Your Dog is Vomiting – Could it be Pancreatitis?

article index | submit your own question



“Your Dog is Vomiting – Could it be Pancreatitis?”

Contributed by Dr. Melissa Brookshire, DVM

Your Dog is Vomiting – Could it be Pancreatitis?

The pancreas is a small organ that sits nestled between bowel loops of the upper small intestine. This small, spongy organ is responsible for helping with digestion, especially of fats, and also for insulin secretion (blood sugar regulation). The pancreas is cantankerous and can easily be irritated.

 What is pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis is a potentially life-threatening illness. Pancreatitis simply means inflammation of the pancreas. This means that something has caused the white blood cells of the body to start gathering in the pancreas. These white blood cells trigger reactions within the cells of the pancreas, producing substances that cause even more irritation, causing more white blood cells to come in to help clean things up. It sounds like a vicious cycle because it is.

 What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

Severe vomiting is typical of pancreatitis. The vomiting often occurs numerous times and dogs with pancreatitis can rarely even hold water down. The abdomen (belly) is typically very tender so your dog may pace, pant, whine or simply act uncomfortable.

 How will your vet diagnose pancreatitis?

Your veterinarian will likely have a good idea that your dog could have pancreatitis based on the symptoms. To confirm that the vomiting and abdominal pain is not being caused by something like a bowel obstruction, your veterinarian may take x-rays or even do an ultrasound. Bloodwork should be run as well. Even though a dog with pancreatitis may or may not have elevated pancreatic enzymes (amylase and lipase), there can be other changes on the labs that would indicate the severity of the pancreatitis. This is important in helping your vet to determine how aggressively your dog needs to be treated.

What causes pancreatitis?

The most common identified causes of pancreatitis are eating high fat treats, table scraps, or rummaging through leftovers. A dog that has been given a steak bone or has snuck some butter or cheese off the counter is a prime candidate for pancreatitis. Sometimes, there is not any identifiable cause, which can be very frustrating to a pet owner. Once a dog has suffered an episode of pancreatitis, he is more likely to suffer a recurrence.

Certain breeds of dogs, such as Miniature Schnauzers and some terrier breeds, seem to be more susceptible to pancreatitis.

How is pancreatitis treated?

Early veterinary treatment is vital. Hospital care is critical to help the patient recover from the pancreatitis. Intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and pain medications help alleviate the symptoms of the disease.

When the pancreas is inflamed, nothing can be given orally, not even water or medication. Anything that enters the stomach can further aggravate the already aggravated pancreas. Extended hospital stays are not unusual and some pets may even need feeding tubes inserted directly into their intestines if the pancreas remains inflamed.

Some pets will suffer from chronic pancreatitis, with frequent flare-ups. These may not necessarily be triggered by consumption of a new food, but could occur without an explanation. These pets may develop diabetes because the pancreas becomes so damaged that it does not make enough insulin.

 How is pancreatitis prevented?

After recovery, a highly digestible, low fat diet is usually recommended. High fat treats should be avoided and a consistent high quality, low fat diet is suggested. Some veterinarians believe that supplements of antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium might help prevent future episodes of pancreatitis.

 When to call your veterinarian

If your pet vomits more than several times over a 24 hour period and acts lethargic or painful, it is important to contact your veterinarian right away. Dogs with pancreatitis are very sick and need immediate diagnosis and treatment.