Just like humans, dogs can suffer from all kinds of painful health conditions, including pancreas problems. It’s up to each person as a responsible pet owner to watch for signs of discomfort and get your pooch to the veterinarian when necessary.

Pancreatitis is a condition that occurs when the body tries to protect the pancreas from an infection that doesn’t exist. It sounds a little crazy, but that kind of reaction can occur in both dogs as well as humans. This reaction involves swelling and pain, and can ultimately damage the pancreas.

While some breeds are more susceptible to pancreas problems than others, any breed can be afflicted with these issues. Here are some breeds in which it is more prevalent:

  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Miniature Poodle
  • Cocker Spaniel

Even if you have another breed of dog, there are some warning signs you can look out for. These can sometimes be signals of other issues, as well. So, it’s a good idea to watch out for certain behaviors.

Before we get into the specific signs to look out for, let’s discuss the role and importance of your dog’s pancreas, along with some more information about pancreatitis.

What is the Role of the Pancreas?

Pancreas Problems | Dr MartyPancreatic health is very important for everyone, dog and human alike. The role of the pancreas in dogs is similar to that in humans. This gland is found close to the liver, stomach, and bowel and is a part of the endocrine system. It’s important for dog food digestion and hormone production (particularly insulin – which allows the cells of your dog’s body to convert sugar/glucose into energy).

There are two “lobes” that make up the pancreas. The left lobe is close to the stomach, while the right lobe is just next to the small intestine.

Two ducts on the pancreas deliver important enzymes to the lower digestive tract.

These enzymes are needed for proper digestion of food – especially proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (i.e. some of the most critical components of dog food and their overall diet).1

If the pancreas is not functioning properly, a plethora of issues can arise. These can range from mild symptoms and poor gut health to full-blown pancreatitis that can gravely endanger your dog’s life.

Pancreatic Health in Dogs

When swelling of the pancreas occurs, it can prevent the ducts from getting enzymes into the intestine. This forces those enzymes right into the abdomen – where they begin breaking down the proteins and fats of the surrounding organs and tissues.

In essence, the body starts digesting itself. Sounds like a horror movie, right?

There are a few potential causes:

  • High levels of fat in the blood
  • High levels of calcium in the blood
  • Physical trauma to the pancreas
  • Drugs/medications
  • Toxins
  • Being overweight (a great reason to talk with your vet about the dog food you are feeding for overall health before issues arise)

Pancreatic issues can easily affect the kidney and liver, causing the entire abdomen area to become painful and swollen. These problems can also lead to infection. If this condition is allowed to worsen it can lead to bleeding in the pancreas, causing shock, and in the worst cases death.2

8 Signs of Potential Pancreas Problems and Issues in Dogs

There are several signs of pancreas problems and issues in dogs. See your veterinarian if you notice the following:

Pancreas Problems | Dr MartyLethargy

This is a fairly easy sign to recognize. If your dog’s energy and activity levels are not what they usually are, then it’s time to get your dog to the vet.


While many people prefer to take their dog to the veterinarian to check their temperature, it’s something owners can do at home. However, your normal thermometer won’t work. Dog’s require a rectal or ear thermometer. The normal temperature range in dogs is 99.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.3 If your dog has a fever, then you should take them to the vet immediately.


This is another easy one to spot. You can monitor your dog if they vomit once, but you should watch for this to continue (or look for a combination of vomiting plus other signs). If your dog is displaying more than one of any of these signs, it’s time to take them in to be checked out.4 It could be as simple as intolerance to their dog food or something more serious concerning their overall health.


If you let your dogs out into a fenced yard, you really should be making regular “yard sweeps” to check out the color and consistency of their bowel movements. Diarrhea can signal several potential issues, including pancreas problems. As with vomiting, this can be as simple as their dog food or something more serious.

Loss of Appetite

Sometimes dogs with pancreas problems will eat less than normal. If this goes on for more than a day or so and/or is combined with other signs, then you should have them checked out by a vet. You can try changing their dog food – this sign, alone, can be as simple as distaste. However, take note if they aren’t interested in anything at all.


This can be a bit more difficult to recognize, but it can go along with lethargy and lack of activity. It can even be smaller things like wagging their tail less and showing less interest in their human family members throughout the day.

Conversely, it can also present as anxiety. Your pooch may become more upset when you have to leave and may cry or bark for seemingly no reason.5

Increased Heart Rate

Pancreas Problems | Dr MartyA normal heartbeat for a dog is about 50 to 130 beats per minute (in a resting dog). Smaller breeds and puppies will have a faster heart rate than larger dogs. A dog’s heart rate is usually checked using two fingers on the upper inside of the dog’s hind leg.6

Difficulty Breathing

If you notice this in your dog, you should not wait – you should take them to the vet immediately. Difficulty breathing is a serious symptom, even if presenting alone.

Your dog will pant if he or she is hot, as this is their natural cooling system. But if you notice them panting much more than normal in cool conditions or if they are struggling to breathe, they should be checked out.7

Diagnosis of Pancreas Problems

Diagnosis can vary depending on your dog’s symptoms as well as the progression of this pancreatic condition. Your vet will likely run blood tests to look at kidney/liver function, sugar levels, and any potential pancreas problems. They will also probably check for electrolyte levels and may even do x-ray imaging to have a better look inside.

Gallstones can also be a sign of this condition so they might check for these as well.8 They will likely inquire about your dog’s overall health, diet, dog food, activity levels, and other pertinent factors, so you should have this information ready for them.

This condition generally has a rapid progression. However, if caught and properly treated by a veterinarian a dog can recover even without permanent damage to the pancreas.

Pancreas Problems | Dr MartyKeep Your Pup Safe

If you think your dog may be suffering from pancreas problems or any other digestive issues, you should take them to the veterinarian’s office immediately. They are the only ones who can properly diagnose and treat any health condition or illness in dogs. However, it’s a great idea as a responsible pet owner to know these signs and to watch out for them – especially if you have a breed that is susceptible to pancreas problems.

Remember, your dog’s happiness can depend a lot on their health! Make sure they are getting proper exercise and eating the right dog food. Keep up with their veterinary checkups as well as vaccines and other preventatives. And always call or go into your vet if something seems off. Sometimes, early intervention is the most important factor.

Learn More:
Understanding Why Dogs Eat Grass? (4 possible reasons)
If You Want an Emotional Support Dog, Read This First
Why Do Dogs Vomit Undigested Food?