What Does Pancreatitis Do to Dogs?

Symptoms are unclear and diagnosis is difficult, but treated early, pancreatitis in dogs can be managed.


The pancreas is an essential part of a dog’s digestive system. It produces hormones like insulin that process sugars and proteins, as well as enzymes that help with digestion. The pancreas nestles by the stomach and has a duct that empties out where the stomach transitions into the start of the small intestine.

When the pancreas is functioning properly, enzymes travel from that duct into the small intestine through the duodenum, where they start their great labor, their dedicated purpose of breaking down food and processing nutrients.

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, diverts digestive enzymes from their wonted course out into the abdomen itself. Enzymes produced by the pancreas are catalysts for digestion. In the common parlance, “catalysts gonna catalyze,” and they will perform their task no matter where they are. When an inflamed pancreas forces them into unfamiliar territory, they begin their natural work on unnatural targets — both the pancreas that produced them and other nearby organs. Essentially, the dog’s digestive enzymes begin breaking down the dog’s own tissues.

Pancreatitis in dogs is classified as either acute and chronic, and both kinds can be mild or severe. Acute canine pancreatitis has a sudden onset, meaning that an otherwise healthy dog can manifest signs of pancreatitis rapidly. With chronic canine pancreatitis, the onset is gradual.

Whether it is acute or chronic, pancreatitis in dogs tends to show up with the same array of symptoms. These symptoms are common to other canine diseases and disorders, so the symptoms alone are not conclusive. Unfortunately, there is also no single definite cause.

Causes of pancreatitis in dogs

Any number of circumstances might prevent enzymes from flowing naturally from the pancreas. Though the causes of pancreatitis in dogs are very difficult to pinpoint, there are conditions under which pancreatitis becomes increasingly likely to manifest. Obesity and diets that contain excessively fatty foods are often cited as risk factors.

Dogs who already have disorders such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, or epilepsy seem to have greater risk of developing pancreatitis. Pancreatitis in dogs can also be caused by an external physical injury to the dog’s abdomen, like being struck or kicked.

It is thought that breeds at increased risk for canine pancreatitis include the Miniature Schnauzer, Miniature Poodle, Cocker Spaniel, and certain breeds of Terrier, like the Yorkshire Terrier. However, since the causes of pancreatitis are ill-defined, the recurrence of these breeds in the literature may be anecdotal and traditional, rather than clinical.

Signs of canine pancreatitis

The causes of canine pancreatitis are unclear and the symptoms are also somewhat vague and imprecise. The symptoms most frequently ascribed to pancreatitis in dogs include vomiting, abdominal pain, lack of appetite, loss of energy, dehydration, diarrhea, depression, fever, and shock. A dog with pancreatitis might also have a higher heart rate and a harder time breathing.

Among the physical signs of pancreatitis in dogs, perhaps the most noticeable might be a tendency to express abdominal pain by a dog placing its head close to the ground and raising its hind quarters in the air. This is referred to often as “hunching over,” or the dog assuming a “praying” position. The abdominal pain a dog is acting out in this scenario might be caused by those misdirected, leaking enzymes acting on parts of the dog’s abdomen, such as the pancreas, the stomach, the liver, or the kidneys.

Treating pancreatitis in dogs

Troublingly, the symptoms noted above are not exclusive to pancreatitis in dogs and may be signs of other digestive problems or an infection unrelated to canine pancreatitis. If your dog begins to exhibit several of these symptoms, you should take her to the veterinarian immediately. Just as the causes and symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs can be difficult to determine, there isn’t one completely reliable or infallible test that will diagnose pancreatitis.

Your veterinarian may employ a number of methods and tests, from physically examining the abdomen, to performing blood work, to giving your dog an ultrasound or an x-ray before making a diagnosis. A biopsy of the pancreas might even be required.

Since pancreatitis in dogs has no single root cause, there is no definite cure for it either. Recurrence is always a risk. Treatments exist that have proven effective in managing symptoms while the pancreas heals. Hospitalization for several days is often required, during which intravenous fluid will be used to nourish the dog while swelling in the pancreas recedes and the enzyme flow is restored. Additional recovery time could be needed if any abdominal surgery is performed.

Managing pancreatitis in dogs

While dogs can recover from isolated incidents of canine pancreatitis, whether acute or chronic, a particularly severe case could lead to longer-term problems like diabetes or exocrene pancreatic insufficiency. In the latter condition, a badly damaged pancreas cannot cannot produce enough of the enzymes required to properly digest and absorb nutrients in food.

If a dog has been diagnosed with and received treatment for canine pancreatitis, regulation of the dog’s diet is the most commonly described long-term method of treatment and management. Changes to a dog’s food intake normally require a diet that is lower in fat and higher in things like carbohydrates and fiber. Read more on what to feed a dog with pancreatitis right here >>

Has your dog dealt with short- or long-term pancreatitis? Please, share your experiences in the comments.

Understand pancreatitis in humans >>

10 thoughts on “What Does Pancreatitis Do to Dogs?”

  1. Hi, great read, very informative.
    My sweet boy, peewee was diagnosed with pancreantitis a year ago and has been suffering in pain the whole time. He hasn't gotten any worse but hasn't gotten any better either. The doc didnt give him any meds just said to feed chic n rice. Been back to doc 4 times but still no changes in treatment or progress. When I told doc we want a more aggressive approch to the healing process his response was… things like this cant be rushed n that it would just take time. It's been a whole year, my baby needs to heal.
    Praying the lord takes the suffering from him n puts it on my shoulders. Heartbroken n frustrated.

    1. Omg!!! That breaks my heart! I would go to another Dr. I just got home from ER Vet with my chi/Jack Russell. We noticed last night she would come with us to bed like she normally does. Go pee, come in get Scooby snack then run in and sleep with us. I had to pick her up and bring her to bed. She stay in this position and whined when she moved to stretch it changed position. I knew something was wrong. I thought she may have hurt her back initially. Took her to ER this am. They asked me if I have any people food yesterday. I said yes. I sometimes do but a very smal piece. I gave her prices of cauliflower which we love and a small piece of bacon. She said pork is the culprit. She checked her spine everything was ok. She was in pain from her stomach. I told her she’s had it in the past. She said that it will Clair up unexpectedly. She gave her a pain injection, fluids and antibiotics and probiotics. Im feeding her a low fat diet now. She says she’s a little overweight which was news to me. We haven’t been walking since these hear waves. Im sorry your baby is still going through this. I would definitely get a second opinion. We follow up tomorrow with our regular veterinarian.
      Good luck and prayers

  2. Hi there,
    My boston terrier sometimes lays in the praying position but his butt isn’t in the air, it’s on the ground. He doesn’t seem in pain, but should I be worried? Wish I could post a picture.

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  6. My little chihuahua mix was diagnosed with pancreatitis a few weeks ago. Hospitalized for 1 week to address dehydration, vomiting, and pain. A bunch of meds were given and things looked hopeful at discharge. However, old symptoms of not wanting to eat and vomiting returned a week afterwards. This is such a frustrating and heartbreaking process. It makes you wonder if you’re doing the right thing trying to keep your pooch alive while it suffers through injections, forced feeding and vomiting.

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  8. Julie anderson

    My dog George I took to the vet, he was adopting the praying position, so I took him in quickly, he was also sick, the vet could not do the injections George was snapping, however I was able to acmininter the anti sickness medicine in his water,
    He didn’t have anything yesterday a bit of water,but I am worried it could be something else

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