Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer in Dogs

Pancreatic cancer in dogs is typically discovered when the disease is already in an advanced stage. The pancreas is an internal organ that helps in the food digestion and regulates the blood glucose. When a tumor affects the pancreas, the dog may present some symptoms that involve abnormal sugar levels in the blood and impaired digestion. A timely detection of pancreatic cancer can give a better prognosis and expand the dog’s lifespan, so pay attention to the clinical signs and take your dog to the vet for more tests.

Clinical Signs of Dog Pancreatitis

In dogs, most tumors that grow on the pancreas are malignant. However, pancreatic cancer is rare in canines. When the tumor occurs, the dog may not display any clinical signs. However, as the tumor starts to develop, there may be several symptoms that should alarm you:

  • Chronic vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Digestive issues
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the vomit or stool
  • Hair loss
  • Dry skin
  • Abnormal levels of blood sugar, which can cause agitation or lethargy, pale gums or increased thirst and urination
  • Lack of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Swollen abdomen

These symptoms may be indicative of several other conditions such as hyper or hypoglycemia, diabetes, intestinal parasites or even epilepsy.

Some dogs only show symptoms when the disease is already in metastasis and affects the lymph nodes or the lungs. At this stage, specific symptoms may be present including breathing difficulties, coughing, often with blood and lack of interest in activities.

Physical Examination

If you see that 1 or several of the above mentioned symptoms persist in your dog, you will have to take your pet for a checkup. The vet will examine the dog and see if there are any visible signs of a tumor. The vet will palpate the dog’s abdomen and see if it is swollen, which can indicate that there is a tumor.

Blood Tests and Urinalysis

Blood tests should also be performed to diagnose pancreatic cancer. The blood tests may show abnormal levels of blood sugar. Urinalysis is also necessary.

X-Rays and Ultrasounds

X-rays and ultrasounds are tests recommended to detect the pancreatic tumor. These tests may be run in the abdominal area, but may also be performed on the chest area, if the vet suspects the cancerous cells have spread to other organs.


Finally, a biopsy is needed to establish if the cells that make up the tumor are malignant or benign. A mini surgery will be required to obtain a cell sample. This will be performed under anesthesia. In some cases, if the tumor is small and hasn’t extended to other parts of the body, the vet may perform an excision biopsy, which means that the entire tumor plus some surrounding tissue will be removed. The vet will send the cell samples to a cytologist, who will examine the cells in more detail and determine their nature.