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Pancreatitis in Older German Shepherds

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

You may be concerned about your dog's health and well-being as an older German Shepherd parent. One condition that you may not be familiar with is pancreatitis. The pancreas is a small organ that sits behind the stomach and intestine. The purpose of the pancreas is to digest food while also regulating blood sugar levels through the production of insulin, which helps move glucose from the bloodstream into cells so it can be used as energy. Pancreatitis is a serious inflammation of the pancreas that can be fatal if left untreated. However, with early diagnosis and proper treatment, many dogs recover fully from this potentially life-threatening condition.

In this #LifeWithOldDogs® blog post and podcast, we'll discuss the signs & symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of pancreatitis in older German Shepherds. By understanding this condition, you can keep your older German Shepherd happy and healthy for years to come.

What Causes Pancreatitis?

The exact cause of pancreatitis is often difficult to nail down. It could be due to many factors, including infection, such as Babesia canis (a tick-borne infection) or Leishmania (parasite), an injury, or even some drugs like certain antibiotics and chemotherapy. But ingesting fatty foods and scavenging through trash are the most common causes of pancreatitis. Still, pancreatitis in dogs can also be idiopathic as well.

There are two types of pancreatitis, acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly, whereas chronic is more long-term, and the symptoms aren't as pronounced as acute pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis is not as common as acute.

What Are The Signs Of Pancreatitis?


  • Persistent Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • loss of appetite

  • Dehydration

  • Serious lethargy

  • abdominal pain


  • Same as above, but not as pronounced.

How Is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

Pancreatitis can be difficult to identify because its symptoms are not specific, and routine blood tests may be ineffective in identifying this particular illness. That said, your trusted veterinarian can run pancreatic-specific blood tests such as canine pancreatic lipase to help make a diagnosis, but even that is not 100%. Another method she may use to help make a diagnosis is to order X-rays to rule out the possibility of an obstruction, which can also cause similar symptoms. And finally, she may order an ultrasound to view the pancreas for abnormalities.

Treatment for Pancreatitis:

First, your trusted veterinarian will try to determine the cause of the illness and address it. Regardless of the type and severity, patients with acute or chronic pancreatitis will require supportive care to overcome their illness. The supportive care will most likely include the following:

  • Withholding food for 24 hours

  • pain relief for abdominal discomfort

  • anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the inflammation of the pancreas

  • anti-nausea medication

  • IV fluids may also be necessary

  • antibiotics also may be prescribed

If the pancreatitis is severe, your dog will be admitted to a veterinary hospital for 24-hour care.

Once your dog shows signs of improvement, a bland diet is recommended for the first few days. Additionally, a diet change may be needed if pancreatitis continues to surface.

Prognosis For Older German Shepherds With Pancreatitis

The prognosis for older German Shepherds with pancreatitis depends on the complexity and severity of the illness. The prognosis can be good in mild, less complex cases, with most older German Shepherds recovering fully. However, even then, the potential to develop extensive scarring within the pancreatic tissue is a genuine possibility.

Unfortunately, the prognosis becomes guarded to gravely ill as pancreatitis progresses in complexity and severity. Severe pancreatitis cases can involve other factors, such as the whole body becoming inflamed, leading to multiple organ failures.

Furthermore, the abdominal cavity can become infected, which is another complication of severe pancreatitis that can lead to death.

And last but certainly not least, extensive scarring of the pancreas tissue can lead to other conditions, such as diabetes mellitus and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

We covered EPI two episodes ago when we had Olesia Kennedy, founder of EPI 4 Dogs, on to talk with us about EPI. To learn more, you can check out that #LifeWithOldDogs® podcast and blog here:

To listen to this week's #LifeWithOldDogs® podcast episode that coincides with this blog post, click here:


***** Disclaimer: Throughout the "20 Most Common Health Issues in Senior German Shepherds" series, each blog post is expressed explicitly from our point of view and is not to be substituted for the professional medical expertise of your trusted veterinarian.


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