Thanksgiving is a time we all enjoy being with friends and family (including our dogs), right? Unfortunately, in veterinary clinic

s around the country, the day after Thanksgiving isn’t Black Friday but actually Pancreatitis Friday. Pancreatitis describes inflammation of th

e pancreas, an organ that aids in healthy digestion. Dogs with pancreatitis may suffer from severely upset stomachs. Fatty foods and table scraps are often the culprit, so avoid feeding your dog human food, and make sure yo

ur guests know your no-scraps policy! It’s hard to ignore those big puppy eyes, but you could be saving them from a lot of pain and discomfort. Pancreatitis can be a mild one-time deal, severe and life-threatening, or a 

more chronic waxing and waning issue.

Signs and Symptoms

Look out for the following possible signs of pancreatitis, as catching it early is vital for successful treatment:

  • Nausea, gagging
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain, hunched posture
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • In severe cases, shock and death


What Does the Pancreas Do?

The pancreas is a small organ that secretes digestive enzymes to help the body absorb food. It also produces insulin, which regulates blood sugar. 

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis means the symptoms, milk to very severe, came on suddenly. Pancreatitis can also cause secondary problems with the liver, bile ducts, and bladder. 

Possible Causes of Acute Pancreatitis: 

  • Dietary indiscretion: eating food scraps and other things from the trash
  • A high fat diet or meal
  • Biliary stones, like gallstones in people
  • Liver disease 
  • Certain medications 
  • Viral or bacterial infections 
  • Trauma
  • Specific breeds: some breeds like schnauzers, miniature poodles, and cocker spaniels, are more prone to pancreatitis  


Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is most often recurrent flare-ups of acute pancreatitis but can also present with more consistent daily signs. Chronic pancreatitis will require ongoing medical treatment and may also result in additional illness like diabetes or chronic pain. In fact, 30% to 40% of dogs with chronic pancreatitis also develop diabetes. 

How is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

Pancreatitis is not always a straightforward diagnosis, so your veterinarian may recommend several different tests to confirm it. 

  • Physical Exam
    • Your veterinarian will palpate the abdomen and look for signs of pain, nausea, and dehydration.
  • Bloodwork 
    • A complete blood count which looks at red blood cells and white blood cells. This looks for evidence of infection or inflammation. 
    • A chemistry panel which looks at organ function markers and blood sugar.
    • An electrolyte panel which looks at evidence of dehydration. 
    • Pancreas-specific tests, like the IDEXX SNAP® cPL™ (canine pancreas-specific lipase). It looks for evidence of specific pancreas injury.
    • Unfortunately, these labs may come back normal even for a dog that is suffering from pancreatitis.  
  • Imaging
    • Radiographs (x-rays) look for evidence of inflammation or other abnormalities but are not definitive.
    • Ultrasound is much better at seeing signs of pancreatitis and is considered the most sensitive test. 


How is Pancreatitis Treated?

Mild cases are often managed on an outpatient basis, meaning dogs can go home after their visit. During their visit they are often given fluids either through an IV or under their skin, and antiemetics (anti-vomiting medications) and pain medications to help them feel better. Your vet will often recommend feeding a low fat, bland food diet while they are recovering.  

In more severe cases, your vet may recommend hospitalization and more rigorous monitoring. While hospitalized, dogs will likely receive IV fluid therapy and electrolytes to manage their hydration, antiemetics to stop the vomiting and nausea, injectable pain medications to keep them comfortable, and round-the-clock care. With these cases, your vet may recommend feeding a prescription diet moving forward to help prevent pancreatitis flare-ups. 

How Can I Prevent Pancreatitis?

While it may not be possible to completely prevent pancreatitis, following these tips may help reduce the chance or frequency. 

Avoid high-fat treats and food. Many types of human food are too rich for dogs to digest. You should also make sure to prevent your dog from getting into the trash can. 

Manage your pet’s weight. Overweight dogs are more likely to develop pancreatitis. 

Make sure guests know not to give your dogs scraps of food. To be on the safe side, you might want to keep your dog away from dinner parties and holiday gatherings. If you know your guests can’t help themselves, eliminate the problem and only serve low-fat snacks like fresh fruit and veggie sticks. 

For many dogs, variety is NOT the spice of life. It may help to stick to a regular diet and avoid frequently changing your brand of dog food or dog food flavors.