Pancreatitis in Dogs & Cats [Signs, Prevention, & Treatment]

A dog and cat in front of fatty food, representing high-fat treats which can lead to pancreatitis in dogs and cats

Symptoms such as digestive disturbances, lethargy, or unexplained discomfort could mean that a dog or cat has pancreatitis. Whether you’ve noticed these symptoms yourself or you’d like to learn more about this medical condition, this complete guide on pancreatitis in dogs and cats will tell you all you need to know! We will go into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for pancreatitis in cats and dogs.

What’s in This Guide?

What is Pancreatitis in Dogs & Cats?

Pancreatitis, the inflammation of  the pancreas, is a medical condition that can affect both dogs and cats.  The pancreas is vital for the proper breakdown of food and the control of blood sugar levels. Therefore, pancreatitis affects the digestive and endocrine systems of the pet's body.

Pancreatitis in dogs and cats can be acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis in cats and dogs appear suddenly while chronic pancreatitis is a condition that develops over time. 

Causes (Risk Factors) - Pancreatitis in Cats & Dogs

The biggest and most common risk factors for pancreatitis are excess weight and having a high-fat diet. In addition, there are other factors that can predispose dogs and cats to pancreatitis, including: 

  • Certain conditions that alter hormonal balance: diabetes mellitus (acquired diabetes in pets), hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease (an overproduction of cortisol, a stress hormone), and hypercalcemia (abnormally high levels of calcium in the pet’s blood).
  • Certain medications: L-asparaginase (a chemotherapy agent for cats and dogs), phenobarbital (an anti-convulsant used for dogs and cats), azathioprine  (an immunosuppressant drug for dogs), etc.
  • Tumor growth in the pancreas
  • Physical trauma inflicted on the pancreas

Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs & Cats

The most common signs that a pet is suffering from pancreatitis (acute or chronic) include the following:

  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Hiding behaviors (common in cats)
  • A hunched posture (strongly indicative of pain in dogs or pain in cats)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever (present in some cases)
  • Jaundice or the yellowing of the eyes,  gums, or skin (present in severe cases)
A photo of a dog laying down to represent lethargy or weakness, one of the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs, as well as cats

How Do You Diagnose Pancreatitis in Dogs & Cats?

Diagnosing pancreatitis is of paramount importance because this condition can be painful and debilitating for pets. Left untreated, it may lead to widespread complications, including organ damage and systemic problems. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to getting a good prognosis. 

To diagnose pancreatitis in cats and dogs, veterinarians will start with a clinical evaluation, examining the pet’s symptoms and interviewing the pet parent about the dog or cat’s medical history and lifestyle. If the dog or cat is exhibiting urgent symptoms (i.e. frequent vomiting, pain), supportive care will be provided. 

Concurrent with supportive care (e.g. preventing dehydration through intravenous therapy or administering medication for nausea and pain), laboratory testing will help confirm the presence of pancreatitis. The confirmatory test for pancreatitis in dogs is the cPLI (canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity) test. And for cats, veterinarians may use the fPLI (feline pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity) test along with basic bloodwork. 

Note: The reason why fPLI is more commonly done alongside other lab tests is further explained by Sploot’s veterinarian, Dr. Tyler Johnston: “[For fPLI], a negative test does NOT necessarily mean it’s negative — the test doesn’t catch mild or chronic cases in cats very well (chronic, smoldering pancreatitis is most common in cats). It can be used, but [...] basic blood work and clinical signs/presentation are equally important.”    

For both cats and dogs, additional testing may also be performed in order to help zero in on the main cause of pancreatitis — especially if linked health conditions (e.g. diabetes, hormonal imbalances, pancreatic tumors) or physical trauma to the pancreas is suspected. 

How to Treat Pancreatitis in Dogs & Cats 

Treating pancreatitis in dogs and cats involves addressing urgent symptoms and long-term changes to help lessen the recurrence of acute pancreatitis or the worsening of chronic pancreatitis.

1. Supportive Care and Hospitalization

In many cases, dogs and cats with pancreatitis require supportive care to address pain, frequent vomiting, and dehydration. 

In severe cases, hospitalization may be required as this allows for close monitoring and immediate intervention if complications arise.

2. Short-Term Fasting & Long-Term Dietary Changes

To reduce the stress on the pancreas, the veterinarian may recommend a period of fasting, which allows the pancreas to rest and recover. This fasting period can vary in duration and will be followed by a gradual reintroduction of food.

In addition to short-term fasting, veterinarians may give recommendations on long-term dietary changes in order to lessen the risk of recurrence.

3. Medication (In Some Cases)

Depending on the severity of pancreatitis in cats or dogs, they may be prescribed medications, including anti-nausea medication, anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive medication, and appetite stimulants.

4. Follow-Up Checkups

Checkups after an episode of pancreatitis may be recommended in order to monitor how a pet is responding to treatment.

A cat getting a follow-up checkup at Sploot Veterinary Clinic for pancreatitis in cats or feline pancreatitis

How to Prevent Pancreatitis in Cats & Dogs

Preventing pancreatitis or the recurrence of pancreatitis in cats and dogs requires a multi-pronged approach including dietary optimizations, lifestyle changes,  and possibly, follow-up consultations to effectively monitor a pet’s health. 

Here are ways to prevent pancreatitis in dogs and cats:

1. Proper Nutrition

Avoid feeding your pet high-fat or greasy foods, as excessive fat consumption is a common trigger for pancreatitis in dogs and cats. Stick to a balanced, nutritionally appropriate diet for your pet's age, breed, and health status. In addition, be cautious with table scraps, especially those containing fatty ingredients.

2. Portion Control

Overfeeding can put additional stress on the pancreas. Make sure to follow recommended portion sizes based on your dog or cat’s age, weight, and activity level. In addition, we’d like to remind pet parents that dog or cat treats and pet food toppers are part of overall portion control —  these should not be more than 10 percent of your dog or cat’s daily intake.

3. Regular Exercise

Maintaining a healthy weight and providing regular exercise can help reduce the risk of excess weight, a known predisposing factor for pancreatitis. 

For dogs, regular walks, visits to dog parks, and even swimming in dog pools and dog beaches are excellent ways to get exercise and mental stimulation. For cats, cat games and creating an enriching environment for cats will help them stay fit, as well as mentally stimulated.  

4. Regular Pet Checkups or Wellness Exams

Pancreatitis in dogs and cats has a relatively better prognosis when it is detected as early as possible. Scheduling regular pet checkups or pet wellness exams is one of the best ways to do this as these exams evaluate a dog or cat’s overall health — with thorough clinical evaluation and laboratory testing. 

Veterinarians will also be able to evaluate your furry friend’s diet and lifestyle and make recommendations to not only avoid pancreatitis — but also to ensure overall health and well-being. 

Note: In case acute pancreatitis surfaces unexpectedly, bringing your dog or cat to an urgent care veterinarian will give them the best chance at recovering.

A dog getting a regular veteriinary checkup at Sploot Veterinary Clinic to help prevent canine pancreatitis

Can a Dog or Cat Heal from Pancreatitis?

Typically, dogs and cats who get any kind of pancreatitis (acute, and most especially chronic pancreatitis) will not heal on their own. Furthermore, once symptoms of pancreatitis appear, immediate complications like dehydration can occur, necessitating urgent veterinary care. 

Final Thoughts About Pancreatitis in Dogs & Cats

We hope you found this guide on pancreatitis in cats and dogs helpful. As a final reminder, make sure that your dog or cat gets healthy, balanced nutrition, free of any unsuitable fatty foods. 

If you have specific inquiries or concerns regarding pancreatitis in dogs and cats or pet nutrition, we’re always here to help!

Sploot Veterinary Care is a trusted provider of primary and urgent veterinary care. Our team of experienced veterinarians is well-equipped to treat pets suffering from acute or chronic pancreatitis.

Feel free to schedule a visit or simply walk in for a same-day appointment at one of our convenient clinic locations. Our doors are open from 10 am to 10 pm, 365 days a year.