pancreatitis or predisposed breeds.

In general, patients with mild or moderate pancreatitis recover in 1-2 weeks. The cost will depend on the treatment: if the dog is treated as an outpatient, the cost will be around $500-1000, but if they’re hospitalized for several days, the cost can reach upwards of $1500-2500.

Severe pancreatitis

Dogs with severe acute pancreatitis usually require more extensive treatment and hospitalization that can last for several days or even weeks. The treatment might include:

  • Pain-control measures
  • Intensive intravenous fluid and electrolyte support
  • Stomach-protectant medications
  • Antinausea medications
  • Antibiotics
  • Nutritional support (feeding tube)

Patients with severe pancreatitis are often critical and are best treated at emergency and specialist referral centers. . If your vet feels that your dog’s case of pancreatitis is severe they may send you to one of these other clinics for treatment. The cost is estimated at about $2000-5000 but can go much higher if they require long term hospitalization.

Pro tip: Pancreatitis is expensive to treat, especially if it's chronic. Having dog insurance will take the monetary stress that comes with vet bills off of your mind and allow you to focus on your pet’s care.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis for canines with pancreatitis will largely depend on the severity of the condition and the response to initial therapy. In general, the earlier the diagnosis and treatment, the more positive the outcome.

Most of the mild to moderate forms of pancreatitis have a fair prognosis with aggressive treatment.

The prognosis for patients with severe pancreatitis is poor, which means the risk of death is high. These dogs can die from a severe inflammatory condition that affects the whole body and can lead to multiple organ failure.

Dogs that have recovered from a pancreatitis episode (or repeated episodes) might develop scarring within the pancreatic tissue, which can lead to diabetes and/or EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency).

If left untreated, pancreatitis might progress to the hemorrhagic form and the dog might suffer severe consequences, including sudden death.

Can Pancreatitis Be Prevented?

Dietary management is the best approach to reduce the possibility of pancreatitis recurrence. Lower protein, lower fat, and low allergen diets have all been recommended for dogs with pancreatitis.

Resist the temptation to treat your pooch to human foods, even on special occasions, and make sure your garbage is secure.

A study of pancreatitis in humans suggests that vitamin C, vitamin E (with selenium), methionine, and beta-carotene might help prevent pancreatitis. However, the efficacy of these in dogs is not well known. Always consult your vet before offering any supplements to your furry friend.

Final Words

Unfortunately, once a dog has suffered a pancreatitis episode, the chances of recurrence are high. The best way to prevent this is to be on the look-out for warning signs and control your dog’s diet. Don’t let your pooch become obese (keep them away from high-fat food and make sure they exercise).

Being a responsible and knowledgeable dog owner will help you reduce the risk of pancreatitis, recognize the symptoms when it strikes, and make sure to manage it accordingly.

Do you want to find the best pet insurance?

Let's analyze your pet's breed, age, and location to find the right coverage and the best savings. Ready?

Analyze My Pet

About Pawlicy Advisor

The pet insurance marketplace endorsed by veterinarians, at Pawlicy Advisor we make buying the best pet insurance easier. By comparing personalized coverage and pricing differences we can save you a ton of money, up to 83% in some instances!

Pawlicy Advisor helping a pet parent and their dog find a great deal on insurance

Instantly Compare Pet Insurance Plans

Get Quotes


How Pet Insurance Works

How To Compare Plans

Determine If Pet Insurance Is Worth It

Determine If Wellness Plans Are Worth It

Vet Visit Costs

New Puppy Checklist

Comparison Charts

ASPCA vs. Pets Best

Pets Best vs. Embrace

Embrace vs. Pumpkin

Pumpkin vs. MetLife

More Comparison Charts

Find Your State

New Jersey





New York



More States

Dog Insurance

German Shepherd




English Bulldog

French Bulldog

Great Dane





More Breeds

Ricky Walther, DVM

Dr. Ricky Walther

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

More you might like

X-ray of Hip Dysplasia in Dog
7 minute read
Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention
dog eating a nut
5 minute read
3 Types of Nuts That Are Safe for Dogs to Eat
growing corgi puppies
7 minute read
Corgi Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
poodle puppy playing on the floor
8 minute read
Poodle Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
increased pot belly of a dog with cushing disease
6 minute read
Cushing Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment, and How to Save on Costs
Dog reaching into picnic basket for food
8 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Almonds?
dogs looking at a dish of pistachios
5 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Pistachios? Here Are The Risks!
human's hand feeding dog a carrot
6 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Carrots? Everything You Need to Know
puppy eats peanut butter off of a spoon
8 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Peanut Butter? Only If It's Xylitol-Free
dog eating banana from woman's hand
6 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Bananas: Everything You Need to Know
growing pug puppy
7 minute read
Pug Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
Jack Russel carrying apply in mouth
6 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Apples? Here's Everything You Need to Know
Golden Retriever looking at a pile of mangoes
5 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Mango? Here's Everything You Need to Know
growing akita puppy
7 minute read
Akita Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
growing great dane puppy
8 minute read
Great Dane Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
dog with broccoli in mouth
7 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Broccoli? Here's Every thing You Need To Know
golden retriever puppy eating watermelon
5 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Watermelon? Here's Everything You Need To Know
dog wants to eat a potato chip
6 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Potatoes? Here's Everything You Need to Know
growing chihuahua puppy
7 minute read
Chihuahua Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
growing Rottweiler puppy
8 minute read
Rottweiler Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
growing boxer puppy
7 minute read
Boxer Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
growing french bulldog puppy
7 minute read
French Bulldog Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
pets across the united states
15 minute read
Pet Ownership Statistics by State, And So Much More (Updated 2020)
sleepy english bulldog puppy
8 minute read
English Bulldog Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
dog being pet by the vet
9 minute read
Leptospirosis in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & How to Save on Costs
dog looking at a wild mushroom
8 minute read
Can Dogs Eat Mushrooms? Here's Everything You Need To Know
dog having tick removed
8 minute read
Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & How to Cut The Costs
sick dog at the vet
9 minute read
Heartworm Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Reducing Costs
german shepherd puppy playing
6 minute read
German Shepherd Growth & Weight Chart: Everything You Need To Know
dog at vet with kennel cough
10 minute read
Kennel Cough in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & How To Save On Costs
dog and cat in need of affordable pet care
11 minute read
How to Get Affordable Pet Care in 2024
dog at vet visit for the first time
2 minute read
5 Tips For Your First Vet Visit
well cared for dog
18 minute read
39 Dog Care Tips: The Ultimate Pet Parent’s Guide
Owner gives kiss on cheek to smiling, happy dog
8 minute read
Dog Teeth Cleaning Costs: Best Ways To Save On Dental Care
dog with cataract on left eye
5 minute read
Dog Cataract Surgery Costs and How to Save
sad puppy with parvo
6 minute read
How Much Does It Cost to Treat Parvo?
dog with x-ray at veterinary clinic
5 minute read
Dog X-ray Costs and How to Save
vet visit with small dog
14 minute read
How Much Does a Vet Visit Cost? Here's Everything You Need To Know
rescue puppy pitbull
12 minute read
Bringing Home A Rescue Puppy
petfinder pets near you
6 minute read
Petfinder: Everything You Need to Know
A woman wearing face mask gets kiss from Spaniel dog
8 minute read
Keeping Pets Happy And Healthy During COVID-19: A Pet Parent's Guide
A dog concerned about toxic algae.
1 minute read
Protecting Your Pets From Toxic Algae
Back to Blog
A family with pets that are insured by Pawlicy Advisor
Pawlicy Advisor is the leading independent marketplace for finding the best coverage for your pet at the lowest rate.
Join 2,438,795+ insured dogs and cats across the US.
Get a Quote
Our pet insurance partners
ASPCA Pet Health Insurance Logo
Pets Best Pet Insurance Logo
Embrace Pet Insurance Logo
Pumpkin Pet Insurance Logo
MetLife Pet Insurance Logo
Prudent Pet Insurance Logo