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Pancreatitis in Dogs – A Guide to Help Your Dog Thrive

Pancreatitis in dogs is a growing problem. Why is this the case? What is happening? How can you help your dog manage its pancreatitis? In this article, I explore pancreatitis in dogs and give you simple steps you can take to help your dog.

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The pancreas and more specifically pancreatitis are the hot topic out there amongst pet guardians. Sadly for all of the wrong reasons.

德国赛车Pancreatitis in dogs is on the rise and despite this, it is still a condition that’s difficult to diagnose. Unfortunately very little is known about the exact causes. Because of this basic lack of understanding, there is some confusion over the best way to address it effectively.

Pancreatitis in Dogs, a Visual Summary

Pancreatitis in dogs a visual summary
A simple explanation of Pancreatitis in Dogs

What is the Pancreas & what does it do?

The pancreas is an ingenious little organ. It packs a punch way above its size & plays an essential role in both the digestive system and the hormone (endocrine) system. It is “v shaped” and lies between the stomach and small intestine.

The pancreas does two jobs:

  1. It produces hormones such as insulin
  2. It creates pancreatic juice, which digests fats, carbs, and proteins.

In healthy dogs, the pancreas can secrete digestive enzymes directly into the small intestine (specifically the duodenum) to aid digestion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. More importantly & this is a crucial part of our understanding of the process:

‘The pancreas produces and stores inactive enzymes which should only be activated when they enter the small intestine.’

These enzymes include

  • Amylase – for carbohydrate digestion
  • Lipase – for emulsifying and digesting fats
  • Protease – for digesting protein, the most well-known element in a carnivorous diet,

If you are interested in some of the pancreas’ other functions, one of the most well known hormones it produces is insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar. Or more accurately, lower blood sugar. 

Interesting fact:

There are 8 hormones in dogs that can raise blood sugar, but only one that can lower it. 

What is pancreatitis in dogs?

Like any other “itis”, Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition. Unfortunately,  the pancreas is being regularly searched on the internet, not for all the benefits it brings but for the symptoms and problems that arise when it becomes inflamed. This is called pancreatitis.

With regard to the pancreas and pancreatitis in dogs, notes that there are two types of inflammation:

  1. Acute (sudden onset and intensely painful)
  2. Chronic (extended over a long period of time and bearable, pain-wise).

The suffix “-itis” means inflammation. If your appendix becomes inflamed, you get appendicitis. Likewise with your gingiva and gingivitis. Any itis denotes inflammation and pancreatitis is exactly that, inflammation within the pancreas.

The pancreas becomes inflamed and stops producing enough enzymes or starts attacking itself. Pancreatitis can be acute ( sudden onset, intense & severe), it can be chronic德国赛车 (persisting for a long time or recurring.) Or it can be both severe and long-lasting. 

More on naturally reducing inflammation in your dog with diet

Pancreatitis in dogs, cocker spaniels

What are the causes of pancreatitis in dogs?

Our understanding of the causes of pancreatitis in dogs is that there are multiple causes, which can work together to create inflammation. The causes of pancreatitis in dogs include:

  • Processed foods,
  • Rancid and oxidised fats
  • Grains in dog food
  • Leaky gut
  • Poor gene expression
  • Obesity
  • Bacteria or viruses in and around your dog’s pancreas.

The whole process can be summarised as a Diet-Stress-Inflammation-Feedback-Loop. Some of the latest thinking on pancreatitis in dogs includes the following reasons:

  • Processed foods Dogs are extremely ill-adapted to eat processed foods and specifically carbohydrates. These carbohydrates put an unnatural stressful load on the pancreas to produce both amylase to digest the starches as well as insulin to lower the blood sugar spike created by these carbohydrates.
  • Rancid and oxidised fats also prevalent in ultra processed foods lead to more inflammation whilst also requiring the pancreas to produce lipase.
    • This is already a huge workload on the pancreas. 
  • The grains often contained within these carbohydrate-rich processed foods create even more inflammation themselves and start a “chemical cascade” called zonulin release which leads to leaky gut. We have a more in depth article about grain free dog food here
  • Leaky gut then allows bacteria normally inside the dog’s intestines, covered in LPS (Lipopolysaccharides),  to enter into the dog’s bloodstream and nearby organs, one of the closest being the pancreas. These LPS have been associated with high levels of inflammation and stress on the dog and its organs. (they are also associated with heart damage)
  • This inflammation may contribute to blockages in the pancreatic duct (a very narrow pathway connecting the two),  preventing the free flow of enzymes from the pancreas into the small intestine which leads to a “delayed arrival” of the enzymes at their intended destination. 
  • Because of this delay the enzymes are activated before they reach the small intestine and start digesting the dogs organs instead, starting with the nearest tissue found, the pancreas and pancreatic duct itself.

Other factors that may be contributing to this cycle include :

Symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs

According to Dr Nick Thompson & our friends over at Dogs Naturally Magazine (we have also included a link to the DNM approach to pancreatitis in dogs in the references at the bottom of this article):

德国赛车The most common symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs are:

  • Loss of appetite – If your dog isn’t eating, try these methods
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy, your dog is generally reluctant to do anything.
  • Abdominal pain (Look out for the “downward dog” position)
  • Arched back
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Back pain
  • Restlessness (due to the pain the dog is in, trying to get comfortable)

Approaches to tackle pancreatitis in dogs

Pancreatitis in dogs has so far been notoriously difficult to treat because there is so much confusion as to the real underlying causes. This also includes confusion about the exact mechanism that creates the inflammation.

The fact that the pancreas plays so many roles within the body is in part one of the reasons why there are many conflicting theories . 

  • Is it the excess fat the dog consumes? 
  • Or the type of fat ? Rancid, oxidised
  • Is it the excess carbohydrates? 
  • Is it genetic or a combination of all of the above.  
  • Or is it a new school view that we explore below? 

But firstly, let’s quickly understand the mechanism of this inflammation.

The mechanism of inflammation

What actually happens to create Pancreatitis in dogs? It is now widely believed that the enzymes the pancreas stores and releases into the small intestine, become activated earlier than is intended by nature and start to digest, attack and inflame the pancreas itself, rather than the food in the small intestine it was supposed to.  

德国赛车If left undiagnosed and unattended this problem can widen to the surrounding organs such as the kidneys, liver and stomach lining, creating inflammation and tissue damage there also.  

Pancreatitis in dogsNew school thinking

At a recent roundtable podcast Bella & Duke attended we were surrounded by several like-minded raw feeding vets. This is what they all reported as successful approaches being employed in their own practices to tackle pancreatitis in dogs.  See below on their methodology:

(One note on this is that there was a combined experience present at this discussion of over a hundred years of treating animals with pancreatitis. Everyone participating agreed that in the overwhelming vast majority of cases, the dogs suffering from pancreatitis were kibble rather than raw fed.)

New School Approach to pancreatitis in dogs – Here are the top 10 points we learned from the round table discussion. 

  1. Professional advice is essential.  Seek the advice of an experienced friendly progressive Vet. Pancreatitis in dogs is a serious condition.
  2. Fasting. Fast the dog suffering from pancreatitis. This take digestive stress load off the dog, lowers its exposure to potentially inflammatory foods, the requirements for the enzymes to be released and helps stabilise blood sugar. More about fasting your dog here
  3. Avoid, if possible, antibiotics unless it is clear that the pancreatitis is driven by bacterial infection. (unusual) Antibiotics treat bacteria, not inflammation created by food or enzymes attacking their surrounding tissues.
  4. Only look to restrict fats if the dog is in an acute phase. Owners are often recommended low fat dog food for pancreatitis. Fats are rarely the root cause but excess fats may  be problematic in the short term until the animal starts to recover
  5. Reintroduce your dog to food slowly with small, regular amounts of bone broth. (If your dog is in an acute phase then drain off the liquor leaving most of the fat behind) 
  6. Introduce a quality digestive enzyme supplement specifically for dogs
  7. Consider organotherapy and introduce some pancreas sourced from a reputable butcher or other supplier. (Feed after freezing). 
  8. Introducing thymus extract may also help
  9. Try introducing some gently flash-fried white meats or chicken wings After approximately 5 days of the bone broth
  10. If your dog has “triaditis” (IBS, Pancreatitis and Liver issues) then also adding in some bentonite clay and slippery elm will help lower the IBS component and help the dog recover quicker. 

德国赛车As ever, none of this is intended as medical advice, it is intended to help you make informed, empowered decisions to improve the health and wellbeing of your much-loved pooch, always seek the opinion of a medical professional. 

Pancreatitis and the role of diet

I am convinced that Kibble, higher sugar diets and poor quality (omega 6 & oxidised) fats are the main culprits for this condition.

Why pancreatitis in dogs and diet might be connected

A high carb diet is demanding on both the insulin requirement AND the digestive enzymes that a dog needs to break down the food. This can tax the pancreas with a huge workload, which I believe leads to fatigue and failure.

This occurs especially because dogs produce very little amylase, which is needed to break down carbohydrate (starches). We believe they should be on a raw protein and fats diet only, accompanied by a percentage of vegetables.

Cooked food, Kibble notably, is highly processed and therefore totally devoid of enzymes, requiring more enzymes to digest, from the dog’s pancreas. This results in more fatigue.

High sugar is associated with high inflammation.

There is an inflammation ‘loop’ between the gut and the pancreas which prevents the pancreas producing enough enzymes when the gut is inflamed. In turn, this makes the inflammation in the gut worse, which shuts down more enzyme production and continued in a never ending circle.

High grain is associated with high inflammation – See more on inflammation here

High grain is also associated with leaky gut, which can allow the bacteria in the gut to leak into the bloodstream and create more inflammation in the pancreas, as well as elsewhere. Inflammation from all causes and (proven by extensive research), especially grains, is now linked to leaky gut. Learn more about Leaky Gut 

Poor quality, higher Omega 6 and oxidised fats are associated with inflammation. Back to the feedback loop.

What is the best dog food for pancreatitis in dogs?

explains how raw food can help:

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What can you do if your dog has Pancreatitis?

  1. Always seek the advice of an animal health professional that you trust. Hopefully, your vet fits this description. You can ask for a Blood PIL test to confirm
  2. Switch to a low inflammation, highly NON-processed source of food for your dog – What is Raw Dog Food?
  3. Remove all grains from the diet
  4. Remove all starches, other than some vegetables and a very few berries
  5. Remove all processed or Omega 6 fats where possible 
  6. Include Omega 3 fats and essentially supplement with the below
  7. Include Digestive enzymes with Lipase
  8. Start supplementing with Probiotics

Archie’s Pancreatitis Success Story

All of our food ranges can help with your dog’s pancreatitis, get 50% off today

References:

Animal Biome Dr Holly Ganz

Dogs Naturally Magazine

VCA Hospitals

Related articles

Rowan Sanderson

9 Comments

This is so informative. Many thanks. Love all your podcasts as well. We run a raw food company in Auckland , NZ (www.brodies.nz) and fully agree that we all need to all be sharing and learning from each other to ‘find all the bits of the jigsaw‘ 😀

Reply
  • I have had two raw red dogs(fed primarily ground whole prey) suffer from pancreatitis, one Great Dane and one German Shepherd mix. It’s so frustrating that vets who support raw feeding thinks it’s the panacea for everything that ails dogs, this blindness seems to stunt any further investigation into these nagging and dangerous conditions.

    Reply
    • Hi Elly -thanks for the comment. We agree this is a serious condition that truly merits full investigation. We are fortunate in that the vets we are working with totally agree with you. They all concur that Raw Fed dogs have a substantially lower rate of pancreatitis than processed food fed dogs, however similarly all accept that this is only a part of the jigsaw. We are constantly updating this guide to reflect the latest thinking so please feel free to share or contribute further. We welcome feedback and wish you and your dogs well. Kind regards Rowan and the Content Team

      Reply
  • You are recommending your food for Pancreatic dogs. Is your range nutritionally measured? Ie Does it have less than 10% fat – as this is the recommended threshold for dogs with this condition.

    Reply
    • 德国赛车The majority of our meals are below 10% fat and these would be the ones recommended for a dog with pancreatitis x

      Reply
  • my young (19 months old), fit, raw-fed dog has developed chronic pancreatitis and so it feels as though there’s nowhere else to go with his diet. the vet wanted him on tinned Royal Canin low fat gastrointestinal – after 3 days on that his symptoms were way worse. I ditched it immediately. We are now seeking the advice of a nutritionist – our first appointment is tomorrow. But as our boy was on fantastic complete raw food already (and for several months was on less than 10% fat anyway because I suspected he was having an issue with higher fats) I’m feeling lost. I just feel that for such a young dog, there has to be another reason that has caused the pancreatitis. How checked with the breeder who has both his parents and also kept one from the same litter and all are healthy and well (despite having a standard commercial dog food diet). Feeling desperate 🙁

    Reply
    • I’m so sorry to hear this. Pancreatitis is a very complex illness, with many factors – diet, genetics, medications, vaccinations, flea/worm treatments, stress, toxins etc can all play a part, and often no cause is apparent. At this point we would recommend looking for a raw feeding vet to guide you – you’ll find one by visiting the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society (RFVS) website. If there isn’t one close to you, many will do telephone/online consultations. x

      Reply
      • thanks Jude. Had an amazing phone consult with the nutritionist this morning and feeling more positive. She said right now his body is so inflamed (for whatever reason) that any food – even the best – is causing a reaction. We have a way forward. But his first set of vaccines (including Lepto 4) administered at the tender age of 6.5 weeks is likely to be what has sent him on the path of chronic illness. Hoping to return to raw once his health is better.

        Reply
        • 德国赛车So glad you have a way forward – here’s hoping he’s soon on the path to recovery, please do keep us posted with his progress! x

          Reply
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