What is the pancreas?


The pancreas is a gland located in front of the abdomen, lies below the stomach and directly beside the beginnings of the small intestine.  Its main function is regulation of blood sugar through production of important hormones (one of which is insulin). Second function is production of enzymes that are essential for digestion of food. These enzymes are inactive in the pancreas until needed at meal times. When food is ingested theses enzymes are released into the small intestine where they become activated into potent chemicals that break down ingested food.

What is pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis occurs when digestive chemicals are activated inside the pancreas instead of the intestine. It causes severe inflammation and potential destruction of vital abdominal organs.

What causes pancreatitis?

Statistically, obesity and ingestion of fatty meals are the two main predisposing factors in the dog. Other suspecting causes in dogs and cats are abdominal trauma, medications and metabolic diseases. Many causes are listed as unknown or idiopathic because of the absence of any known predisposing conditions.

What are the symptoms?


Sudden onset of: 

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mental depression
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Dehydration


Cats can show similar signs but are subtler and may only show: 

  • Loss of appetite
  • Mental depression
  • Inactivity
  • Vomiting may or may not be present
  • In worst forms patients may present collapsed due to sudden drop in blood pressure and can affect on other organ systems including heart, liver, kidneys and the blood vessels.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis of pancreatitis is achieved with a combination of physical examination, history, and several tests whose results increase the suspicion of pancreatitis. There is no test that can diagnose pancreatitis with 100% specificity and it is therefore easily misdiagnosed. Tests may include blood tests, imaging with radiographs, ultrasound examination and advanced imaging such as CTs or MRIs.

Ultrasound to visualise the pancreas is the most sensitive and specific and can detect up to 60-70% of the cases.

What is the treatment?


  • The most severely affected patients will receive intravenous delivery of fluids to help restore blood pressure, hydrate the pancreas and other vital organs. 
  • Other drugs that may be indicated: pain relief, insulin, antibiotics, anti-vomiting and anti-ulcer medications and special drugs to restore normal gut movement

Duration of treatment: 

Duration of treatment on average has been shown to be 5-7 days but more severe cases have been shown to require treatments as long as 4-5 weeks. 
Prognosis to full recovery is guarded unless they are treated aggressively and early.

Recurrence is common and possible sequelae to acute pancreatitis include acute recurrent pancreatitis, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and diabetes mellitus. Because of the special needs required for a pancreatic patient you primary care veterinarian may suggest your pet be referred to a speciality facility that is adequately staffed and equipped for providing around the clock care of the critically ill animal.

Home care and possible long-term effects:

When will my pet be able to come home?

Your pet will be discharged from hospital once vomiting has ceased, food and water trials have been performed and your pet’s general well-being has returned.

Are there dietary changes?

Dietary changes are essential for the dog but not for cats.Dogs must receive a low fat diet, best provided with prescription diets available. 3-4 small feeds throughout the day will ease the workload on the pancreas.

Can pancreatitis be prevented? 

Pets do not need and cannot digest large amounts of fat. Please remember that your pet is only 10th of your weight and so food required is only a 10th of our volume.  Small square of cheese is equivalent to us eating the whole block!

  • Feed a good quality premium pet food 
  • Dot not feed table scraps
  • Do not overfeed
  • Spread meals out over the day.