Pancreatitis is a painful disorder that occurs in dogs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. Successful treatment relies on letting the pancreas rest as much as possible and providing supportive care. Dogs who have repeated bouts of pancreatitis should be fed low-fat diets for life to prevent further recurrence. There are prescription diets created especially for dogs with pancreatitis and other gastrointestinal conditions, but they can be very expensive. High-quality, all-natural, low-fat dog foods are available at most pet food suppliers and contain limited ingredients that meet the guidelines for feeding dogs with pancreatitis. Some people prefer to cook for their dogs, and certain foods are highly recommended and quite soothing for dogs suffering from pancreatitis.
The pancreas is a gland within the abdomen, near the liver. It is made up of two parts, each with its own function. One part produces enzymes that enter the intestine and aid in digestion, while the other portion produces insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and metabolism.
What Is Pancreatitis?
There are two forms of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. According to Dr. Mary Labato, DVM, internal medicine, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, "Pancreatitis can be very serious ... It can run the gamut from mild with vomiting to life-threatening and the cause of rapid death. ... Acute pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas that occurs abruptly with little or no permanent pathologic change. ... Chronic pancreatitis is a continuing inflammatory disease that is often accompanied by irreversible changes."
Common symptoms include loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, sensitivity to touch and more vocalizing than usual. Do not feed dogs who are showing these signs of discomfort. It is best to let dogs do what their bodies tell them to do: help themselves heal by not eating. Treatment begins with reducing or stopping all eating and drinking and using an IV to keep dogs hydrated and their electrolytes balanced.
Prescription Dog Foods
Once a dog is able to eat again, a low-fat diet is recommended to minimize overstimulating the pancreas. Low fat in dog food is defined as: 9 percent or less in dry food, 7 percent in moist and 4 percent in canned (wet) food. Feeding small frequent meals while your dog is recovering is less taxing on the pancreas. Dog caretakers, veterinarians and nutritionists have strong opinions on what dogs with pancreatitis should eat. Dogs recovering from acute pancreatitis are frequently maintained on an easily digestible, fat-restricted prescription diet.
Veterinarians often recommended prescription diets, either for a specific time period or for the rest of the dog's life. Some prescription diets available are: Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Canine Digestive Low Fat LF 20 dry or canned, a diet that is restricted in fat and formulated to aid in the management of pancreatitis. Another prescription diet is Hill's Prescription Diet Canine i/d or Prescription Diet Canine w/d, foods that contain highly digestible nutrients and are low in fat. Eukanuba Reduced Fat is another food suggested at animal clinics.
Commercial Dog Food
You can buy high-quality, low-fat commercial foods that contain excellent, often organic ingredients without a prescription. They have limited ingredients and are recommended for dogs recovering from pancreatitis, overweight dogs and dogs with other gastrointestinal problems.
Some of these foods are: Wellness Core Reduced Fat (RF), a grain-free food; Canidae Platinum; Avoderm Chicken & Rice; Eagle Pack Holistic Fish Formula; Innova Lower Fat Adult Canned Food; California Natural Low Fat Rice & Lamb Meal Adult Kibble; Natural Balance Sweet Potato & Fish Dry; or Canned and Natural Balance Reduced Fat (contains rice). Kibble should be soaked in warm water or non-fat, low-salt broth, and you should serve all foods at room or body temperature.
Simple and bland meals such as boiled chicken with rice or potato, non-fat cottage cheese, chicken or turkey organic baby food are good choices for homemade dog meals. An easy diet to start with is overcooked white rice made with extra water, combined with a low-fat protein source, such as cooked skinless chicken breast, low-fat cottage cheese or boiled hamburger (boiling removes most of the fat).
According to dog nutritionists, a canine pancreatitis diet may include skinless white meat chicken, lean and low-fat ground beef, beef heart, beef kidney, beef liver, egg whites, non-fat plain yogurt, oatmeal, barley and non-fat cottage cheese. Cooked vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, dark leafy greens, winter squash and sweet potatoes can also be considered, as these foods contain low amounts of phosphorus and fat. Overcooking starchy foods such as rice or potatoes increases their digestibility.
Dogs fed a very low-fat diet may become deficient in vitamins A and E, so adding salmon oil or coconut oil to the diet will help. Salmon oil has proven to be beneficial in treating acute pancreatitis and should always be given in combination with vitamin E.
Whatever you feed, start with small amounts fed frequently, six to eight meals a day or more. Small meals stimulate the pancreas less and are less likely to trigger vomiting. If you are unable to cook for your dog, try to feed small portions throughout the day of all-natural, high-quality dog food or alternate between these dog foods and home-cooked meals.