When my dog was diagnosed with pancreatitis, I decided to learn more about this devastating disease. If your pet eats something that doesn’t agree with him, he might develop an upset stomach, vomiting and feeling lethargic. An extreme case of gastrointestinal upset can be caused by pancreatitis.
What is pancreatitis in dogs? Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and can affect any dog, no matter how young or old they are. It can be deadly and causes extreme discomfort as well as gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting. It can necessitate lifelong treatment, especially if it is not caught early.
Pancreatitis can be so devastating because of the location of the pancreas. It is located near the stomach, liver, and intestines.
When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it releases digestive enzymes that normally function within the intestines. When released in the abdominal cavity, these enzymes can inflame the surrounding organs and cause pain and distress.
What is Dog Pancreatitis?
Acute pancreatitis is the most common form of pancreatitis, although some pets will later develop relapsing or chronic pancreatitis.
As I’m sure you can image, the milder the case, the easier it can be to treat. In dogs, this is the edematous form. The hemorrhagic form is more severe and has a poorer prognosis.
The pancreas is responsible for many digestive enzymes, such as amylase which helps digest starches.
This organ also has a function in regulating blood sugar by releasing insulin in response to elevations in blood sugar, such as after your pet eats. With pancreatitis, these normal functions may not occur, meaning food isn’t getting properly digested and insulin may not be released properly.
As the digestive enzymes are released into the body, they may actually begin to digest the pancreas and other organs. This causes your dog to be painful (Source VCA).
Causes of Pancreatitis in Dogs
There are a variety of causes of pancreatitis, and your veterinarian can often narrow down the specific cause. In some cases, idiopathic pancreatitis develops, which means the actual cause is unknown.
In other cases, eating a fatty meal is the trigger.
This is the danger inherit in feeding table scraps: they tend to be fattier than commercial pet food. Bacon grease, which sometimes gets added to pets’ food, is also a cause.
Medication administration can also cause pancreatitis. The most common medications to cause this are corticosteroids.
While any pet can develop pancreatitis, there are factors that increase their risk for having this disease:
- Older dogs tend to be at a higher risk than younger dogs.
- Overweight pets are also more likely to develop pancreatitis than lean pets, although this may be more related to their diet than their actual weight (Source WebMD, VCA).
Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Pancreatitis is often diagnosed when a pet develops nausea and vomiting.
They may have one episode of vomiting or multiple. Because of their nausea, they often don’t want to eat and may be lethargic.
They may also have other gastrointestinal signs, such as diarrhea. Because of the inflammation, your dog may have a fever.
One of the hallmarks of pancreatitis is the intense pain that it causes, largely because the digestive enzymes are affecting surrounding tissues. They may exhibit splinting, where they arch their back from the pain.
During active episodes of pancreatitis, affected dogs may go into a prayer position, where they bow down from the discomfort.
In severe episodes of pancreatitis, your dog may develop shock.
This can be life-threatening and cause problems like a lack of tissue perfusion. Your dog may become severely depressed, and there is a risk of your dog dying (Source VCA).
Diagnosing Dog Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis can be a difficult disease to diagnose because many laboratory changes can occur with diseases other than pancreatitis.
The most specific tests for diagnosing it include pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (PLI), such as with a test your veterinarian can run in their office, a canine pancreatic lipase test or CPL test.
Because of the inflammation, blood work panels often show elevated white blood cell counts. They may also have low platelet counts.
In dogs, your veterinarian might see high amylase levels, which is an enzyme released by the pancreas. Because of the potential for dehydration, some dogs exhibit elevated blood urea nitrogen levels.
Diagnostic imaging may also help your veterinarian determine that your dog has pancreatitis.
Ultrasounds may show that the pancreas is inflamed, and peritonitis or fluid in the front or cranial portion of the abdomen may be present. Pancreatitis may show up on radiographs or X-rays, as well. The cranial portion of your dog’s abdomen may have decreased detail or show the presence of inflammation (Source Merck Veterinary Manual).
Treatment for Pancreatitis
The mainstay of pancreatitis treatment is to rest the pancreas.
This involves letting the digestive tract rest by having the patient abstain from eating for a set period of time, such as 12 to 24 hours. During this time, your dog should be treated with fluids, usually given via IV.
With severe cases of pancreatitis, your pet may need to be hospitalized with aggressive fluid therapy. Eventually the dog will be transitioned to eating a low-fat diet.
Because of the amount of pain caused by pancreatitis, pain medication is often needed to control the amount of discomfort. This can include medications such as buprenorphine. Anti-inflammatory medications may also be used, depending on the cause and overall health of your dog.
Because of the nausea involved in pancreatitis, your dog will likely receive anti-nausea medication.
Different types of this medication include Cerenia or zofran. Cerenia is often used in dogs because it can be given as an injection, by-passing the gut. Antibiotics may also be given for your dog if an infection is suspected to help treat it, such as amoxicillin (Source VCA).
Long-Term Complications of Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis can have long-lasting complications for your pet.
Some will develop recurrent bouts of pancreatitis, so many pets are treated with a low-fat food for a prolonged period of time or for life, such as Royal Canin’s Gastrointestinal Low Fat.
Pancreatitis can also cause diabetes mellitus to develop in your dog.
This occurs when endocrine cells of the pancreas which are responsible for producing insulin are destroyed. This metabolic disease is generally not reversible in dogs and will need to be treated with diet and insulin injections for the rest of your dog’s life.
Some dogs with pancreatitis will go on to develop exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI. This is caused when the cells that produce digestive enzymes are destroyed. The body can’t digest foods on its own. EPI can be treated by supplementing your dog’s diet with enzymes or fresh pancreas (Source VCA).
Can pancreatitis kill a dog? Pancreatitis can be deadly, especially in its more severe, hemorrhagic form. Aggressive therapy is often needed in any case of pancreatitis to help minimize the possibility of deadly consequences, such as shock. If you suspect pancreatitis, take your pet to see a veterinarian immediately.
What dog breeds are prone to pancreatitis? While any dog can develop pancreatitis, some appear to be more susceptible to developing it. These include cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzers, and miniature poodles. If your dog starts vomiting or becomes lethargic, take them to the vet to be evaluated in case this disease has spontaneously developed.
Best Dog Food for Pancreatitis
All-inclusive guide to the best dog food for pancreatitis.
In-depth analysis for dogs with liver disease, pancreatitis, protein losing enteropathy, hyperlipidemia, and obesity.
Picking out food for your dog can be incredibly confusing to an owner. There are so many brands that claim to be the best which can make narrowing it down quite hard.
When your dog has a dietary restriction such as a low-fat diet, that can make the process even more complicated!
There are many reasons why a dog may require a diet low in fat. A dog with liver disease, pancreatitis, protein losing enteropathy, hyperlipidemia, or obesity can all benefit from a low-fat diet. (Link 1, Link 2)
The American Association of Feed Control Officials recommend that your dog’s food has 10-15% fat in order for it to be considered balanced by their standards. If you look on the back of the bag or can you will find a full nutrition profile under “Guaranteed Analysis” that lists things such as Crude Fat min%.
What Crude Fat min% means is the guaranteed minimum amount of that nutrient in the food.
Likewise, a max% is the maximum amount of that nutrient found in the food.
Some food may not show information that is completely helpful such as only indicating the minimum amount of fat in the food when you want to know that maximum amount since you are trying to limit fat in their diet.
So where do you begin to determine what food may be best?
Can you find a low-fat diet that also meets your preferences?
This article helps to simplify the process and narrows down options to help pick out the best low-fat diet for your canine companion.
Best Low Fat Dry Dog Food for Pancreatitis
1. Eagle Pack Reduced Fat Dry Dog Food
- Complete & Balanced: All Natural, Delicious Dry Dog Recipe For Everyday Nutrition For Your Dog
- Fat: Min 6% Max 9%, Protein: Min 24%, Fiber: Max 4%
- Calories: 343 kcal/cup
This dry food is a great option for over the counter dry food that less costly than most leading brands.
Eagle Pack Reduced Fat also includes added Lactic Acid Microorganisms aka probiotics which can be another added benefit for a dog who tends to have gastrointestinal issues.
The first 5 ingredients are Pork Meal, Dehulled Barley, Peas, Ground Brown Rice, and Oatmeal.
Lots of good wholesome ingredients packed into this kibble! This makes for another great options as a low-fat diet for a dog who prefers dry food.
2. Annamaet Grain-Free Reduced Fat Dry Dog Food
- Fat: Min 7% Max 9%, Protein: Min 30%, Fiber: Max 3.5%
- Calories: 350 kcal/cup
This option is a great all-around for a dry food with a low-fat content that an owner feels good about feeding their dogs. The first 5 ingredients are chicken meal, field peas, chickpeas, potato, and tapioca.
Chicken meal is basically a dried end product that produces a concentrated protein powder. Chicken meal can contain almost 4x the protein of a whole chicken.
This diet also contains chelated minerals which means they are more easily absorbed by your dog and prebiotic fibers to help improve digestion. This diet is packed with nutrition and health benefits which makes it a great option for your furry friend’s breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner.
Best Low Fat Wet Dog Food
1. Fromm Four Star Nutritionals Shredded Chicken Entree
- Fat: Min 2% (technical analysis of 2.87%), Protein: Min 7%, Fiber: Max 1.2%
- Calories: 228 kcal/can
This canned dog food reads like chicken soup for your dog’s soul (and poor inflamed insides!). This option is lower calorie than others and has the lowest calorie count of all the other options listed.
While this may not be the best option for a Great Dane this is certainly fitting for all the little terriers that are predisposed to gastrointestinal issues.
The first 5 ingredients of this canned diet are chicken broth, chicken, potatoes, carrots, and green beans.
Reads like something grandma would make, doesn’t it?!
Best Low Fat Raw Dog Food
1. Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Grain Free Duck Patties
- Fat: Min 9%, Protein: Min 14%, Fiber: Max 2%
- Calories: 410 kcal/patty
These raw patties offer lots of wholesome ingredients for your puppy while still keeping the fat content low. This is meant to follow the “paleo” way of thinking when it comes to eating by mimicking their ancestors diets which means no fillers in the ingredients.
Owners and veterinary professionals are divided on the topic but it’s up to you, the owner, to determine what works best for both you and your dog. The first 5 ingredients are duck, turkey heart, turkey liver, turkey bone, yeast culture, and pumpkin seeds.
An ingredient in this diet that may sound foreign is montmorillonite clay. It is rich in trace minerals and has reported therapeutic benefits for dogs with diarrhea.
This is a meat-based product and brand that has many loyal customers.
Best Low Fat Prescription Dry Dog Food
1. Hills I/D Low Fat Prescription Dry Dog Food
- Fat: Avg 7.4% , Protein: Avg 25.9%, Fiber: Avg 1.7%
- Calories: 333 kcal/cup
This diet is only available with a veterinary prescription and has been clinically proven to help improve digestion and improve your dog’s gut microflora. They also have a 100% satisfaction guarantee which is always welcome when you are trying to find a food that agrees with your dog.
The first 5 ingredients are Brewers Rice, Corn Starch, Corn Gluten Meal, Whole Grain Wheat, and Chicken By-Product Meal.
Corn is a pretty controversial ingredient when it comes to dog food but overall it isn’t as bad as competitors make it out to be. Corn itself is not unhealthy but it can be overused in dog foods as a way to add more calories and some bulk to the food but in return offers only moderate to little nutrition.
Some people may not love the corn ingredients but with a proven history and guarantee it is worth considering Hills I/D Low Fat if you have a pup that requires a low-fat diet. Every dog handles food differently and I/D low fat has many anecdotal stories in addition to scientific studies to prove their worthiness.
Over and Out
There are hundreds of different brands of dog food available on the market and the listed brands are just a few making high quality food with a lower fat content.
Determining what is good for your dog can be hard but a great trick is to call the number of the dog food company to get easy information regarding the nutrition in a particular product or to find one that meets your dog’s nutritional needs.
Another great source is your friendly neighborhood veterinarian because they have many clients who let them know what works for their dogs.