Exercising a Dog with Pancreatitis – Exercise & Recovery

In this article, we are going to look at exercising dogs with pancreatitis.

The pancreas is a small but vital organ located between the small intestine and stomach. It produces digestive enzymes and insulin that regulates your dogs’ blood sugar levels.

Pancreatitis in dogs is on the rise in this country, yet relatively very little is known about the exact causes; however, what your dog eats plays an important part. Maintaining a healthy weight with plenty of exercise improves your dog’s digestive system and goes a long way to preventing pancreatitis.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you suspect your best friend is developing pancreatitis or has recently been diagnosed with the condition and you want to know how to help them.

Keep reading to find out:

  • What causes pancreatitis in dogs?
  • dog pancreatitis symptoms
  • Acute or chronic pancreatitis – what’s the difference?
  • What exercises are best for pancreatitis?

What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?

What is pancreatitis in dogs? Put simply; it’s the inflammation of the organ which inhibits the digestion of food and causes pancreatic enzymes to leak into the bloodstream. Severe pancreatitis in dogs can be fatal, so it’s essential to get your pup to a veterinary hospital asap.

Pancreatitis can be caused by several different factors, which include:

  • Nutritional problems – pancreatitis is more common in overweight dogs and maybe worsened with a high-fat diet
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency – this occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough enzymes to digest food properly.
  • Gallstones (cholelithiasis) – when gallstones, caused by high-fat food lodge in the pancreatic or hepatic duct, inflammation of the pancreas occurs
  • Immune-mediated disease – when a healthy dog’s immune system attacks its own tissues, including tissue in the pancreas that produces digestive enzymes.

What are Digestive Enzymes?

When your best friend consumes their dog, food enzymes break down the food to be absorbed by the body. In healthy dogs, exocrine pancreatic enzymes (EPEs) are released into the small intestine through glands in the pancreas to complete digestion of nutrients already started by stomach acids. When a dog has pancreatitis, these enzymes leak from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream

The Difference Between Chronic Pancreatitis and Acute Pancreatitis?

Acute pancreatitis is a serious illness. It’s excruciating, occurs suddenly and the signs can be severe. Dogs with acute pancreatitis often need hospitalisation, pain medication and intravenous fluids.

Signs of severe acute pancreatitis

Speak to your vet right away if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration (this can occur very quickly)
  • Diarrhoea (sometimes bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy or restlessness

On the other hand, chronic pancreatitis is a long-term (chronic) inflammation and damage of the pancreas that may not cause significant symptoms until it has progressed to a later stage.

It can lead to type 1 diabetes mellitus, which will mean your pup taking insulin for the rest of their lives and changing dog food will be required.

Breeds with an increased risk of pancreatitis

  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Boxers
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Collies
  • Huskies
  • Dachshunds

How long does it take for a dog to recover from a pancreatitis episode?

Dog pancreatitis recovery time can vary; milder cases can recover after two or three days of fluid therapy; however, more severe cases can be hospitalised for a week or more. Unfortunately, it can be fatal in some cases.

How to comfort a dog with pancreatitis? Your vet will treat pancreatitis with intravenous fluids and Fido may have to stay there for a few days; when they return home to recover, you should let them rest and feed them bland cooked food.

Many dogs benefit from a raw diet and you should avoid fatty foods. Once they have recovered from the episode, you could contact a holistic vet who may be able to advise some natural remedies.

Dog Food Matters

The most critical factor in treating a dog’s pancreatitis is to avoid feeding fatty food, which upsets the digestive system. Some vets may offer a prescription diet, while others advise reducing the fat intake in your dog’s diet. Some owners prefer buying the best raw food for dogs and follow this strict diet to maintain no fatty foods are eaten by their pets.

Avoid low protein diets as they increase the risk of hyperlipidemia and pancreatitis. You might find this list of high protein foods for dogs useful if you are trying to find a balanced diet for your pup.

No table scraps and smaller, more frequent meals are better than one large one. While your dog is recovering, you can offer them a bland diet such as low-fat cottage cheese, bone broth or cooked chicken breast.

What Dog Owners Need to Know About Exercising Dogs Suffering from Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is more serious in inactive and overweight dogs, so feeding healthy food and exercise are crucial to prevent pancreatitis. Obviously, if your pet is still recovering, they should have short walks, but afterwards, it’s a good idea to up the exercise routine and avoid high-fat foods.

Below are 12 exercises that may benefit your dog’s intestines:

Swimming – Swimming is a great low impact workout that burns up those calories perfect for older dogs and ones with joint problems. Swimming can keep your dog’s digestive tract healthy by reducing the length of time for food digestion.  Dogs like Retrievers, Poodles and Cocker Spaniels love to swim!

Equipment needed

  • Towels
  • Life jacket (recommended)

Agility – Exercise keeps your dog’s blood sugar levels at a healthy level, so agility is an excellent workout to add to your routine a couple of times a week.

Weave poles and jumps are easy to set up anywhere and will improve your dog’s focus, flexibility and balance, as well as burning calories. Not sure if this is right for you and your pooch? Have a word with your local agility training club

Equipment needed

Canicross – Canicross is basically a mixture of cross-country running and sledding, ideal for high energy dogs over 35lbs. Your pup is attached to your body by a special belt and line and pulls you along as they run. If you fancy having a go, there is a highly supportive online canicross community with forums offering advice and local groups.

Equipment needed

  • Canicross harness
  • Line and belt

Hiking – Dogs are the best hiking companions and you can burn calories together whilst enjoying the fresh country air best of all, you can choose a trail to suit your pet’s fitness level. There are short flat trails or challenging hill climbs where you both will feel the burn. If you have a smaller dog and they tire, consider looking at the best dog backpacks to give your canine companion a rest.

Equipment needed

  • Dog backpack
  • Leash
  • Low-fat food (for longer hikes)
  • Poo bags
  • Hiking Harness
  • Dog water bottle
  • Dog booties for walking (optional)
  • Dog Locator (optional)

Fetch – Does your dog love tennis balls or a frisbee? Then a game of fetch is a fantastic way to exercise for a dog with pancreatitis. Want to up the workout, then use a ball thrower. These allow you to launch a ball up to three times the distance, making Fido run more; also, you won’t get drool all over your hands when you pick up the ball.

Equipment needed

  • A ball or frisbee
  • Water
  • Ball launcher (optional)

Cycling – Cycling is a fantastic exercise for burning body fat for humans and our canine companions can benefit too. Take a slow scenic route, pick up the pace or choose a hilly trail; the choice is yours. Just remember your dog will need to be pretty fit to keep up; smaller dogs and brachycephalic breeds may struggle.

Equipment needed

  • Bicycle
  • Bicycle leash attachment (optional)
  • Dog collar or harness
  • Backpack ideal for smaller dogs
  • Bike trailer (optional)

Skijoring – This might be a bit much for the average pet as it’s a hell of a workout, but this combination of dog sledding and skiing is perfect for high energy dogs like huskies and it’s a good winter activity. It can be an expensive hobby to get into, but it’s great fun and many pet owners find it’s worth the investment.

Equipment needed

  • Pulling harness
  • Towline
  • Cross-country skis
  • ski poles
  • Dog booties

Yoga – Doggy yoga, or Doga, is a low-impact exercise that offers many health benefits, including improved strength and flexibility, making it perfect for smaller dogs. It’s the ideal exercise if you live in an apartment or don’t have much space.

Check out Youtube for some yoga exercises for your dog.

Equipment needed

  • Balance or wobble board (optional)
  • Yoga mat

Dance – Dancing is a great way to improve muscle tone, balance and burn calories for humans and the same applies to dogs. Of course, this isn’t Strictly Come Dancing. It’s more a series of tricks set to music, but it’s a great way to have fun while working out and improving fitness.

Equipment needed

  • Low-fat dog treats
  • Something to play music

Walking – (calories used approx 240 per hour) It’s no secret that dogs love going on walks and the sight of the leash will have many dogs tails wagging with joy. Daily dog walk exercise will keep you fit and your dog healthy – it’s a win-win!

Equip needed

  • Comfy shoes
  • Harness or collar
  • Leash
  • Water bottle

Treadmill – Perfect for rainy days when you don’t fancy getting soaked or to boost your dog’s fitness, a treadmill is a handy piece of kit. If you have a smaller breed, you can share the treadmill; you could even get your dog its own treadmill so he can run beside you. Just remember not to overdo it and have plenty of water nearby.

Equipment needed

  • Treadmill


As you can see, there are many exercises for your dog to lose weight if they have chronic pancreatitis and the best part is you will get to have fun together.

I’m sure if you use your imagination, you will come up with dozens of other ideas, such as dock diving or flyball but always do your research and check with your vet first as improper exercise can do more harm than good.

Changing to a low-fat diet and losing excess fat through exercise are both things that will benefit your dog’s pancreas, so why not give a couple of the activities above a try?

John Devlin

Hi, my name is John, and I am the founder of Dogsbarn – a UK-based website dedicated to helping the owners of furry friends enjoy life with their four-legged companion. We currently own two golden retrievers, George and Henry, who love running around in the park together. We are thinking about adding a third – called Frank! Our mission is to provide excellent guides and introduce great products we’ve bought or come across online.