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Symptoms of Pancreatic Disease in Dogs

| Updated September 26, 2017

The symptoms of pancreatitis, the most common pancreatic disease in dogs, may be mild or severe, and often mimic other illnesses. A painful or distended abdomen, loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, weakness and dehydration are among common symptoms. Other signs include a hunched-over posture, diarrhea, fever or drop in temperature, irregular heartbeat and difficulty breathing.


Pancreatitis Explained

Your dog's pancreas produces hormones to regulate his blood sugar levels and aids his digestion by producing digestive enzymes. Eating trash, excessive table scraps or other inappropriate food can trigger an attack of pancreatitis -- an inflammation of the pancreas -- but often the precise trigger for an episode is never discovered. Other potential causes include certain medications, metabolic and hormonal disorders and abdominal trauma or surgery. Overweight or obese dogs may be more vulnerable, as well as certain breeds of dogs, such as the schnauzer.

Diagnosis Treatment

Vets examine symptoms and your pet's history and perform blood work to confirm a diagnosis. The vet will focus on rehydrating your dog, controlling his vomiting, providing pain relief and nutritional support, and preventing additional complications, through fluid therapy, medication and when necessary, a feeding tube. The prognosis varies according to the severity of the attack; mild attacks have a generally favorable outlook while more severe cases tend to have poor outcomes. A low-fat diet is usually necessary to minimize the risk of future attacks.

Other Disorders and Symptoms

  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency occurs when your dog's pancreas doesn't produce and secrete enough digestive enzymes, leading to digestive problems and malabsorption. Symptoms include weight loss, excessive eating and diarrhea; vomiting is also occasionally seen, as well as a decrease in appetite. The dog's stool is often loose, plentiful and pale, emitting a foul odor. Supplemental pancreatic enzymes are necessary for this condition. 
  • Pancreatic cancers may be malignant, such as pancreatic adenocarcinomas, or benign, as pancreatic adenomas are. Often there are no signs of pancreatic adenomas, which are often discovered during surgery. Surgical removal of the affected tissue is usually recommended, typically with a favorable outlook. Malignant pancreatic tumors often show no signs until the disease has progressed. Signs of pancreatic adenocarcinomas include jaundice, bone pain, lameness and difficulty breathing. This condition has a poor prognosis. 
  • When pus forms near the pancreas, the dog has a pancreatic abscess, often a complication of pancreatitis. Symptoms of pancreatic abscess include abdominal pain, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, depression and dehydration. The vet may recommend surgery, depending on the dog's condition. 
  • When sterile pancreatic fluid is contained in a wall of tissue, the dog has a pancreatic pseudocyst. The symptoms are similar to pancreatitis, with vomiting presenting most consistently. Surgery and fluid extraction are potential treatment options.