Pancreatitis in Dogs and Cats: The Signs, Treatment and Dietary Management

Cats and dogs living with pancreatitis is hard for both owner and pet, here is some advice from OSCAR Pet foods helpline.

Created: 10/5/2021 Updated: 11/9/2021 - Shelley Simmons

diet, Diet & Nutrition, digestion, Health & Wellbeing

What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is a common clinical condition in dogs and cats. Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas (which is found in the abdomen, near the stomach, liver, and intestines) becomes inflamed. It is responsible for the production of most of the enzymes that digest food, and also produces insulin from ß-cells.

When the pancreas is diseased or injured, the enzymes it produces leak in and around, damaging it and other organs nearby. Instead of travelling down the pancreatic duct to the intestines, the leaking enzymes break down fat and protein locally. In effect, the animal digests its own tissues. The abdomen soon becomes inflamed and may become infected.

Signs for dogs...

  • Loss of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Fever

  • Stomach pain

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Jaundice (yellow tint to the gums, whites of the eyes, or skin)

  • Standing in a praying position

Signs for cats...

  • Loss of appetite

  • Hiding at home

  • Possible jaundice

Signs may start suddenly or come on gradually and can range from mild and intermittent to severe and life-threatening. If your dog or cat shows any signs of pancreatitis it is important to make an appointment with your vet urgently.

There are two forms of pancreatitis:

Acute pancreatitis

This form may allow the pancreas to heal completely.

Chronic pancreatitis

While pets still have the potential to feel good and have a good quality of life, this form may cause long-lasting or permanent damage.

Certain breeds may be more likely to develop pancreatitis. In dogs, these breeds include Miniature Schnauzers, Yorkshire Terriers, English Cocker Spaniels, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Border Collies and Boxers. In cats, Siamese breeds have a greater likelihood.

Sad looking labrador lying on the floor

Causes of pancreatitis can include:

  • Eating something very fatty or something that is different from the pet’s normal diet.

  • Trauma to the abdomen

  • Certain types of medication

  • Bacterial, viral, or (occasionally) fungal or parasitic infections

  • Disease (for example, hormonal disorders)

  • Obesity

Cats have slightly different anatomy to dogs and commonly have pancreatitis associated with liver/gall bladder infections and/or inflammatory bowel disease, sometimes referred to as “triaditis".

Treatment of pancreatitis depends on the severity of the disease, but can include:

  • Antibiotics, or other medicines

  • Withdrawal of food (where necessary)

  • Intravenous fluids

  • Hospitalisation

  • Dietary management

Dietary management

Because fat stimulates the pancreas to release more enzymes, it is very important to feed a low-fat diet for at least the first few days after an episode of pancreatitis. Longer-term, some dogs and cats manage well on their previous life-stage diet or a non-clinical low-fat food, whilst those with chronic pancreatitis (long term/recurring) or those requiring a greater fat restriction, may be advised to feed the clinical food long term. The most important point is to always follow your vet's recommendation and make any changes to the diet very slowly. Feed the daily allowance in as many separate, small meals as possible and ensure access to fresh drinking water.

Where suitable, OSCAR Adult Care Complete High Fibre Lite or OSCAR Adult Care Complete Pinnacle of Life may be the diet of choice for dogs. High Fibre Lite is lower in fat and calories than other OSCAR diets and has an inflated kibble to enhance palatability, assist digestion and slow ingestion. The diet should be fed with an ideal weight in mind as obesity is a predisposition for pancreatitis. However, if your pet has lost a lot of weight, then the aim will be to gradually increase their weight until the ideal weight is reached. It is important to avoid all other treats, rewards or chews. Try to remember that any other food fed to your pet increases the overall fat content entering their body. Also, remember to feed many small meals throughout the day to avoid ‘overloading’ the pancreas.

Dietary fat restriction is generally not required in cats, but if they have any other concurrent disease then a clinical diet may be required. If your cat has lost a lot of weight due to illness, then a high energy diet may be more suitable, or, if overweight, a diet containing reduced calories could be the diet of choice. Always follow your vet's recommendation or speak with our helpline for further advice. If treats are offered, this should only be done when your pet is totally settled on their main food. Introduce treats gradually, one at a time, always monitoring for changes to the pet, and only use low-fat treats.

Avoiding risk factors such as obesity, high-fat foods and scavenging will help to prevent recurrence of flare-ups in the future.

Nervous looking white and brown cat in a pink carrier case at the vet

How can OSCAR help?

The OSCAR diet of choice for dogs where suitable would be OSCAR Adult Care Complete High Fibre Lite

The second diet of choice for dogs where suitable would be OSCAR Adult Care Complete Pinnacle of Life

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email