Updated July 2023, by Kristina Johansen Cert. ACN
Experiencing a pancreatic attack in your dog can be an incredibly stressful and anxious time for both you and your dog. You may feel lost, scared, or confused.
In this guide to diet for dogs with pancreatitis, our primary focus will be on foods; however, we will also cover topics such as:
- What causes pancreatitis?
- Signs and symptoms
- Raw diet vs. cooked diet: Which is better?
Let’s delve in!
What exactly does my dog’s pancreas do?
Your dog’s pancreas is a long, pink organ nestled beneath the stomach and alongside the small intestine. It serves two main functions:
- It produces enzymes (juices) that help digest the food your dog eats.
- It produces hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, to control blood sugar levels.
Both of these functions are critical to your dog’s health. Without the necessary enzymes, your dog would struggle to break down and absorb essential nutrients from food. And keeping the blood sugar in check is key, not only for preventing health conditions like diabetes, but also for ensuring stable energy levels throughout the day.
Why did my dog get pancreatitis?
When the pancreas is working normally, digestive enzymes become active only when they reach the small intestine. It is believed that pancreatitis develops due to the premature activation of these enzymes. Think of it as a firework that goes off before reaching its height.
When this happens, the enzymes begin to digest before they should. This results in the digestion of the pancreas itself, causing pain, inflammation and general unwellness.
While in the majority of cases, the exact cause of pancreatitis will remain unknown, there are some potential triggers such as:
- High levels of dietary fat
- Ingestion of garbage or table scrabs
- Damage or trauma to the pancreas
- Underlying Health Conditions
Generally, pancreatitis occurs in dogs that are middle-aged or elderly dogs. And while it can happen in all dogs, it is more common in some breeds, including Boxers, Cocker Spaniels and Collies.
Acute versus chronic pancreatitis
Acute pancreatitis happens suddenly and often without any previous history of the condition. Acute pancreatitis is typically short-term but it tends to be more severe.
Some dogs make a full recovery after an acute pancreatic attack. Others become repeat offenders and experience repeat bouts of the disease, which is then referred to as chronic or relapsing pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis tends to be less severe compared to acute pancreatitis, but the symptoms can be persistent and may wax and wane.
What are the signs of pancreatitis?
Recognizing the signs of pancreatitis early on is crucial because prompt medical intervention can help minimize damage to the pancreas and improve your dog’s prognosis.
During an attack of pancreatitis, a dog will often stretch into a ‘praying position’, with their rear end raised and the head and front legs lowered onto the floor.
Other common clinical signs to be aware of include:
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Mild to severe abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
This isn’t an exhaustive list, so it’s important to speak to your vet if you notice anything unusual about your dog and their behaviour.
Pancreatitis recovery diet
Your dog’s pancreas and digestive process have a very tight-knit relationship. As a result, the food your dog eats has a huge impact on the health of the pancreas.
If your dog has had a pancreatic attack, your vet will likely send you home with an ultra-low-fat diet.
Pancreatitis can be a very painful and life-threatening condition, so I always recommend you follow your vet’s advice. If your dog is willing to eat the food, it’s best to stick with it. Later, when the symptoms improve, you can always transition your dog to a higher quality diet.
If your dog won’t eat the prescription food or you prefer to feed a home prepared diet, the goal during the recovery period is to:
- Feed a diet that is very low in fat
- Feed moderate amounts of high-quality protein
- Include starchy carbohydrates
- Avoid feeding too much fibre
White rice is generally the carbohydrate of my choice, especially if made with excess water. Potatoes or sweet potatoes can also be given, but the skins should be removed to keep fibre intake low.
Skinless chicken or turkey breast, egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese, and white fish are excellent sources of low-fat protein. If you need to provide a low-fat, novel protein and none of the previously mentioned ingredients are suitable for your dog, consider alternatives such as ostrich, crocodile meat, and kangaroo
Start with a ration of 1/3 protein and 2/3 carbohydrates.
Food should be given in small quantities at regular intervals throughout the day. Frequent small meals stimulate the pancreas less and are easier to digest, meaning they are less likely to trigger vomiting or cause discomfort.
When you dog starts to show improvements, the ratio can then be slowly changed to half and half.
Raw or cooked diet?
I strongly urge you to feed a cooked diet instead of a raw diet. Although we can choose raw meats that are lean, a cooked diet makes food easier to digest, and perhaps most importantly, by cooking the meat we can reduce the fat content further.
Your dog might be able to eat a raw diet later on, but initially, the pancreas needs every little bit of help to recover.
Long-term dietary management of chronic pancreatitis
Some dogs who have suffered from mild to moderate pancreatitis may eventually be able to return to a ‘normal’ diet. However, if your dog has repeated attacks, a long-term low-fat diet should be fed to help control symptoms and keep the disease at bay.
My diets for managing chronic pancreatitis usually start with a fat content less than 15% based on a dry matter basis, and I may increase this as the dog shows tolerance.
It’s important to be consistent with a reduced-fat diet. In particular, be mindful around the holidays, a time when people tend to feed their dog’s more treats which more often than not are high in fat – and when vets report seeing an increase in cases of pancreatitis in dogs.
- Keep the diet low in fat
- Opt for moderate amounts of high-quality protein
- Include starchy carbohydrates such as white rice, potato, pasta, and sweet potato for easily digestible calories.
- Feed a cooked diet rather than a raw
- Feed in small quantities at regular intervals throughout the day
- Be consistent with a reduced-fat diet for long-term management of chronic pancreatitis.
- Avoid high-fat treats or table scraps
Understanding how to effectively manage your dog’s pancreatitis is crucial for their health and I hope you found this blog helpful and informative. If you have any questions or need further help, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can reach me at email@example.com. Your feedback and suggestions are always welcome.