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Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments

When your family dog doesn't want to eat and is throwing up, you hope it's a passing thing.

Many times, it is -- but it could be a condition called pancreatitis. If so, he'll need treatment.

The condition happens when the pancreas becomes inflamed. That's an organ near the stomach that helps digest food and control blood sugar.

Pancreatitis can come on all at once and then pass, or it can stay for longer periods.

Symptoms

Often, a dog:

  • Lossesappetite
  • Vomits
  • Has belly pain

Other symptoms are:

  • A fever or low body temperature
  • Diarrhea
  • No energy
  • A hard time breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Irregular heartbeat

If your dog has some of these problems for more than a day, or if these symptoms keep coming back, take him to the vet. It could be pancreatitis, or it could be something else. Either way, you should get it checked out.

Your vet might make a diagnosis based on symptoms alone. Usually, though, she'll need to do blood tests or an ultrasound, which uses sound waves to make an image of what's going on inside the body.

Causes

Experts aren't sure what causes the pancreas irritation, but some breeds, especially schnauzers, are more prone to it. Older dogs and ones who are overweight are also more likely to get it. 

Sometimes, the condition comes on as a side effect to a drug, or after surgery. Often, a fatty meal, like bacon grease or table scraps, triggers it.

Dogs usually recover from mild cases, but if it's severe, it can sometimes lead to death. If your dog is overweight or has diabetes or epilepsy, he may have a harder time getting over an attack.

Treatment

If your vet can figure out what caused the pancreatitis, he'll try to deal with that first. For instance, if it was a reaction to a drug, he may take him off it. If it's related to diet, he may put him on prescription food.

Sometimes it's hard to tell what causes it, and there's no clear treatment to fight it. The focus instead becomes keeping the dog as comfortable as possible until the attack passes.

For the first 24 hours, vets often recommend no food, water, or medications by mouth. That gives the pancreas a rest. If your dog has a severe case, he may need to be in the hospital to get IV fluids.

When he gets home, you'll need to give him lots of water to make sure he doesn't get dehydrated. He may need medication for pain, too. He may also get drugs to help ease nausea and vomiting.

When your dog starts eating again, make sure it's a low-fat diet. Look for food that's easy to digest. Talk it over with your vet, but it's probably a good idea to stick with this diet for several months, and possibly for life.

Prevention

Watch your dog's diet. Make sure he doesn't have too much high-fat food.

Don't cave to his puppy-dog eyes, even on special occasions. Your dog doesn't need to eat human food. Keep your garbage secure. Vets report more cases of pancreatitis during the holidays, when people are eating more fatty foods and so are their pets.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on August 25, 2014

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