Imagine walking to your home after a long day at work, shopping, or at the park with the kids and finding your dog vomiting, acting like someone kicked it in the gut, and refusing to drink water.
Or your vet prescribed a corticosteroid for allergies or a skin condition.
Your dog is a picky eater, a little overweight, and the world’s best beggar for table scraps that you nightly oblige mixed in the balance of the table scraps with their kibble. That’s the only way you can get your dog to eat their food.
If you ever do, come home to this situation, one of the first things you should think of is, does my dog have pancreatitis?
Let’s start by explaining what pancreatitis is, what it does, causes, and treatments of pancreatitis, then dive into the daily percent of fat does your pancreatic dog needs.
Why Every Dog Parent Needs to be Aware of the Symptoms of Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis in dogs is one condition that dog parents should be aware of before it happens. The warning signs may not always be obvious.
The symptoms can be mistaken for something less severe because pancreatitis is potentially life-threatening.
The medical definition of pancreatitis “inflammation of the pancreas.” But like all severe conditions, there is more to it than that.
The Symptoms and Treatments of Pancreatitis in Dogs
When your dog doesn’t want to eat and is throwing up, you hope it’s a random thing and will resolve itself overnight.
As it continues and your dog is acting lethargic, your dog now appears to be having a hard time breathing and refusing to drink. It’s probably something far more serious.
It very well could be pancreatitis, and they need to see their vet for immediate treatment.
The term pancreatitis is the general condition of inflammation and swelling of the pancreas.
When a pancreas becomes inflamed, your dog will suffer from a loss of appetite, begin vomiting and have belly pain when you pet their stomach area. They may also experience other symptoms such as lethargy, dehydration, irregular heartbeat, and rapid breathing as they gasp for air.
A veterinarian may be able to pancreatitis diagnosis based on symptoms alone. Usually, they’ll need to do blood work and an ultrasound.
Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic.
Chronic pancreatitis symptoms present slowly over time.
Many dog parents aren’t aware that pancreatitis can occur suddenly in a dog, it takes many dog owners by surprise.
Acute pancreatitis is a sudden onset of symptoms with no previous signs of the condition.
Both the acute and chronic forms can also cause an intolerable amount of pain in your dog.
What Does the Pancreas Do?
The pancreas is the organ near the stomach that emits enzymes that help digest food and control blood sugar.
The pancreas produces very specific enzymes that promote digestion and enable the body to absorb fats from food. These enzymes include trypsin and chymotrypsin to digest proteins, amylase for the digestion of carbohydrates, and lipase to break down fats.
Without a pancreas, dogs would have no way to absorb nutrients from food.
The pancreas is a key part of the endocrine function includes the manufacturing of insulin, which enters the bloodstream in response to eating carbohydrates and protein.
The secretory organs, such as the pancreas, enable the secretion of inactive digestive enzymes and bicarbonate into the intestine. These enzymes become activated to help break down ingested food.
Typically, pancreatic enzymes are produced in an inactive state and travel through the pancreatic duct to the duodenum, which is part of the small intestine.
Once they reach the small intestine, they are activated to begin the digestion process of food.
What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?
With pancreatitis, enzymes are activated early in the pancreas instead of later in the small intestine.
Think of this as if a firecracker suddenly bursts before it reaches its intended altitude, with the pancreatic enzymes start to digest before they should.
This results in the digestion of the pancreas itself, which is an excruciating process.
The clinical signs of pancreatitis are variable, and the intensity of the disease will depend on the number of enzymes that were prematurely activated.
The associated inflammation of the pancreas from the digestive enzymes spilling into the abdominal cavity results in secondary damage to the liver, bile ducts, gall bladder, and intestines.
Dogs that recover successfully from an acute episode of pancreatitis may continue to have recurrent bouts, which is chronic or relapsing pancreatitis.
The exact cause of pancreatitis is unknown. However, it may be triggered in some cases by a fatty meal or corticosteroid drug recently administration.
In many cases, it occurs spontaneously with no known cause. Some breeds, especially schnauzers, are more susceptible to it. Older dogs, along with overweight dogs, are more prone to it.
A fatty meal, like high-fat foods such as bacon grease, high-fat table scraps, triggers pancreatitis.
Dogs usually recover from mild cases, but it can sometimes lead to death if it’s severe.
All through the exact causes of pancreatitis is usually unknown; these factors have all been associated with its development:
What are the Risk factors that can cause dogs to get Pancreatitis 1
- Dietary indiscretion of items in the trash, which conferred the greatest risk (13× more likely)
- Unusual food items consumed prior to presentation (4×–6× more likely)
- Table scraps fed in the preceding week or generally (2× more likely)
- Obesity (2.6× more likely).
What Other Factors Increase the Risk of Your Dog Suffering from Pancreatitis?
Diet, especially high-fat diets
Hereditary disorders with fat metabolism
How you can tell your dog has issues with fat absorption
“Dogs with fat intolerance or malabsorption may show signs such as diarrhea and weight loss, or steatorrhea (excessive excretion of fat in the stool, resulting in large, pale, greasy, and malodorous stools) in more severe cases. Fat malabsorption can also be associated with liver and gall bladder disease, intestinal infection (viral, bacterial, or parasites), lymphangiectasia, and other conditions.” 2
OTC drugs and Prescription Medications
Obstruction of the pancreatic duct with stones
Clinical Signs of Pancreatitis
The most common physical signs include lethargy, nausea, vomiting, fever, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Dogs may take a ‘praying position,’ with their rear end up in the air with their head and front legs. You should suspect that your dog has pancreatitis.
This condition can deteriorate quickly, leading to severe pain and even death.
Diagnostic tests to determine Pancreatitis
X-rays and Ultrasound
An abdominal X-ray may be recommended. While these images are helpful in ruling out other causes and are not usually very helpful in establishing a diagnosis of pancreatitis.
An abdominal ultrasound can be precise in identifying pancreatitis. Still, in up to 32% of dogs with pancreatic inflammation, an ultrasound will still be normal.
Blood work including a complete blood count (CBC) and complete blood profile. Blood work can be normal or show diseases of other organ systems either unrelated to or caused by pancreatitis.
Elevation of pancreatic enzymes in the blood is probably the most helpful diagnostic tool in detecting pancreatic disease. Still, some dogs with pancreatitis will have normal enzyme levels.
In recent years, a new pancreatic test, the Pancreas-Specific Lipase test, has become available to diagnose pancreatitis, even if pancreatic enzymes are normal accurately.
Laboratory tests usually show an elevated white blood cell count; however, a high white blood cell count can be caused by tons of other diseases besides pancreatitis.
A canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (cPLI) test (urine culture) is often recommended. A cPLI test is a highly accurate test in diagnosing pancreatitis. Still, the presence of an abnormal cPLI test does not definitely rule out pancreatitis as the sole cause of the clinical signs.
The diagnosis of pancreatitis by your veterinarian may be confirmed, or presumptive in many cases are based solely on clinical signs, veterinarian experience, and medical history.
The only definitive way to diagnose pancreatitis is to obtain a biopsy by surgery or laparoscopy. However, many times, the dog is too unstable to undergo anesthesia.
How is pancreatitis treated?
If your dog is showing multiple symptoms of pancreatitis at once (acute) or it’s ongoing (chronic), you must contact your veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Your vet may figure out what caused the episode of pancreatitis; they’ll deal with the cause of it. If it was an adverse reaction to a drug, they might stop it. If it’s diet, they may put them on prescription food or a low-fat diet.
Sometimes it’s challenging to determine what causes it, and there’s no straightforward treatment to fight it. The treatment protocol is to keep the dog as comfortable as possible until the attack ends.
The first 24 hours, your vet may recommend no food or water or suggest that you give your dog a low-fat diet.
Pain medications are usually given by injection. Combined, this list of treatments provides the pancreas with a period of rest.
Using IV fluids is also a common practice for pancreatitis
Treatment usually is supportive (fluids, pain meds). The degree of aggressiveness depends on the severity of pancreatitis.
In severe cases, hospitalization is required to restore and maintain hydration, control pain and vomiting, nutrition, and possibly antibiotic administration.
If a dog is vomiting, food and water are stopped.
Otherwise, an ultra low-fat diet can be given. Vets recommend and use very low-fat diets in dogs is to decrease the workload on the pancreas.
In less severe chronic cases, hospitalization at your vets may not be required if your dog is drinking water and not vomiting.
An extremely low-fat diet will be recommended, combined with regular monitoring of blood work such as the cPLI and/or abdominal ultrasound.
Successful management of pancreatitis depends on an early diagnosis and rapid medical therapy.
With mild, swollen with an (edematous) pancreatitis, excessive accumulation of fluid the treatment protocol is supportive by ‘resting’ the pancreas and allowing the body to heal itself.
A vomiting dog should have all solid food withheld until the vomiting stops. Food can be withheld from dogs for a few days if needed.
Dogs who are not vomiting may be fed a low-fat, highly digestible diet during recovery.
Pain Meds, IV Fluids and Antibiotics
Pain medications will be given to control the intense pain. IV fluids will be given to maintain normal fluid levels and electrolyte balance.
Many cases will also require anti-inflammatory drugs or medications to control vomiting or diarrhea.
Antibiotics will be administered if lab tests confirm an infection.
Most dogs with pancreatitis are hospitalized for two to four days while intravenous fluids and medications are administered, and food is gradually re-introduced.
With severe loss of blood from damaged blood vessels (hemorrhagic) pancreatitis, or if the dog is showing signs of systemic shock, intensive care using aggressive doses of intravenous fluids and medications to counteract shock is recommended to save your dog’s life.
Acute vs. Chronic Pancreatitis
Acute pancreatitis is a reversible pancreatic inflammation, while chronic pancreatitis refers to permanent changes in the pancreatic tissue.
These two forms of pancreatitis cannot be differentiated clinically. However, clinical signs in acute pancreatitis are usually more severe than those seen with chronic pancreatitis.
Acute pancreatitis can quickly lead to systemic inflammation, shock, and death and must be treated aggressively.
Chronic pancreatitis includes diabetes mellitus (30-40% of dogs with diabetes have pancreatitis) or loss of digestive enzyme production (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency).
Other potential complications include pancreatic pseudocysts and abscesses.
What Is Fatal Pancreatitis?
The term “fatal pancreatitis” refers to when the condition causes fatal complications to develop that eventually take the dog’s life.
If pancreatitis becomes severe or if a dog suffers repeated episodes, this can lead to other conditions that can lead to your dog’s death, including maldigestion syndrome and diabetes mellitus.
Both of these conditions are treatable; however, they will lead to a fatal outcome when left untreated.
Two degrees of pancreatitis in dogs recognized by the veterinary community: mild and severe.
Distention and pain in the stomach area
Inability to find a comfortable way to lie down
Lack of appetite
Appearing hunched over when standing or walking
Dogs experiencing more severe cases of pancreatitis are more likely that they’ll exhibit more severe symptoms that can be left life-threatening.
Several of the more serious symptoms include:
Disseminated intravascular coagulation (a condition in which multiple hemorrhages can take place, resulting in possible death)
Sepsis (a potentially deadly body-wide infection that occurs when toxins are released into the bloodstream)
What is the prognosis of pancreatitis?
The prognosis depends on the severity of the disease when diagnosed and the response to initial therapy.
Dogs that present with shock and depression have a tentative prognosis.
Most of the mild forms of pancreatitis have a good prognosis with aggressive treatment.
Dogs that are not treated may progress to the hemorrhagic form and suffer dire consequences, including death.
What daily percent of fat does your pancreatic dog need?
What You Need to Know About Dog Food and Dog Treats for Pancreatitis
The pancreas is not an organ that many dog parents have reason to think about until something goes wrong with it.
Despite what you may believe, diabetes is not the most common disease of the pancreas in dogs; pancreatitis is.
Let’s look at the role that low-fat dog food can play in treating and preventing pancreatitis.
Getting the diet right is crucial for both managing chronic pancreatitis and preventing future acute episodes.
Your dogs’ diet’s primary aim should always be to minimize the work required by the pancreas by giving it nutrients that it can efficiently process, avoiding anything that could put it under unnecessary strain.
What daily percent of fat does your pancreatic dog need?
Key Points When Researching A Dog Food For Pancreatitis
- AFFCO states that the “Adult Maintenance dog food requirements are 5.5% Minimum Fat and “Growth & Reproduction” dogs need a minimum of 8.5% Fat. 2
“As a rule, veterinarians consider a diet with less than 10 percent fat on a dry matter basis (less than 17 percent of calories from fat) to be low fat, while diets with 10 to 15 percent fat (17 to 23 percent of calories) are considered to contain a moderate amount of fat. Foods with more than 20 percent fat are considered high-fat. A few dogs may need a very low-fat diet, especially if they have hyperlipidemia, or if they react to foods with higher levels of fat. 2
- Saturated fats are not ideal for pancreatic dogs.
- Most sources suggest that any (dog food or dog treats) below 8 to 10% fat can be considered low fat. However, since you are getting 70% grain in most commercial dog foods it is very worthwhile considering balancing up the meat content with dried 100% meat-based dog treats.
- Dried Chicken meat and Beef meat are typically around 10% fat. Active Dawg Freeze-Dried Beef treats are all-natural, 100% Made in the USA with no additives, just good ole American Beef.
There are a ton of prescription diets available specifically designed to manage pancreatitis. With most dogs, they work very well.
Most vets will, of course, recommend this option but what they probably won’t tell you is that many over-the-counter foods fulfill essentially the same nutritional criteria as the prescription diets at a fraction of the price effectively.
Don’t be surprised if your dog hates a low-fat prescription diet food.
Most dogs with a history of acute pancreatitis must be on a special diet for the rest of their lives.
If they don’t like the pancreatitis diet, which is a low-fat weight-loss diet, a home version can often be arranged that works as well.
Obese dogs are more prone to pancreatitis. As a result, they need to lose weight to minimize the risk of developing pancreatitis.
Even if a high-fat meal didn’t cause the initial episode, it could trigger a recurrence once the dog has had pancreatitis.
So how can you get your dog to eat a prescription diet that they hate?
Add a little Active Dawg Organic Chicken Bone Broth into their kibble. Active Dawg Chicken Bone Broth is extremely low in fat. Each tablespoon has 0.04 grams or 0.00141 ounces of fat.
Active Dawg chicken bone broth combined with a low-fat kibble is highly safe and satisfying for any dog.
As a rule, veterinarians consider a diet with less than 10 percent fat on a dry matter basis (less than 17 percent of calories from fat) to be low fat. In comparison, diets with 10 to 15 percent fat (17 to 23 percent of calories) are considered to contain a moderate amount of fat. Foods with more than 20 percent of fat are considered high-fat.
Over-the-Counter Dog Foods
As we mentioned above, the primary dietary aim is to make life easy for the pancreas. Although the specialty prescription diets can do that very well, so can many regular pet foods.
White rice mixed with skinless chicken breast meat, low-fat cottage cheese, or boiled hamburger meat is safe alternatives.
A safe alternative to prescription diest food is to boil one cup of non-instant white rice in four cups of water for 30 minutes. Gradually add protein sources, such as skinless chicken breast, low-fat cottage cheese, or lean boiled ground beef.
When feeding a dog with pancreatitis, it’s critical never to feed them a raw diet; you need to cook all the food, even if you typically feed a raw diet.
As a result of pancreatitis, your dog’s gut is now compromised. It’s necessary to remove all fat and destroy all bacteria by cooking all of their food.
Since one of the pancreas’ primary roles is the breakdown of fats, the easiest way to reduce its workload is to feed a low-fat diet.
High-quality animal fats are also better than lower-grade vegetable fats or fats from unknown sources.
Easy-to-digest food is suitable for all dogs, but dogs with pancreatitis, and it’s necessary.
Look for foods with good, healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds, which may be consumed with careful portion control.
Rules of the Road
The pancreas digests proteins, so you will want to avoid foods with high levels of protein.
With protein, though, quality is much more important than quantity.
The best protein for dogs is from high-end, named meat ingredients. Suppose the food contains too many plant protein supplements (like pea protein, maize protein, soya, etc.). In that case, that’s generally not a great sign.
Fewer carbs also mean less work for the pancreas, so avoid foods with high percentages of carbs or too many starchy ‘fillers’ like white rice, white potato, maize, tapioca, pea starch, etc.
Added sugars in dog foods are never good, but they are certainly worth avoiding for dogs with pancreatitis.
To summarise, you’re looking for a dog food that is:
- Low in fat (5% to 10% dry matter, such as a low-fat kibble)
- Highly digestible (hypoallergenic & clearly labeled)
- Moderate protein (between 20% and 30% dry matter)
- Low to moderate carbs (no more than 60% dry matter)
- No added sugars
Avoid all treats, foods, and table scraps that are high in fat or loaded with carbs. The goal of preventing another episode of pancreatitis is to limit fats and carbs that cause a high load on the pancreas.
- To Feed or Not to Feed? Controversies in the Nutritional Management of Pancreatitis. Justin Shmalberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVN & ACVSMR, University of Florida ACVN NUTRITION NOTES, CLINICAL MEDICINE, GASTROENTEROLOGY/HEPATOLOGY, INTERNAL MEDICINE, NUTRITION, ACVN Nutrition Notes
- Healthy Low-Fat Diets For Dogs With Special Dietary Needs – Mary Straus Updated July 16, 2018