Pancreatitis is a disease that affects hundreds of thousands of dogs every year.
In short, pancreatitis refers to an inflammation of the pancreas, which is the organ responsible for regulating blood sugar during the process of digestion.
If your dog develops pancreatitis, they probably won’t be feeling like themselves for a little while. During this time, we know that you’ll want to do everything you can to comfort your dog and speed up their recovery.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide with all the information you need to help your dog feel comfortable and get better soon. From dietary changes to sleeping arrangements, this article will set you and your pup in good stead for the recovery journey.
What is Pancreatitis?
The pancreas is a roughly pear-shaped gland located close to the stomach, and its job is to produce enzymes to aid digestion while managing blood sugar levels.
When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the body’s ability to process nutrients and regulate blood sugar levels is compromised.
Forms of Canine Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis in both dogs and humans can either be acute or chronic.
Both forms of pancreatitis should be treated seriously and warrant a visit to the vet. However, the severity and length of symptoms vary between the two conditions.
Chronic pancreatitis is where pancreatitis recurs or persists over an extended period of time.
Usually, chronic pancreatitis presents with milder symptoms, and although this version of the disease is more of a long-lasting presence in a dog’s life, there are normally not as many complications to worry about.
In fact, sometimes, chronic pancreatitis is first diagnosed by an unrelated procedure, such as an ultrasound, because there may not be any obvious symptoms.
Some breeds, including the cocker spaniel, are predisposed to chronic pancreatitis. With some help from their owners and vets, these dogs can generally live comfortably with the condition.
Acute pancreatitis refers to an inflammation of the pancreas that has occurred in a short window of time.
The symptoms of acute pancreatitis usually come on much more quickly than with chronic pancreatitis, and they are typically more severe.
These symptoms are notorious for worsening fast, so as soon as you identify symptoms consistent with acute pancreatitis in your dog, it’s important to seek emergency medical attention.
Symptoms of Canine Pancreatitis
So, now you know exactly what pancreatitis is and that it can affect dogs as well as humans. But how do you know if your dog is suffering from pancreatitis in the first place?
In order to confirm that your dog is suffering from pancreatitis, you’ll need to book an appointment with your veterinarian.
The vet will perform something called a canine pancreatic lipase, which is a type of blood test aimed specifically at diagnosing canine pancreatitis. Your vet may also conduct an ultrasound scan to support the results of the blood test.
But you don’t need an ultrasound machine or a phlebotomy kit to recognize the signs of pancreatitis in your dog. There are a few key symptoms you should be aware of so that you can spot the warning signs and get your furry friend the right treatment as early as possible.
The symptoms of acute and chronic pancreatitis are largely the same, with the main difference being that acute pancreatitis is more likely to present with severe symptoms.
Digestive and gastrointestinal issues are some of the most obvious signs of canine pancreatitis. Symptoms of pancreatitis-related stomach issues include vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and a tender or distended abdomen.
If your dog is in pain due to pancreatitis, you may notice postural changes such as a hunched back.
Pancreatitis in dogs may also appear to manifest in respiratory symptoms, including difficulty breathing, abnormal panting, and ‘licking’ the air.
You’re likely to notice a change in your dog’s energy levels as well. A dog with pancreatitis will often be lethargic and may move more slowly or tentatively due to discomfort.
It’s important to note that your dog does not need to display all of these symptoms in order to have pancreatitis. The symptoms may also be mild if you’re dealing with chronic pancreatitis, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. If you notice any of the above changes in your dog’s behavior, you should seek medical advice.
How to Comfort a Dog with Pancreatitis
The process of caring for and comforting a dog with pancreatitis can effectively be split into 3 categories: diet, hydration, and rest. Combining these elements will set your canine companion up for success in overcoming the symptoms of pancreatitis.
Immediately after the diagnosis, you’ll need to limit your dog’s food intake. Your vet will tell you exactly how long to withhold food, but it’s generally between 12 and 24 hours. This is essentially just to give your dog’s stomach a break and allow sensitivity to die down.
After the withholding period has elapsed, you should reintroduce food in small quantities. Between 5 and 6 small meals a day is generally recommended.
Switch to a Low Fat Diet
Following a diagnosis of pancreatitis, your dog will need to be put on a low-fat diet. The duration of this diet depends on the type of pancreatitis. If it’s chronic pancreatitis, your dog will probably have to stick to this diet long-term, which isn’t always the case with acute pancreatitis. Ultimately, you should follow your vet’s guidance here.
A low-fat canine diet is a diet consisting of 10% fat or less. To achieve this nutritional balance, you’ll need to prioritize fresh, whole foods and cut out complex carbohydrates. Don’t feed your dog any scraps from the table.
Your vet will be able to recommend weight-management or pancreatitis-specific dog foods as well as supplements, if necessary.
Although your dog will be without food for up to 24 hours, you should still make sure that your pup has plenty of water to drink.
As we mentioned earlier, dehydration is a side effect of the vomiting, diarrhea, and appetite loss that accompany canine pancreatitis, and it often makes the symptoms even worse. Therefore, it’s vitally important to make sure that your dog has enough water.
Keep a close eye on your dog’s water consumption since the loss of appetite associated with pancreatitis sometimes includes a lack of interest in water. This is usually due to lethargy. If you can’t persuade your dog to drink water, consult your veterinarian for advice at the earliest opportunity.
Rest and Relaxation
In order to recuperate, your pup will need plenty of rest, and comfort is key.
During a bout of pancreatitis, your dog is likely to feel lethargic. Therefore, it’s usually best to set up a designated area where your dog can lie down and rest undisturbed. This is especially important if you have young children in the house.
Try to make your dog’s convalescence area as comfortable as possible. Your pup may have developed muscle tightness due to the stress and pain caused by pancreatitis, so a supportive dog bed with plenty of cushioning is ideal.
Prepare for Accidents
You might also want to consider having preparations in place in case of unexpected bowel or bladder movements.
Even potty-trained dogs are likely to have little accidents when suffering from pancreatitis.
You can minimize any mess by laying a puppy pad in your dog’s bed to catch any urine or excrement.
Avoid Abdominal Contact
Your dog’s stomach will probably feel tender or sensitive while they are recovering from pancreatitis. This means that you’ll want to avoid touching their abdominal area for a while.
Of course, you can still gently pet and cuddle your dog since this will help to comfort them. Just avoid the stomach area if at all possible.
Exercise might not be a comforting prospect for your dog in the early stages of recovery, but it’s important to get back into an exercise routine.
Obesity is a common cause of pancreatitis in dogs, so exercising your dog regularly is crucial if you want them to make a quick, long-term recovery and keep the condition at bay.
If your dog is in a lot of pain, keep exercise gentle but regular.
It’s vitally important to monitor your dog’s pancreatitis symptoms on a day to day basis.
This is because pancreatitis can worsen very quickly. The quicker you are able to recognize deterioration and seek treatment for your dog, the better their chances of making a full recovery will be.
If the general symptoms of pancreatitis don’t seem to be resolving within 24 to 48 hours, you should seek advice from your veterinarian.
Any signs of symptoms worsening should be treated as an emergency and medical evaluation should be sought as soon as possible.
Symptoms such as blood in the stool or gums becoming paler/turning while are also indicators of increasing severity and warrant an immediate trip to your vet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I treat canine pancreatitis at home?
Mild cases of canine pancreatitis can be monitored and resolved at home with the proper dietary, exercise, and routine changes.
More severe cases of acute pancreatitis may require hospital treatment.
Even if pancreatitis symptoms initially seem mild, you should still take your dog to the vet for evaluation.
Is pancreatitis painful for dogs?
Pancreatitis can often cause pain, sensitivity, and tenderness in a dog’s abdomen.
If activated enzymes begin to effectively digest the pancreas itself, the pain can be very severe. Pain that is debilitating should be treated as an emergency.
How long will my dog be in pain with pancreatitis?
A dog that has a mild case of pancreatitis should make a recovery within 2 or 3 days, during which time, the pain should resolve.
In severe cases, pain relief takes longer. Your vet will be able to give you an estimated time frame for recovery based on individual circumstances.
How can I manage my dog’s pancreatitis pain?
As explained above, there are many ways to ease your dog’s pancreatitis pain.
Keep them in a quiet, comfortable area where they can relax, feed them a reduced, low-fat diet, provide plenty of water, make sure they get enough exercise and try not to touch their stomach.
Does pancreatitis make dogs thirstier?
Dehydration is a common pancreatitis symptom in dogs. This is because a dog with pancreatitis will lose a lot of fluids through vomiting and diarrhea.
For this reason, it’s important to provide lots of water while your dog is recovering, although they may not feel like drinking.
Can a dog with pancreatitis eat sweet potato?
Your dog’s diet during pancreatitis recovery will need to be relatively bland to avoid stomach upset.
In terms of carbohydrates, white rice is the most popular choice, but sweet potato is fine as an alternative. Just remember that dogs don’t need many carbs in their diet.
Can pancreatitis be fatal for dogs?
Severe pancreatitis in dogs can be fatal. That’s why it’s so important to seek medical attention at symptom onset.
Acute, severe canine pancreatitis has a mortality rate of roughly 33%.
However, for mild to moderate pancreatitis, the survival rate is much higher and the prognosis is generally good.
Comforting your dog while they recover from pancreatitis mainly involves monitoring their diet, providing plenty of fluids, and creating a peaceful, comfortable environment for your pup to recuperate.
A low-fat diet is essential for keeping pancreatitis at bay, as is proper hydration. Don’t feed your dog human food from your table, and make sure they aren’t able to scavenge any scraps since this is one of the leading causes of canine pancreatitis.
To ensure your dog’s comfort during the recovery period, you should provide them with their own bed, complete with a puppy pad if necessary.
Show your dog plenty of love and affection during their recovery, but avoid picking them up or touching their abdomen until they are feeling better.