Pancreatitis In Dogs: Acute Vs Chronic

Joanne Keenan
How To Manage Pancreatitis In Dogs

Pancreatitis in dogs is a frightening condition … especially when it’s an acute pancreatitis attack that is an emergency. But dogs can also have chronic pancreatitis. 

So here’s a look at pancreatitis in dogs, how to know when it’s an emergency … and the difference between acute and chronic pancreatitis.

Function Of The Pancreas In Dogs

The pancreas is a glandular organ that has enzymatic and hormonal jobs in the body. The stomach secretes gastric juices into the duodenum, which runs between the stomach and small intestine. Next, the pancreas releases digestive enzymes, and the gallbladder releases bile. The pancreatic enzymes activate and adjust the pH (acid level) of the stomach contents … before they enter the small intestine.

What Is Pancreatitis In Dogs?

Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas. In pancreatitis, pancreatic enzymes get released inside the pancreas instead of the intestinal tract. The enzymes start digesting the surrounding tissue that damages the pancreas and triggers further inflammation in other parts of your dog’s body. This is extremely painful for your dog, so you’ll be able to tell something’s wrong.  

Types Of Pancreatitis

There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. 

Acute pancreatitis happens quickly, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Severe cases of acute pancreatitis require urgent veterinary care … including IV fluids and pain management, and often, hospitalization.

Chronic pancreatitis usually happens in dogs with …

  • Enzyme deficiency
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Nutritional imbalances 

Symptoms Of Pancreatitis In Dogs

You’ll see two different types of symptoms depending on the type of pancreatitis your dog has. 

Signs of Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis has some serious warning signs so consult your vet right away if you see any of these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Hunching 
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy, restlessness or pacing

Acute pancreatitis can lead to organ failure (kidneys, lungs, heart), septic shock or death. Get your dog to the vet quickly (keep reading to learn about acute pancreatitis treatment). 

Signs Of Chronic Pancreatitis

This is a low-grade, simmering type of pancreatitis. It can produce intermittent mild signs such as:

  • Occasional vomiting
  • Colitis
  • Lack of appetite

What Causes Pancreatitis In Dogs?

Pancreatitis is unique to each dog, his health and circumstances and his lifestyle. Pancreatitis is not contagious. It’s not always clear what causes pancreatitis. High fat diets are often blamed … but it can happen when your dog gets into the garbage or eats a lot of fatty table scraps. Household or environmental toxins can cause pancreatitis in dogs. Other things that can lead to acute pancreatitis include … 

  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Coexisting hormonal diseases (diabetes, hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia)
  • Medications (sulfa antibiotics, seizure medications, chemotherapy)
  • Organophosphate insecticide exposure 

Obesity can be a problem too. It causes altered fat metabolism that can lead to pancreas issues.

Diagnosing Pancreatitis In Dogs

A definitive diagnosis can be difficult. Here are some common diagnostic tools your vet may use. 

  • Abdominal ultrasound (can detect about 70% of acute cases). 
  • Ultrasound shows contributing issues … like a blockage of the pancreatic duct.
  • Bloodwork can show changes in liver, kidney, and electrolyte values. 
  • cPLI  or Spec cPL (serum canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity). It’s a more specific test but it takes days to get results. Veterinary clinics will do a “snap PLI” kit for a quick result. Negative means you can rule out pancreatitis. But a positive means you still need a cPLI to confirm a solid diagnosis. 
  • DGGR Lipase Assay takes place at a lab. Results are usually available the next day. 

    Treatment Of Acute Pancreatitis In Dogs 

    If your dog gets acute pancreatitis, he’ll need emergency veterinary care. Here are some of the steps your clinic may take. 

    • Hospitalization for round-the-clock monitoring. Make sure your clinic is staffed at night … not all are. 
    • IV Fluids: IV fluids are often needed to avoid dehydration that can stress other organs and make the situation worse. Subcutaneous fluids aren’t enough unless it’s a very mild case. 
    • Pain Management: Acute pancreatitis is very painful. Pain also suppresses the appetite so medication is almost always needed. Pain can harm your dog’s gastrointestinal, renal and cardiovascular systems.   
    • Nausea Control: Your dog might need anti-nausea medication. 
    • Light Feeding: A dog with pancreatitis should eat frequent, small amounts of food to avoid the whole gastrointestinal tract shutting down. If he’s nauseous and doesn’t want to eat, your veterinarian can use a feeding tube to bypass part or all of the upper GI tract.
    • Antibiotics: If there’s an infection, your vet may prescribe antibiotics. But if there’s no infection, they’re not helpful or needed.

    Acute pancreatitis is a case for immediate veterinary care. It’s a very serious condition that you shouldn’t try to treat at home. 

    How To Manage Chronic Pancreatitis

    Chronic pancreatitis is less serious, but it can still destroy 80-90% of pancreas cells if it’s not controlled. It can lead to serious conditions like diabetes or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) 

    Diet is key in managing chronic pancreatitis. 

    What To Feed Dogs With Pancreatitis

    If your dog’s recovering from an acute or chronic pancreatitis attack, veterinarian Jean Hofve DVM recommends you start with a recovery diet. 

    Pancreatitis Recovery Diet For Dogs

    Feeding a bland diet will help while your dog is recovering from a pancreatitis episode … whether acute or chronic. 

    Bone broth is nutritious and tasty as your dog starts to feel better. When returning to solid food, feed a bland diet like cooked chicken breast and pumpkin. You can feed an unbalanced diet like this for a few weeks. But for the long term, you’ll want to follow a consistent, balanced diet

    Long Term Diet For Pancreatitis

    Once your dog is back to normal food, a  balanced homemade diet is ideal.

    Digestive enzymes that include pancreas or pancreatic enzymes can help support proper digestion, and support the normal function of the organ. Before returning to a raw diet (or starting one), wait until your dog’s inflammation subsides and healing is well underway. Then re-introduce or introduce it slowly. Keep your dog’s diet low-fat, with no more than 10% fat content. 

    If you don’t plan on a homemade diet, a good quality pre-made raw, or canned food can also work.  But don’t feed kibble. Dry food is bad because of high carbohydrate content, high temperature processing, low moisture, sprayed-on fats and lack of live nutrients. 

    Prognosis For Pancreatitis In Dogs

    The mortality rate for dogs with acute pancreatitis can be high. If you don’t catch it in time, especially in acute cases, it can lead to single or multiple organ failure. That’s why it’s important to follow a balanced homemade diet to support digestion and organ function.

    How To Prevent Pancreatitis In Dogs

    Many things can lead to pancreatitis, so it’s helpful to manage the factors within your control …  

    1. Feed a whole food, raw meat diet.

    2. Supplements that may help support normal organ function include .. 

    Digestive enzymes that contain pancreas or pancreatic enzymes to help support organ function.
    Omega-3 fatty acids – even though it may seem like this would be too much fat a dog with pancreatitis, omega-3 fatty acids are helpful for overall health.
    Prebiotics and probiotics – to support gut and digestive health.
    3. Provide regular exercise and adequate rest.
    4. Keep your dog at a healthy (lean) weight.

    Changes can be warning signs so note any differences in appetite, weight, stools, behavior or energy levels, and tell your holistic vet if you notice anything unusual.

    Again, if your dog suffers an acute pancreatitis attack, don't waste time in getting him urgent veterinary care. 


    1. Jorg M Steiner DMV, PhD, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, AGAF. Pancreatitis and Other Disorders of the Pancreas in Dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual. October 2020. 
    2. Ruauz, Craig, et al. Canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (cPLI) test. Vetlexicon.
    3. Graca R, Messick J, McCullough S, Barger A, Hoffmann W. Validation and diagnostic efficacy of a lipase assay using the substrate 1,2-o-dilauryl-rac-glycero glutaric acid-(6′ methyl resorufin)-ester for the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis in dogs. Vet Clin Pathol. 2005;34(1):39-43.
    4. Mansfield CS, Beths T. Management of acute pancreatitis in dogs: A critical appraisal with focus on feeding and analgesia. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 2015;56(1):27-39.
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