Dr. Charles Whitworth | Madison, ALThe pancreas is an organ located on the right side of the abdomen next to the stomach that produces enzymes to assist in food digestion, and insulin production to regulate blood sugar and glucose. The digestive enzymes are secreted into the small intestine, and the hormones enter the bloodstream. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the condition is called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis commonly occurs in dogs regardless of age, sex, or breed. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. If your pet exhibits any of the symptoms mentioned, call Whitworth Animal Clinic at (256) 830-1503 to schedule a thorough examination.

  • Acute pancreatitis: Acute pancreatitis can range from mild to severe as inflammation allows digestive enzymes from the pancreas to spill into the abdominal cavity resulting in secondary damage to the liver, bile ducts, gall bladder, and intestines. Some dogs that recover from an acute episode of pancreatitis may have recurrent bouts which is then called chronic or relapsing pancreatitis.
  • Chronic pancreatitis: Dogs with chronic pancreatitis are more likely to develop secondary conditions such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), diabetes mellitus, or painful adhesions between the abdominal organs. Management of these conditions is a very important factor in treatment success.

What Causes Pancreatitis?

Pancreatic enzymes are produced in an inactive state and travel through the pancreatic duct to the duodenum, part of the small intestine. Once they reach the small intestine, they are activated to begin digestion. With pancreatitis, these enzymes are activated prematurely in the pancreas instead of later in the small intestine. This results in digestion of the pancreas itself. The clinical signs of pancreatitis are often variable, and the intensity of the disease will depend on the amount of enzymes that were prematurely activated.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite

During an attack, dogs may take a ‘praying position’, with their rear end up in the air while their front legs and head are lowered onto the floor. If the attack is severe, shock, severe depression, and even death can occur.

Diagnosing Pancreatitis

  • Tests usually reveal an elevated white blood cell count; however, this may also be caused by other diseases. The elevation of pancreatic enzymes in the blood is the most helpful criteria in detecting pancreatic disease but some dogs with pancreatitis can have normal enzyme levels. In recent years, a new pancreatic test has become available that can accurately diagnose pancreatitis, even if enzymes are normal.
  • Ultrasound images often provide a diagnosis of pancreatic inflammation caused by this condition.


  • The successful management of pancreatitis will depend on early diagnosis and prompt medical therapy. With mild pancreatitis, the treatment is supportive, by resting the pancreas and allowing the body to heal itself.
  • Dogs who are vomiting should be fasted until the vomiting subsides. Food can be withheld from patients for a few days if needed. Dogs who are not vomiting may be fed a low fat, highly digestible diet during recovery.
  • Medication will be given to control pain and intravenous fluids will be given to maintain normal fluid and electrolyte balance. Many cases will also require anti-inflammatory drugs or medication to control vomiting or diarrhea. Antibiotics will be administered if concurrent infection is suspected.
  • Most dogs with pancreatitis are hospitalized for two to four days while intravenous fluids and medications are administered and food is gradually re-introduced. With severe pancreatitis, or if the dog is showing signs of shock, intensive care using aggressive doses of intravenous fluids and medication will be given to counteract shock.

Prognosis of Pancreatitis

The prognosis depends on the severity of the disease when diagnosed and the response to initial therapy. Most of the mild forms of pancreatitis have a good prognosis with aggressive treatment. Dogs with shock and depression have a very guarded prognosis. Dogs that are not treated may progress to the hemorrhagic form and suffer severe consequences, including sudden death.

Most dogs recover without any long-term consequences. However, with severe or repeated episodes of pancreatitis, one or more of the following problems may develop:

  • If a significant number of cells that produce digestive enzymes are destroyed, a lack of proper food digestion may follow. This is known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) and can be treated with daily administration of an enzyme replacement powder.
  • If a significant number of cells that produce insulin are destroyed, diabetes mellitus can result.
  • In rare cases, painful adhesions between the abdominal organs may occur as a consequence of pancreatitis.

If you have any questions about your pet’s health or our pet wellness services, please feel free to contact our office. We are located in Madison, Alabama, and are convenient to Decatur and Huntsville.  We will work to keep you informed and your pet healthy.