When The Body Starts Digesting Itself

The pancreas is a V-shaped gland located between the stomach and the duodenum (small intestine). The 2 main functions of a pancreas are:

  • produce digestive enzymes to help break down and absorb nutrients from food
  • produce insulin to regulate blood sugar level in the body
Ref: vcahospitals.com

Ref: vcahospitals.com

what is pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. An inflamed pancreas leaks digestive enzymes which begin to break down fat and proteins in other organs (including the pancreas itself) – the body is literally digesting itself.


Bobby is a very well-loved Golden Retriever at a grand age of 17. He has been vomiting since yesterday & refused to eat.

What are the causes of pancreatitis?

Several factors may contribute to pancreatitis in dogs. They include certain medications, hormonal diseases (e.g. hypothyroidism), genetics and high-fat diets.


The majority of dogs that develop pancreatitis are middle aged or elderly.

what are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

Symptoms are similar to other conditions like kidney diseases and ingestion of foreign objects. They include:

  • abdominal pain
  • loss of appetite
  • vomiting
  • fatigue
  • dehydration

In severe cases, the animal may develop heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and have difficulty breathing. Toxins released by destroyed tissue may cause sepsis (body-wide infection) and a life-threatening condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) which results in multiple haemorrhages.


Dr Simon Quek, Mount Pleasant Animal Medical Centre (Clementi), examines Bobby who is looking very lethargic.

How is pancreatitis diagnosed?

Besides obtaining a complete history and performing a thorough physical exam, the tests your vet may run include the following:

  • complete blood count
  • biochemistry profile (to detect elevated amylase or lipase)
  • pancreatic-specific test (cPLI test)

Serum lipase can come from other tissues besides the pancreas so elevated levels may not be due to pancreatitis. A more specific test is the cPLI (Canine Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity) test. Pancreas-specific lipase is produced only in the pancreas. The value is elevated only when there is pancreatic inflammation.


Hannah prepares Bobby for intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration.

Bobby waiting for his medication.

Bobby will be hospitalised for treatment.


The goal of treatment is to rest the pancreas & provide supportive care – prevent dehydration, control vomiting & provide pain relief. If vomiting is severe, food, water & oral medications are withheld for at least 24 hours.

If your dog’s pancreatitis is mild or diagnosed early, chances of recovery are usually good. A low-fat diet and feeding small meals throughout the day (rather than one large meal) may reduce the strain on the pancreas during digestion. Discuss with your vet about the optimal diet to reduce pancreatic stress and prevent recurrence.