All about Pancreatitis

Do you give your dog a bit of ham for Christmas lunch? Think it won’t hurt them?

Think again!

What is it?

It is when the pancreas becomes inflamed. The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen that produces digestive enzymes and insulin. The digestive enzymes pass down a duct and empty into the intestine to digest food (in particular fat). In dogs, this duct enters very close to the opening of the bile duct which brings bile from the liver to the intestines. In cats, it shares the opening of the bile duct. Eating stimulates the pancreas to release digestive enzymes, which digest meat, carbohydrates and fats. Occasionally some of these enzymes leak into tissues around the pancreas, causing pain, inflammation and pancreatitis.

Why Does Pancreatitis Occur?

It can occur after a pet has eaten a particularly fatty meal as it causes large amounts of digestive enzymes to be released or there may be no obvious explanation. However, once patients have had one episode of pancreatitis, it is more likely to occur later. Pancreatitis is much more common in middle-aged, overweight dogs.


Patients with pancreatitis may be lethargic, vomit, and diarrhoea may occur. Appetite may or may not be affected, but eating will usually cause vomiting. Thirst may be increased and sometimes drinking can cause vomiting. There may be fever and dehydration. There is often abdominal pain which may be eased by dogs getting into a ‘praying’ position (standing on hind legs, but with elbows on the ground). Jaundice may be seen, as an inflamed pancreas can block off the bile duct and cause yellow pigment to build up in the blood.


Diagnosis is usually made on a combination of clinical signs and results of blood and urine tests. The blood tests assess the level of three enzymes (amylase, lipase and pancreatic lipase) that the pancreas releases into the blood. Also examined in the blood tests are the level of inflammatory blood cells, electrolytes, liver and kidney function, to give a measure of the severity of the disease process and help us rule out other diseases with similar signs.


There is no specific ‘anti-pancreatitis’ drug. The treatment involves preventing further damage and allowing time for the pancreas to heal. Treatment generally includes intravenous fluids to re-hydrate and maintain the patient, antibiotics to prevent the damaged pancreas becoming infected, anti-vomiting drugs to settle the stomach and reduce the feeling of nausea, pain relief and no food or water by mouth until resolved.

As the vomiting and pain subside (generally in 2-5 days), small amounts of water are offered. If no vomiting occurs then bland food is offered. It is very important not to feed too early or too much, as if vomiting recurs you can be back to square one. Gradually meals are made larger and mixed with low fat food. Most cases do require hospitalisation and most patients pull through with proper care and treatment but occasionally a serious case is fatal. The longer a sick animal is left without treatment, the more likely it is to be one that will not survive.


Avoid very fatty meals and be mindful of who is feeding your pet what especially at festive times, like Christmas or birthday parties. Not allowing your dog to be overweight will also minimise the risk. If a dog has already had pancreatitis once, this should be taken as a very serious warning to feed only reduced fat food from then on. It only takes one very small amount of fatty food to be eaten to start pancreatitis. Be careful when feeding bones especially if your pet hides them or when visitors come and may feed your pet. Special prescription diets are sometimes recommended to reduce the risk of recurrence.

About the author: Megan Reilly

Megan is a Veterinary Nurse Technician - the highest qualification available to Veterinary Nurses in Australia, Megan has a fun loving spirit and brings a positive energy to Heights Pet Hospital. She is a talented nurse who has a love for all patients and is continuously updating our processes and procedures, always finding a better or more effective way. She has been at the hospital since its opening in 2011 and in the veterinary industry since 2000, starting out as a kennel hand and then completing veterinary nursing cert IV in 2006. She has also undertaken additional study, gaining her qualification as a Veterinary Nurse Technician in 2015.

Megan runs our puppy school classes and has a special interest in canine behaviour. She continues to give back to the industry with her dedication to training new veterinary nurses and work experience students.

Megan has Trevor, a black domestic short hair cat with a penchant for extravagant bow ties! and Howard, a fiesty Border-Terrier.

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