Symptoms of Pancreas Problems in Dogs

There are varying symptoms of pancreas problems in dogs that can be indicative of multiple ailments. The pancreas provides digestive enzymes manufactured by the acinar cells and insulin for sugar metabolism produced by the iselet cells. Common pancreatic ailments include pancreatitis, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, diabetes mellitis, and diabetic ketoacidosis.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is an inflammation and swelling of the pancreas. Dogs that have Cushing's syndrome, diabetes mellitis, hypothyroidism and high fat diets have an increased risk of developing pancreatitis. Other causes include infection, blockage of pancreatic duct or weight conditions. The initial symptoms of acute pancreatitis are an abrupt onset of vomiting and abdominal pain accompanied by:

Pancreatitis can also exist as a milder condition with symptoms of:

Laboratory blood tests can show elevated amylase or lipase levels and an abdominal ultrasound may show an enlarged pancreas in cases of pancreatitis. Pancreatic abscesses, collections of pus near the pancreas, may occur secondary to pancreatitis resulting in continuation of pancreatitis symptoms after treatment. Pancreatic pseudocysts are collections of pancreatic fluid in tissue that also occur secondary to pancreatitis. Clinical signs similar to pancreatitis may occur in cases of benign or malignant pancreatic neoplasms. An abdominal ultrasound is necessary to properly diagnose these conditions and administer appropriate treatment.

Effective treatment requires administration of intravenous fluids to allow the pancreas to rest. The dog may need to be treated for shock, dehydration, or pain and may require surgery. Once pancreatitis occurs, it is likely have repeated episodes after recovery, or cause secondary ailments. Chronic pancreatitis will display symptoms including:

  • Frequent vomiting
  • Intestinal gas
  • Weight loss (with no change or an increase in appetite)
  • Large amounts of soft stool

Symptoms of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is most often caused by inactivity of pancreatic acinar cells that produce enzymes to aid in digestion and absorption of nutrients. Occasionally it is secondary to pancreatitis. Symptoms of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss (despite appetite)
  • Diarrhea with a rancid odor
  • Oily perianal hair (from undigested fat)
  • Ingestion of feces

Diagnosis is specific to the measurement of a drastic reduction in serum tripsin-like immunoreactivity after a fast. Dietary supplements of pancreatic enzymes are an effective treatment.

Symptoms of Diabetes Mellitis

Diabetes mellitis occurs as a result of inadequate production of insulin by pancreatic iselet cells. It may also be secondary to pancreatitis due to the destruction of iselet cells. Initial symptoms of diabetes mellitis include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Dehydration
  • Increased water consumption
  • Increased appetite 
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Abnormal gait

Advanced diabetes mellitis will display symptoms such as:

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Coma

Laboratory tests will show high blood sugar and high urine sugar, referred to as hyperglycemia and glycosuria, in dogs with diabetes mellitis. Diabetes can be controlled with careful attention to diet, and with adherence to prescribed injections of insulin. A return of symptoms indicates that the diet or insulin dosage needs to be changed to control the condition. Blood glucose curves will need to be performed regularly to ensure that the proper insulin dosage is being administered according to weight, diet and age.

Symptoms of Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis, associated with hyperglycemia, is the build up of ketone acid in the blood due to fats being metabolized for energy. Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include:

  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Rapid breathing
  • Acetone breath odor (nail polish remover)

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life threatening condition and requires immediate veterinary care.