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Pancreatitis in Dogs: Tips For a Natural Approach

Alison Frost, Canine Nutritionist at ProDog Raw, discusses the details of pancreatitis in dogs. Her decades of experience in helping dogs heal through species-appropriate nutrition allow her to share valuable insights in this expert article.

Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

Pancreatitis in Dogs: Tips For a Natural Approach

Pancreatitis in dogs is a relatively new condition. Before the commercialisation of dog food, rarely would you see a dog at the vet for such a “human” ailment. The prevalence of such health concerns has risen starkly in the canine world in the last few decades. 

Thankfully, simple adjustments to their diet can be incredibly helpful in treating and preventing such issues from affecting our beloved dogs. In this article, I’ll discuss what canine pancreatitis is, how it affects dogs’ overall health, and what you can do to help.

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Understanding pancreatitis in dogs

Definition

Pancreatitis in dogs simply means, inflammation of the pancreas. It can come on acutely, or be a chronic condition that progresses over time. This occurs when the pancreas is overworked, and causes the premature release of enzymes into the surrounding tissues and organs. The stress and strain this causes then radiates out to other organs such as the liver, intestines and abdomen, causing further damage

Being responsible for key processes within both the endocrine and digestive system, the pancreas may be a little organ, but has a huge role to play. The pancreas  is responsible for the production of digestive enzymes to assist in food digestion and hormones (insulin) that regulates blood sugar (glucose metabolism). 

Any disruption of these processes has the potential to cause widespread imbalances throughout the body, leading to various health consequences. 

The role of the pancreas in digestion

The pancreas plays an important role in digestion, as it produces and releases enzymes that break down food within the intestines. It also releases insulin into the bloodstream, which allows the body to break down sugars and use them as glucose. Lack of insulin creates excessively high blood sugar, which can lead to diabetes in dogs. 

Canine pancreatitis confuses the digestive process, as nutrients can’t be absorbed or assimilated in the way they’re supposed to due to the premature activation of digestive enzymes. The probability of these enzymes damaging abdominal tissues is also high, creating a volatile environment internally and disrupting the digestion.

Importance of recognising early symptoms

With any medical condition, the earlier symptoms are recognised, the better. The same is true for pancreatitis in dogs; in fact, it’s especially crucial for a few reasons. The pancreas is a vital organ and is responsible for various functions. These functions being impaired leads to other health complications.

As acute pancreatitis in dogs can cause shock due to the sudden onset of inflammation, it’s critical to seek out medical attention immediately when symptoms appear. Chronic pancreatitis in dogs takes a more gradual approach as inflammation builds over time, but it’s just as important to treat it as early as possible. This can help avoid related issues, including the development of canine diabetes.

To learn more read my guide, Diabetes in Dogs:  Symptoms, Causes and Natural Solutions

Signs and symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs

Common symptoms

The two forms of pancreatitis in dogs, chronic and acute, each have their own sets of symptoms. Though both require treatment, acute pancreatitis in dogs can be life threatening, so it’s important to be aware of the signs [1]. Here are the most common pancreatitis symptoms in dogs:

Acute

  • Sudden or severe abdominal pain
  • Hunched-over posture
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea, possibly with blood
  • Dehydration

Chronic

  • Change in appetite (decreased or increased)
  • Weight loss
  • Dull, dry, or smelly coat
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Yellowish-grey diarrhoea
  • Flatulence 
  • Colitis (inflammation of the colon)
  • Eating their own excrement 

Subtleties/challenges

Identifying signs of pancreatitis in dogs can be challenging, largely due to the fact that some of these symptoms can also signify other health concerns. For example, vomiting and diarrhoea are common symptoms of digestive upset and can have various causes, whilst fevers and gradual weight loss in dogs can be tricky to recognise.

Subtle symptoms can often go unnoticed until the situation has progressed, which is why it’s so important to be observant of your dog’s unique behaviours.

The aim is to piece together a picture of what’s going on with your dog, so that you can present it to your vet in the most informed way possible. The more you can tell them, the better they can interpret the situation and act accordingly. If you’re noticing any of the above listed symptoms and aren’t absolutely sure what’s causing them, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Importance of prompt veterinary attention

As I mentioned earlier, the sooner you act on dog pancreatitis symptoms, the better. Especially in cases of acute pancreatitis in dogs, time is of the essence; your quick thinking can literally save your dog’s life. However, even the more gradual, chronic pancreatitis in dogs has the potential to do serious damage over time, so it’s just as important to seek professional help.

Consulting with your vet as early as possible will help them to utilise the appropriate diagnostic tools and assess the situation before an emergency has the chance to occur [2]. This enables them to learn exactly what’s going on with your dog, create an appropriate treatment plan, and get your dog on their way to feeling better sooner than later.

Dispelling common myths about pancreatitis in dogs

The truth behind the fat myth

It’s a common misconception that any amount or type of fat in the diet causes pancreatitis in dogs. Whilst it’s true that certain foods should be avoided when dogs are prone to pancreatic issues or have already been diagnosed with pancreatitis, the presence of fat itself is not the problem. In fact, dogs actually require fats in their diet in order to absorb certain vitamins, maintain hormone balance, and keep the inflammation response in check. 

I explain this in more detail in my article: The Truth About Fats for Dogs.

Healthy fats facilitate the absorption and assimilation of nutrients found in fresh, high-quality protein. Whilst a lower-fat diet may be prescribed for dogs with acute pancreatitis, this is a temporary measure to allow the pancreas to normalise. Lower fat raw dog food like the meal options ProDog offers, allow dogs to maintain their nutrition levels until they’re able to safely return to their usual diet.

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Healthy fats vs. rancid/oxidised fats

Whilst dogs do require fats in their diet for the above mentioned functions, not all fats are created equally. The most beneficial fats for dogs’ health are raw, unprocessed animal and fish fats, as well as certain plant sources such as hemp seed oil, ahiflower and flaxseed oil. These sources contain the appropriate ratios of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, which provide various health benefits to dogs’ digestive, metabolic, and brain health.

Cooked fats become oxidised and turn rancid quite quickly, due to the chemical process that occurs during heating. The resulting composition is quite different from that of healthy, raw fats, and can be responsible for a host of health issues, including the onset of pancreatitis in dogs.

The heating process essentially strips all nutrients from fat, making it a volatile substance rather than a beneficial one. This triggers the inflammatory response in dogs, which can become systemic and affect various organs and systems. This is why when dogs consistently raid the bin, and consume high cooked fat left overs (like pork fat/ crackling), this can result in pancreatitis.

Foods, ingredients, and supplements for pancreatic health

Dietary considerations

It’s critical to consider diet when dealing with (or trying to prevent) pancreatitis in dogs. Nutrition’s role in canine health is far reaching; it’s the literal backbone of how a dog’s body functions. Species-appropriate nutrition encourages optimal functioning of all bodily systems, whilst the opposite is true of a diet that dogs aren’t naturally designed to digest.

Discover more about the Benefits of Raw Dog Food in our comprehensive guide.

Processed foods high in starches and grains are not instinctively recognised by the canine digestive system. Though humans like to think that our dogs have “adapted” to process such foods, the increasing prevalence of human-like health disorders in the pet community is not by coincidence. Starches and grains put additional strain on the pancreas in order to digest them, causing inflammation and stress that can lead to pancreatitis in dogs.

Food and supplemental support

The correct nutritional support is essential when dealing with canine pancreatitis, or better yet, in order to prevent it. Dogs are naturally inclined to eating fresh, whole foods that are easily absorbed by their digestive systems and provide essential nutrients for their overall wellbeing. Raw, meat-based diets with adequate amounts of lean protein, healthy fats, organ meats, and plant fibre provide these crucial elements of nutrition in their most natural form.

For an established diagnosis of pancreatitis in dogs, nutritional supplements and natural remedies are also helpful. Some that I recommend include:

  • Bone broth for, hydration, and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Slippery elm for fibre and soothing inflammation
  • Milk thistle for detoxifying the liver and aiding in its regeneration
  • Probiotics for restoring gut lining and balancing bacteria 
  • Digestive enzymes to help take the strain off the pancreas and food digestion
  • Antioxidants, especially vitamin E,  for calming inflammation and maintaining tissue health

ProDog’s Digest, which contains several of the above ingredients in one convenient, natural supplement

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Importance of balanced/targeted nutrition

As with anything health-related, balance is key when it comes to nutrition; especially when dealing with delicate issues such as canine pancreatitis. Giving too much of one nutrient or too little of another can disrupt this crucial balance and cause pancreatic flare-ups, or worse: the onset of acute pancreatitis. 

Depending on your dog’s individual condition, their diet will require tweaks that can benefit them in the safest, most natural way. Consulting with a holistic vet or canine nutritionist can be especially helpful here. These professionals are well-versed in the correct foods and supplements to ease the inflammation within your dog’s pancreas and get them on the path to healing.

Need help with your dog’s diet?

Contact ProDog’s expert team today for FREE tailored canine nutrition advice
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Holistic health approaches for pancreatitis

Integrating holistic/conventional healthcare

Whilst acute pancreatitis in dogs requires immediate veterinary attention, there is value to be found in the integration of holistic and conventional veterinary care for long-term pancreatic health support. This dual approach provides your dog with the best of both worlds regarding their medical care: the diagnostic tools of the conventional vet and the whole-dog considerations of the holistic practitioner.

Consulting a holistic vet for pancreatitis support

Holistic veterinary role and benefits

Holistic literally means “relating to or concerned with the whole,” which is exactly how the holistic treatment process works: evaluating everything about the dog, rather than simply treating the symptoms on the surface. In most cases the causes of health concerns are rooted far deeper than how they appear, and holistic veterinarians are experts at getting to the bottom of these issues.

Holistic vets are more inclined to offer nutritional support and natural remedies for pancreatitis in dogs, while working towards uncovering the root of the issue to provide a lasting resolution. Whilst some conventional vets are well informed on nutritional topics, it’s more likely that a holistic vet will recommend the best options in this regard. 

To discover more about pancreatitis in dogs from a holistic vet’s perspective read Dr Nick Thompson’s article, Pancreatitis in Dogs.

Specialist Canine Nutritionists are also experts on the best nutrients for helping pancreatitis in dogs, and can be a complement to your holistic vet’s treatment plan. ProDog’s nutritionist team is always available for free nutritional advice and guidance as well, contact us today.

Healing pancreatitis in dogs

Pancreatitis in dogs can be very painful and result in various complications. However, it’s entirely manageable in the majority of cases, and even preventable with a little concentrated effort. 

Although a diagnosis of canine pancreatitis can be scary, dogs are naturally capable of healing when given the right support. Natural remedies, species-appropriate nutrition, and targeted nutritional supplements can help restore your dog’s pancreas, allowing it to function the way it’s designed to.

Pancreatitis in dogs FAQs

What are the common symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs?

Dog pancreatitis symptoms depend on whether the condition is chronic or acute. Acute pancreatitis symptoms include fever, vomiting, and loss of appetite, while chronic pancreatitis symptoms can include weight loss, diarrhoea, and flatulence. Consult the “Common symptoms” section for a complete list. 

How is pancreatitis in dogs diagnosed by veterinarians?

Veterinarians utilise diagnostic tools such as blood tests (to measure enzymes) and abdominal ultrasounds to identify or rule out pancreatitis in dogs. Elevated blood enzymes (amylase and lipase) are signs that your pet could be suffering from pancreatitis.

Can I comfort my dog at home if they have pancreatitis?

Yes, though they should also be under the observation of their vet. You can help them remain comfortable at home by minimising stress, providing appropriate nutrition, and offering natural remedies to soothe their symptoms.

What causes pancreatitis in dogs, and can it be prevented?

There are many factors that can lead to   causes pancreatitis in dogs, but the main culprit is feeding a diet that causes undue stress on the pancreas. Stress, toxins, IBD, diabetes are also causes. Species-appropriate nutrition allows the pancreas and other organs to function normally, and reduces the risk of canine pancreatitis

Discover more about the Benefits of Raw Dog Food in our comprehensive guide.

Is there a specific diet for dogs with pancreatitis?

That depends on the individual diagnosis, as well as other determining factors. Acute pancreatitis in dogs will require a lean, lower fat diet than the chronic form, for example. Aside from the differing amounts of select nutrients, a fresh, whole food diet is the healthiest way to feed all dogs, including those with pancreatitis.

What is the role of holistic care in managing canine pancreatitis?

Holistic vets address the whole animal, which is especially helpful when dealing with conditions like canine pancreatitis. They’re also more likely to offer nutritional support and natural remedies than harsh medications or treatments. However, they can work in tandem with conventional vets to ensure dogs are getting as much support as they need in order to heal.

Are there specific supplements or medications for treating pancreatitis in dogs?

There are several supplements listed in the “Food and supplemental support” section that can be very helpful in treating canine pancreatitis. Antioxidants, digestive support and digestive enzymes are usually very beneficial. However, I recommend consulting your holistic vet for dosage and to ensure these are safe for your dog’s individual condition.

Can obesity in dogs lead to pancreatitis?

Yes, the additional stress on all of the body’s organs in overweight/obese dogs can lead to an overworked pancreas, as well as other health concerns.

What are the long-term effects of pancreatitis in dogs?

If left untreated, cell and organ damage can result from canine pancreatitis. This can result in insulin issues leading to diabetes, lack of digestive enzymes to break down nutrients in food, and other long-term health concerns. This is why early intervention is so crucial.

How do I decide when it’s time to consult a holistic vet for my dog’s pancreatitis?

You can consult a holistic veterinarian anytime, for any health condition, including pancreatitis in dogs. Holistic veterinarians assess the whole animal, which can shed light on valuable information you may not have access to with a conventional vet. In fact, I highly recommend integrating the help of a holistic vet with your conventional veterinarian, to allow your dog the best chance at a full recovery.

References

  1. Gori, E., Pierini, A., Ceccherini, G., Citi, S., Mannucci, T., Lippi, I., Marchetti, V. Jun 2020. Pulmonary complications of dogs with acute presentation of pancreatitis. BMC Veterinary Research;, 16(209). Doi: 10.1186/s12917-020-02427-y
  2. Cridge, H., Twedt, D., Marolf, A., Sharkey, L., Steiner, J. Nov 2021. Advances in the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine;, 35(6):2572-2587. Doi: 10.1111/jvim.16292
  3. Dr. Conor Brady, Dogs First. Dietary Advice for Pancreatitis in Dogs — Ditch the Carbs and Feed Fresh. Accessed March 2024.

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