Pancreatitis in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on February 13, 2024
12 min read

Pancreatitis is the medical word for inflammation (swelling and pain) in the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ next to your dog's stomach that makes enzymes to help them digest their food and insulin to help them regulate their blood sugar.

Pancreatitis is common in dogs and is usually, but not always, caused by eating something they shouldn't have. This could be because they got into the trash, have been getting a lot of table scraps, or found a fatty treat at the park. 

Dogs with serious cases may have obvious signs, such as vomiting, dehydration, fever, and belly pain. Some dogs with less serious cases may only seem listless and have diarrhea. 

Pancreatitis is a serious illness that can cause damage to your dog's other organs. It happens when pancreatic enzymes activate in the pancreas before they reach the stomach. The enzymes begin to digest the pancreas and the tissues and other organs they come into contact with. Organ damage can kill your dog. If you think your pup has pancreatitis, take them to the vet right away. Dogs with mild cases have a good chance to recover, but dogs with severe cases may not recover, especially if they have organ failure.

For dogs with mild cases, your vet may recommend medicines to help control pain and nausea, then a diet change to low-fat food and treats. Dogs with more serious cases may need to be hospitalized for IV fluids and other medicines. They will likely go on a prescription low-fat or ultra low-fat diet and will need to have their pancreas enzyme levels checked by the vet every once in a while.

The best way to prevent it is to carefully watch what they eat. Don't let your dog eat a lot of people food, especially fatty foods.

Acute vs. chronic pancreatitis in dogs

Pancreatitis can come on suddenly, without your pup having had it before (acute pancreatitis). Or it may develop slowly, over time (chronic pancreatitis). Your dog may or may not have obvious signs of chronic pancreatitis, and it can be caused by having acute pancreatitis again and again.

Either can be severe or mild, but both will likely cause pain.

The most common signs of severepancreatitis in dogs include:

Loss of appetite or refusal to eat.

Repeated vomiting. This could be several times within a few hours or every so often over several days. If your pup has been vomiting for more than a day, they need to visit the vet.

Weakness or listlessness. Any dog that seems weak, listless, or otherwise unwell needs to visit the vet.

Belly pain. This is the most common symptom of pancreatitis in people, but it's not often reported in dogs. Vets think this may be because it can be hard to tell when dogs are in pain. But you may be able to tell if your dog stands with a hunched back or looks like they're uncomfortable or bloated. Vets will likely assume they have belly pain and give them pain medicines to help.

Dehydration. Signs of this include panting, sunken eyes, dry nose, and thick spit. One way to check for dehydration in your dog is to gently hold some of the skin near their shoulder blades and lift it up then let it go. Watch as their skin falls back into place. If your pup is well-hydrated, their skin should spring back to its original place very quickly. If they're dehydrated, their skin will take longer to fall back into place. Some dogs have wrinkly skin that doesn't spring back even when they're well-hydrated, so another way to check is to feel their gums. A dehydrated dog will likely have sticky and dry gums. And if you press gently against their gums and remove your finger, they will take a while to return to their normal pink color.

Diarrhea. Dogs who have had diarrhea for more than 1-2 days (depending on how bad it is) need to visit the vet.

Fever. Your dog's normal body temperature is 99.5 F to 102.5 F. You can test their temperature with a digital thermometer specially made for pets. Follow the directions for your specific pet thermometer because some are used in the rectum and others in the ear. Some signs your pup may have a fever and you should take their temperature include red eyes, warm ears, a warm and dry nose, shivering, and coughing. Your pup has a fever if their temperature is 103 F or higher. Temperatures of 106 F or higher can cause organ damage and kill your dog, so make sure you take any dog with a fever to see their vet. 

These signs were reported in dogs with the worst cases of pancreatitis. Dogs with milder cases may not have such obvious signs, or they may only have a couple of signs that could be caused by many different things, such as no appetite, listlessness, and diarrhea.

Signs of worsening pancreatitis in dogs

Signs that your dog's condition is getting worse and they need to go to the vet as soon as possible include:

  • A bloated, hard belly
  • Vomiting and diarrhea that isn't getting better, especially if it has been more than 24 hours
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Seizures
  • Not being able to drink
  • Not being able to stand up on their own

Many times, your dog's pancreatitis seems to come on all of a sudden. And you and your vet may not be able to figure out what caused it. But there are a few things that vets know either cause pancreatitis or raise the chance your dog will get it. These include:

A high-fat diet. This is the most common cause of pancreatitis in dogs, especially if they eat a lot of fatty food in one sitting. For instance, in the U.S., the day after the Thanksgiving holiday is one of the busiest days of the year for emergency vet visits due to pancreatitis. It's the time of year that dogs are eating (or being treated with) a lot of fatty table scraps.

A history of eating whatever they can find to eat. Many foods that are safe and healthy for people aren't for dogs. Some of these foods can cause serious heath problems, including pancreatitis. Never let your dog eat chocolate, Macadamia nuts, garlic, onions, grapes and raisins, or anything that includes xylitol (a sugar substitute added to processed foods). Many dogs who get pancreatitis have eaten people food out of the garbage or a lot of table scraps.


Hypothyroidism or other endocrine disorders, such as Cushing's syndrome. Hypothyroidism is when your dog's thyroid gland doesn't make enough thyroid hormone for them to function well. Cushing's syndrome is when your dog's adrenal glands make more of a hormone called cortisol than your dog needs.


Severe blunt trauma, for instance, because they were hit by a car.

Some disorders caused by parasites, such as babesiosis from ticks or leishmaniosis from the leishmania protozoa.

Your dog's genes. Some breeds and breed mixes seem to be more prone to get pancreatitis than others, including miniature schnauzers, Yorkshire terriers, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, poodles, sled dogs, and some other toy or small terrier breeds.

Some medicines or toxins. 

Which toxins cause pancreatitis in dogs? 

The drugs and toxins that are the most common causes include:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors, which are often used to treat Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson disease, Lewy body dementia, and myasthenia gravis.
  • Calcium supplements.
  • Potassium bromide and phenobarbital, anticonvulsant medicines that your dog may take if they have epilepsy or another seizure disorder.
  • L-asparaginase, a chemotherapy drug used in people and dogs to treat some leukemias and lymphomas.
  • Estrogen, a hormone that may be used to help with the symptoms of menopause.
  • Aspirin and aspirin-containing medicines.
  • Azathioprine, an immunosuppressant medicine used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and prevent transplant rejection in people who have had a kidney transplant
  • Thiazide diuretics used to treat high blood pressure, chronic heart failure, and liver cirrhosis.
  • Vinca alkaloids, a class of drugs that may be used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Examples include vinblastine, vincristine, and vindesine.

Sometimes, your vet may suspect pancreatitis based on the symptoms alone, especially if your pup is known to eat whatever they can find and they're vomiting and have belly pain. However, they will need to do tests to rule out other causes, such as something getting stuck in their stomach or intestines.

Some tests they may do includes:

  • A physical exam, including your pup's belly, gums, heart, and temperature.
  • Blood tests to measure the amount of enzymes your dog's pancreas is making. Specifically, if your dog is positive for a test called pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (PLI), then they probably have pancreatitis. 
  • X-rays or ultrasound to help rule out other conditions that could cause your dog's symptoms.
  • A fine needle aspirate (when a small needle is used to suck up some fluid or cells) of your dog's pancreas to look for signs of swelling and infection.

Pancreatitis is a serious illness that can kill your dog. If you think your pup has pancreatitis or may have pancreatitis, take them to the vet as soon as you can. Pancreatitis is not something you can treat at home. And if it's severe, they may need to be hospitalized for a few days.

If your pup has acute pancreatitis, your vet will try to find out what caused it so they can deal with that and hopefully prevent it from happening again. For instance, if it was caused by a reaction to a drug, your vet may take them off it or switch it for something else. If it's because of something they're eating regularly, your vet may put them on a prescription food that's low fat or ultra low fat. 

Whether or not your vet can tell what caused their pancreatitis, the focus will be on keeping your pup as comfortable as possible until the attack passes.

In the first 24 hours, your vet may want you to withhold food and water if they can't keep anything down. Then, over the next week or so, your vet may recommend:

  • Pain medicine
  • IV fluids, especially if your dog has severe pancreatitis
  • Medicine to prevent vomiting (such as dolasetron, maropitant, or ondansetron) and dehydration
  • A low-fat diet
  • Close watching for a worsening condition
  • Fuzapladib sodium (Panoquell-CA1), a medicine specifically for dogs with rapid-onset pancreatitis. Your vet can give it through IV, and it helps prevent ongoing inflammation in your dog's pancreas that can cause multi-organ failure from leaking enzymes. 

In the medium to long term, your vet may want you to:

  • Closely watch your dog's diet to make sure they aren't eating a lot of fatty foods
  • Keep them on a low fat or ultra low fat prescription food
  • Feed them small meals spaced out over the day

If your pup has chronic pancreatitis that doesn't get better on a low-fat or ultra low-fat diet and feeding them small, frequent meals, then your vet may prescribe them cyclosporine, prednisone, or prednisolone. 

The most important step you can take to prevent pancreatitis in your pup is to closely watch their food intake. Don't feed them lots of fatty foods or other foods they're not supposed to eat. Don't give them table scraps as treats. Take steps to keep them out of the garbage, especially the kitchen garbage. And keep all medicines and supplements out of their reach, especially if you know they'll eat whatever they find on the floor, ground, or low-lying tables.

Some supplements that may help prevent pancreatitis in your pup include:

Digestive enzyme supplements (pancreatin). Thesemay reduce the work your pup's pancreas has to do to help them digest their food. They're available OTC as well as with a prescription. However, this may not help all dogs, so ask your vet if they think it will help your dog.

Fish oil supplements. These are high in fat, but some studies suggest that they can help lower your pup's lipid levels. High blood lipids may trigger pancreatitis in some dogs. If your dog has high lipid levels, ask your vet about giving these a try. The studies suggest that 1,000 milligrams of fish oil per 10 pounds of body weight may help dogs with acute pancreatitis. But if you give them fish oil, also give them 5-10 IU of vitamin E along with their fish oil.

Always talk to your vet before giving your dog any supplements.




If your dog has acute pancreatitis, your vet is likely to recommend a prescription dog food that is low fat or ultra low fat, at least until they get better. But if your dog has chronic pancreatitis, they may have to eat a low-fat diet for the rest of their lives.

The easiest and most cost-effective way to make sure your pup is getting the food they need to thrive is to feed them a commercial food that's formulated to meet their needs. But some dogs won't like their new low-fat or ultra low-fat food. If your best buddy is having a hard time adjusting or if you prefer to know exactly what your pup is eating, you can try making your own dog food. In this case, you must talk to your vet or a veterinary nutritionist to make sure you're making food that meets your pup's nutritional needs.

Your dog's nutritional needs will depend on many things, including their weight, life stage, health status, and allergies. That's why it's helpful to talk to your vet before you make your own dog food. In general, vets will likely recommend you focus on:

  • Low-fat meats such as chicken breast (if your dog isn't allergic) or lean beef
  • Beef organs (kidney, heart, and liver)
  • Rice and barley
  • Egg whites
  • Yogurt (make sure it's plain, low-fat, and doesn't have any xylitol)
  • Cooked vegetables

Here are a few tips for comforting a sick dog:

Allow your pup to rest. Limit play time and walks. Let them rest in their bed in a quiet place. For instance, if they have a favorite safe space, let them rest in their bed there. Many dogs, like people, prefer to be left alone when they're feeling unwell. Make sure that children and any other pets let your sick pup rest quietly. You may need to let them rest in a separate area of your house if they aren't getting good rest in the main area of the house.

You may also need to help dogs that are having trouble standing to go potty. Ask your vet about the best ways to support them so you don't hurt them.

Make sure they have access to water. If your dog is having trouble walking or standing, put a water bowl close to their bed so they don't have to move far to get a drink. Some medicines may cause your best buddy to need more water and thus to pee more. They may need your help to make sure they're staying hydrated and not peeing in their bed. 

Monitor them closely.  You need to call the vet if your pup develops any new signs or if their current signs get worse. New signs could be caused by their medicines or they could be because your dog's illness is getting worse.

Follow your vet's instructions. Even if your pup seems better, it's important that you take them for all their recommended follow-up visits and tests. Pancreatitis can happen again, so it's vital you follow your vet's advice, especially about food. And make sure your buddy finishes the medicines their vet prescribed. Don't give them human medicines or use alternative medicines or supplements without asking your vet first.

Pancreatitis is swelling in your dog's pancreas. It's common in dogs who eat a lot of high-fat foods, especially if they eat a lot of it at one sitting. Your dog can have really obvious signs such as vomiting, dehydration, fever, and belly pain, but some dogs may only seem listless and have diarrhea. Pancreatitis is a serious illness, and if you suspect your dog has it, take them to the vet as soon as you can. Dogs with mild cases can usually be managed with diet changes and medicine to help with nausea, but dogs with serious cases may need to go to the hospital.