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Pancreatic Cancer in Dogs

Pancreatic cancer is relatively rare in dogs, but owners should recognize the symptoms. Early detection can help start treatment to prevent or limit the spread of this disease. Today, our Oak Grove vets will explain the types of pancreatic cancer that are seen in dogs.

2 Roles of Your Dog's Pancreas

Your dog's pancreas is situated near the beginning of its small intestine and serves two vital functions.

Pancreatic Exocrine Cells

  • The exocrine cells within your dog's pancreas produce enzymes that help digest food.

Pancreatic Endocrine Cells

  • The endocrine cells are responsible for the production of insulin and other hormones, which directly or indirectly affect the functioning of almost every organ in your dog's body. 

Symptoms & Signs of Pancreatic Cancer in Dogs

If your dog is diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor, it means that the cells within a specific part of your pup's pancreas are overproducing (reproducing excessively). As with most tumors in animals and people, your dog's pancreatic tumor could be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Sadly, in dogs, malignant pancreatic tumors are more common than benign ones; however, both are relatively rare. The most common form of pancreatic cancer seen in dogs is insulinoma, followed by adenocarcinoma.

The different forms of pancreatic cancer in dogs will produce a host of different symptoms. If your dog displays any of the symptoms listed below, getting your pup to the vet for an examination as soon as possible is important.


Insulinoma tumors cause an overproduction of insulin when there is no food in the stomach to trigger its normal release into the bloodstream. This unnecessary insulin leads to reduced blood sugar levels, causing symptoms in your pet such as:

  • Reduced energy
  • Lack of enthusiasm for exercise
  • Fainting after prolonged periods without food
  • Lack of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Muscle twitching
  • Seizures


The early signs of adenocarcinomas in dogs are vague, so this form of pancreatic cancer is rarely diagnosed until the disease has progressed.

Symptoms of adenocarcinomas in dogs are similar to the symptoms of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and include:

  • Reduced appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of energy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice

If the cancer has spread to other areas of your dog's body (which is common with this form of cancer), you may notice symptoms such as breathing difficulties or lameness. 

Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer in Dogs

Pancreatic tumors can be challenging to diagnose. Besides being a relatively rare condition, the symptoms associated with these tumors often come and go. To complicate matters further, these symptoms indicate other more common conditions in dogs.

When you take your dog in for an examination, your vet will ask questions about your pup's medical history and conduct a thorough physical examination. 

If your vet suspects that your dog may have pancreatic cancer, they may refer you to a Veterinary Oncologist for further testing and treatment or recommend one or more of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Glucose level exams 
  • Test for hypoglycemia 
  • X-rays (radiographs)
  • CT Scan
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Biopsy


Pancreatic tumors often spread to other parts of the body before being detected and diagnosed in dogs. Therefore, after diagnosing pancreatic cancer, your vet may recommend further tests to determine the extent of the disease, its spread, and its location.

Pancreatic cancer in dogs commonly spreads to the nearby liver or lymph nodes, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the lungs, bones, or brain.

In some cases, fluid build-up may be observed in the chest or abdomen, causing breathing difficulties or a swollen abdomen. Tests that your vet may suggest to determine the 'stage' of your dog's cancer could include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urinalysis
  • Lung X-rays
  • CT Scan
  • Abdominal ultrasound

Progression of Pancreatic Cancer in Dogs

As well as the very real concern about the cancer spreading to other parts of your pup's body, there is the issue of damage to the pancreas caused by the growing tumor.

These tumors often lead to chronic inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis (which causes symptoms such as hunched back, repeated vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, dehydration, weakness, and fever) or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency EPI (which causes chronic diarrhea, weight loss, and generalized poor health).

Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer in Dogs

In the case of insulinomas, surgery to remove the affected portion of the pancreas, followed by chemotherapy is typically considered the best treatment option. If surgery is not an option your vet may try to manage your dog's low blood sugar symptoms through a modified diet and feeding plan combined with medications to suppress insulin secretion.

Surgery is also considered to be the most effective treatment for adenocarcinomas, although it does come with a very real risk of life-threatening complications. Your pup's surgeon or veterinary oncologist may remove part or all of the pancreas, and in some cases, a portion of the small intestine will also be removed. Chemotherapy tends not to be effective in the treatment of adenocarcinomas in dogs. 

The Prognosis for Dogs with Pancreatic Cancer

Because pancreatic tumors tend to be malignant, there is a high probability that the cancer has spread even before diagnosis has occurred, making the prognosis for dogs with pancreatic cancer poor.

Your vet or veterinary oncologist will be able to provide you with a prognosis for your dog based on the type of tumor and results from staging tests. 

What is the Life Expectancy of a Dog with Pancreatic Cancer

Dogs, like humans, can develop a wide variety of cancers. Pancreatic cancer in dogs can vary greatly in terms of how quickly it spreads and grows, and how treatable it is. It's hard to predict the expected life expectancy for dogs diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

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Oak Grove Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our veterinarians are passionate about animal health and are proud to serve our patients. Contact us today to book your pet's first appointment and to get started.

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