Pancreatitis in Dogs and Cats

The pancreas is the organ that produces insulin and digestive enzymes. If the pancreas become inflamed a condition called pancreatitis develops. As a result the digestive enzymes which would normally enter the digestive system and help digest food will start leaking out of the pancreas into the abdomen. There they will start breaking down proteins and fat in other organs as well into the pancreas. In effect the body begins to digest itself. Because of the close proximity of the pancreas to the liver and kidneys they may become affected as well and inflammation and sometimes infection of the abdomen develops.

Pancreatitis is a rapidly developing condition and if left untreated a severe and sometimes permanent inflammation will develop. Occasionally pancreatitis may be severe enough to cause death. Pancreatitis may develop in both dogs and cats.


Vomiting and diarrhea (less frequently seen in cats), lethargy, anorexia (not eating), weight loss, fever, sluggishness, dehydration, depression, increased heart rate, difficulties breathing, mild to severe abdominal pain.


There are several causes for the inflammation of the pancreas however a full understanding of why this is happening has not been established yet. High levels of fat in the blood often as a result of eating large amounts fatty food is one of the reasons for developing pancreatitis in the dogs. High levels of calcium in the blood is another reason for developing pancreatitis in dogs. Unlike with dogs, a cat’s pancreatitis is not related to nutritional factors. In fact in cats often underlying reason for developing pancreatitis is not found. Trauma to the pancreas and some drugs and toxins ( like scorpion bite ) may cause pancreatitis in both dogs and cats. In cats pancreatitis often is seen along with inflammation of the intestines and the liver. It is so common in cats that it has its own name – triaditis. Diabetes and exposure to organophosphate insecticides (anti-flea preparations) have been found to lead to pancreatitis in cats. Infections like Toxoplasma or Feline Distemper may play a role in the inflammation of the pancreas in cats as well. Obesity linked to eating high fat and low carbohydrate diets has been linked to pancreatitis as well.


Certain dog breeds appear to be prone to pancreatitis more often than others. Miniature Schnauzers, Miniature Poodles and Cocker Spaniels are more frequently affected. Cats are represented by the Siamese breed having a higher chance of occurrence. Also female dogs and cats seems to suffer more often of pancreatitis than male dogs. Elderly dogs and cats are more often affected as well.


Your veterinarian will order blood work to look for elevation in particular enzymes related to inflammation of the pancreas. Those tests are Amylase, Lipase and CPL. Often there may be elevation in the liver or kidney enzymes too.The blood sugar levels will be measured to assess if the pancreas is producing normal amount of insulin as sometimes the inflammation may affect the pancreatic cells producing insulin and may lead to Diabetes. X-rays of the abdomen to look for blunt trauma and signs of inflammation of the pancreas will be needed. Abdominal ultrasound would be even a better choice to assess the pancreas and the other organs in the abdomen. The ultrasound would be able to determine if there are any tumors, cysts or abscesses in the pancreas or other organs.


Pancreatitis often needs to be treated at your veterinarian’s office as your pet will require intravenous fluids to reduce the dehydration and provide the necessary electrolytes, pain medications to assure your pet is pain-free, anti-nausea and antiemetics (medications to suppress the vomiting) and sometimes antibiotics if infection is present.

When food is resumed a low fat high carbohydrate easily digestible diet will be recommended until the condition has cleared completely. This will be assured by regular rechecks and blood tests. If the pancreatitis was severe or becomes chronic (recurrent) this diet may need to be fed permanently to protect your dog’s pancreas and internal organs.

It is important to restrict your pet’s activity after the treatment to allow for healing.


A reduction in your pet’s weight (if it is overweight) and maintaining an optimal weight along your pet’s life is important. High fat diets and treats especially around the holidays when dogs are given table scraps which are not normally a part of their diet should be avoided.

Please contact your veterinarian at North Town Veterinary Hospital if you have any questions or concerns.

By: Dr. Gala Musters