The pancreas is an important organ that produces enzymes that are needed to digest food. After being used, these enzymes then exit the body via the small intestine.
When the pancreas becomes very inflamed, these enzymes spill into the abdominal cavity instead of being eliminated through the intestine. This not only causes the pancreas to “digest itself” but it also causes damage to other organs that work closely with the pancreas, including the liver, bile ducts, and gallbladder, and intestines. 1
Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic (where dogs will continue to experience flare ups or relapses over months or years).
According to VCA Hospitals, it’s not always possible to determine the exact cause of pancreatitis. In many dogs, it seems to appear suddenly, for no obvious reasons.
Still, there are plenty of risk factors for pancreatitis. While the cause won’t change how the problem is treated, trying to identify it could help prevent future flare ups. Some potential causes behind a pancreatitis attack include:
Although not a definitive answer, some dog breeds do seem to carry a genetic predisposition to developing pancreatitis. These include cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzers, and miniature poodles. Pancreatitis is also more common in senior dogs and dogs carrying extra weight, as their pancreas might already be burneded because of it. Females are slightly more likely to develop pancreatitis than males.3
Pancreatitis is very painful. Most owners notice signs of pain before anything else, though they often cannot identify the source of it. With pancreatitis, pain often comes with arching of the back. This is a natural reaction to try to ease the discomfort coming from the abdominal cavity.4
Pain can be so intense that sometimes dogs adopt a “praying position,” with the front of their bodies low to the floor and their rear end up in the air. This eases some of the pressure on the abdomen and helps (momemtarily) with pain. Some dogs might go into shock because of the intensity of the pain.5
Other symptoms of pancreatitis include: 6
Vets diagnose pancreatitis through a number of blood tests, including an elevated white blood cell count and a check of the pancreatic enzymes level. X-rays and ultrasounds might also be needed to determine the level of inflammation of the pancreas and surrounding organs.7
There’s no specific medication to treat pancreatitis. Vets use a combination of drugs and Intravenous (IV) fluid therapy to flush the body of toxins and manage the symptoms while allowing the pancreas to heal. 8
Dogs usually receive pain medication to help them stabilize and rest better so the body can recover. They will also need anti-nausea/anti-vomiting medication. In some cases, vets might add antibiotics to the mix. Dogs who are experiencing extreme symptoms might need to be hospitalized with IV fluids for several days.
Both for treatment and long-term management, dogs with pancreatitis need to be switched to a low-fat diet. Wen eating a prescription food, vets sometimes recommended a low-fat gastrointestainal support diet, as this helps ease inflammation while keeping the fat content low as well. 9
No table scraps and no treats allowed unless a vet can verify the fat content is safe. Dogs with pancreatitis (or recovering from it) should eat small, frequent meals during the day instead of two regular-sized ones. This will ease the pressure on the pancreas, but also on the stomach – which in turn can reduce nausea and acid reflux (a common problem for many dogs recovering from pancreatitis).
While your dog was very sick from pancreatitis, chances are eating wasn’t a top priority. Once pain and some of the other symptoms start to subside, you’ll have to reintroduce food very slowly. According to PetMD, a good rule of thumb is to start with about a quarter of the amount your dog used to eat. Divide that amount into 3-4 portions and feed that throughout the day. If there’s no vomiting or diarrhea, add an additional quarter after 24 hours until you go back to the normal amounts.
As fats cause the pancreas to produce more enzymes (which in turn worsen inflammation), the best way to heal the pancreas is to offer your dog only low-fat foods. For some dogs, this might be a temporary need while they recover; for others, it might remain a lifelong requirement to prevent flare-ups.
If you’re feeding a commercial dog food, look for options that are low fat but also provide your dog with omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation.10 You can feed both dry kibble or canned food, though canned food is easier to digest and provides additional moisture, so it might be a better choice for pancreatitis (at least through the initial recovery period).
Another option for dogs with pancreatitis is to feed homemade food. This provides many advantages. For starters, if your dog is still experiencing some diarrhea or tummy troubles, you can start by cooking a bland diet, which consists of a single protein (like lean chicken or turkey breast) and a single carbohydrate (like white rice) with nothing else added. You can take a look at our article on Bland Diets to help you get started.
Once your dog stabilizes, it’s possible to continue cooking a pancreas-friendly diet. However, if you plan on cooking for your long-term, you should consider consulting with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure you are feeding the proper balance of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. In most cases, you will also need to add supplements that support
the digestive system and provide all necessary nutrients – and a nutritionist would be able to help you with that.
Fresh food has many benefits, but making sure you’re feeding something well-balanced on your own can be tricky. To ensure your dog is getting the best possible nutrition, why not reach out to the professionals. Cola's Kitchen offers food that is individually balanced based on your dog's nutritional needs, making it easier than ever to care for your dog with human-grade fresh meals.
We always recommend talking to your vet about food if your dog is sick. Once your dog has recovered and ready to go back to well-balanced eating, our wholesome meals might be just what your pooch needs.