Customizing Canine Diets for Pancreatitis Management

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The Can Dogs Eat It Team

Customizing Canine Diets for Pancreatitis Management
Reading Time: 8 minutes

joana garridoReviewed By Joana Garrido DVM

Acute pancreatitis in dogs can be cured, while the chronic stage does not have a definitive cure. However, dietary modification and nutritional management play a significant role in helping dogs with pancreatitis recover and reducing the risk of relapse.

We will walk you through the ideal diet for dogs affected by this disease and the best way to feed them.

What Does a Dog’s Pancreas Do?

The pancreas is a vital organ located on the right side of a dog’s abdomen, just below the stomach. One of its crucial functions is releasing digestive enzymes to break down the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in food and producing hormones such as insulin which regulates glucose metabolism.

The enzymes released by the pancreas are initially inactive due to the influence of the enzyme inhibitors. Once they reach the mucosal cells lining the duodenum, they activate and begin dissolving food.

What Is Pancreatitis in Dogs?

an ill dogPancreatitis in dogs refers to the inflammation of the pancreas. It occurs when the enzyme inhibitors are blocked, and the enzymes become prematurely activated while still inside the pancreas. This results in the organ digesting itself.

Severe cases of pancreatitis can cause leakage of the enzymes into neighboring organs such as the liver, gall bladder, and kidneys, leading to more organ damage.

Why Is Diet Integral in Managing Pancreatitis in Dogs?

Pancreatitis is not an incurable disease in dogs. If a dog survives an acute pancreatitis episode, they are considered cured. However, for dogs with chronic pancreatitis, the most crucial element of long-term therapy is certainly dietary change, which helps alleviate symptoms and provides necessary nutritional support.

The goal for this is to lighten the workload of dogs’ gastrointestinal tract by providing easily processed and metabolized nutrients. Doing so lessens the GI strain and allows the pancreas to rest and recover.

3 Most Common Dog Food Options for Canines with Pancreatitis

a dog is eating
The vet may advise switching dogs with pancreatitis to a different diet that is more appropriate for their health condition. They may suggest any of the following choices:

1. Veterinary Prescription Diets

These diets are specifically formulated with ingredients and nutritional supplements that meet the dietary needs of canines with pancreatitis.

Although vet-prescription diets tend to be pricey, they are often effective in managing pancreatitis in dogs.

2. Over-the-Counter Diets

For dog parents on a tight budget, vet-prescription diets may not be the best long-term option for their canine companions.

A more affordable alternative is over-the-counter diets. However, it is important to be very meticulous when choosing products.

There is a broad selection of over-the-counter diets available, but some of them are not appropriate for dogs with pancreatitis.

Further ahead in this article, we will discuss how to find the ideal dog food for dogs affected by pancreatitis. It is a useful guideline, especially if you are opting for an over-the-counter diet.

3. Homecooked Diets

Some dogs with pancreatitis are sensitive to certain ingredients found in commercial diets, and their appetites decrease. Thus, their human companions may need to go for homemade meals since they have more control over what ingredients to use.

Make sure to work closely with a certified vet nutritionist when formulating a homecooked diet for your dog. Do not heedlessly follow online homemade recipes without checking with the vet nutritionist to ensure that your dog receives nutritionally complete and balanced meals.

Ideal Dog Food for Canines with Pancreatitis

a dog with pancreatitisHere are specific components in dog food pet owners should look into before purchasing it for dogs suffering from pancreatitis:

1. Digestibility

Highly digestible dog food are easier to break down, and the absorption of their nutrients takes place in the small intestines. This allows other parts of your dog’s gastrointestinal tract to rest.

We recommend choosing a product that is at least 85% to 90% digestible on a dry matter basis (DMB).

Dry matter basis refers to the nutrient levels of the food without including its water content.

2. Fiber Sources

Some dog foods are made up of gel-forming soluble fibers that impede proper digestive function such as:

  • Carob gum
  • Carrageenin
  • Guar gum
  • Gum ghatti
  • Xanthan gum

Avoid these ingredients and look for brands containing fermentable and prebiotic fiber sources such as pumpkin, flaxseed, and beetroot. Aside from easy digestibility, they also promote a healthy gut microbiome.

Be sure that the product’s fiber content should not go over 3% to 5% DMB.

3. Fat Content

A high-fat diet increases the frequency of pancreatitis flare-ups in dogs. Fat stimulates the release of digestive enzymes, which exacerbates pancreatic inflammation.

Thus, be sure to opt for dog food with a fat content between 5% and 10% DMB.

4. Protein Source

High protein diets also contribute to pancreatic stress in dogs. Moderate protein levels are more appropriate for canines with pancreatitis. Look for products containing 15% to 30% of protein DMB.

The protein source matters a lot as well. Choosing high-quality proteins will be less likely to trigger flare-ups while supporting tissue repair.

Check the ingredients list and make sure that the top ingredients are high-end and low-fat meat such as chicken, turkey, lean game meat, and fish.

5. Carbohydrate Concentrations

Carbohydrates have a minimal effect on the secretion of pancreatic enzymes in dogs. Thus, dogs with pancreatitis can make do with moderate amounts of carbohydrates in their dog food. It should not go over 60% DMB.

Choose products containing gluten-free ingredients such as brown rice or tapioca since they are gentler on your dog’s gastric tract.

6. Mineral Levels

Gastric issues such as vomiting and diarrhea can occur when dogs have pancreatitis. It can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, which can cause weakness and lethargy.

Dogs experiencing these clinical signs will require higher levels of chloride, potassium, and sodium in their food. The recommended concentrations of these minerals are as follows:

  • Chloride: 0.5 to 1.3% DMB
  • Potassium: 0.8 to 1.1% DMB
  • Sodium: 0.3 to 0.5% DMB

How Often to Feed Dogs with Pancreatitis

a dog is getting fedMost vets used to recommend fasting canines that developed pancreatitis for a few days. The thought behind this method is to help in resting the pancreas.

However, a 2011 study shows that withholding food brought on more problems than alleviate the health issue.

Fasting is found to reduce blood flow to the intestinal tract and cause loss of digestive tract motility. Moreover, fasted dogs with pancreatitis exhibited alarming low levels of protein and glucose in their blood.

Dividing meals into 3 to 4 smaller portions and serving them throughout the day is the safest route to take. It does not put undue strain on the pancreas, unlike large meals.

It is also a good idea to offer the food warm and moist, preferably at a temperature of 70 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (21°C to 38°C). Doing so allows your dog’s meals to quickly pass through the digestive tract, reducing the pancreas’ workload.

How Long Should My Dog Stay on This Diet?

The duration of feeding dog pancreatitis diet to canines will depend on the severity of their condition.

Pooches that recovered from acute pancreatitis can safely switch back to regular dog food after a couple of weeks. That being said, dog owners might need to choose a variety containing moderate amounts of fat.

Dogs prone to chronic pancreatitis and canines highly predisposed to the disease may require a highly digestible and low-fat diet for the rest of their lives.

Consult the vet if you want to make some changes to your dog’s diet. Wrong modifications can cause unwanted relapse.

Can Supplements Help Manage Pancreatitis in Dogs?

giving a dog supplements

Yes, certain types of dog supplements provide digestive support and aid in pacifying symptoms of canine pancreatitis.

For example, pancreatic digestive enzyme supplements can assist in breaking down and dissolving food in the digestive tract. They are particularly useful for dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) since they give the pancreas less work.

Supplementing probiotics and prebiotics on dogs with pancreatitis can be effective too.

According to research, they can help strengthen the intestinal barrier, prevent the translocation of harmful gut bacteria, and suppresses inflammation in the pancreas.

Discuss with the vet first if you are interested in using supplements to improve your canine companion’s condition. They can provide good insight into whether or not supplementation fits well into your dog’s pancreatitis management treatment.

FAQs About Pancreatitis in Dogs

1. What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?

The root cause of pancreatitis in dogs is yet to be uncovered. However, some factors are attributed to the development of this ailment such as:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Obesity
  • Excessive fat intake
  • Dietary indiscretion
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Prolonged corticosteroid administration

2. What Are the Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs?

The most common signs of pancreatitis in dogs are vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, anorexia, nausea and weakness.

If your dog is showing these symptoms, a proper diagnosis of pancreatitis is necessary to manage it early before it worsens and affects his quality of life.

3. How to Diagnose Pancreatitis in Dogs?

When it comes to diagnosing pancreatitis in dogs, several key approaches are commonly utilized.

  • Anamnesis and clinical signs
  • Laboratory tests (CBC, biochemistry, Specific Canine Pancreatic Lipase test)
  • Ultrasound

4. What Not to Feed a Dog with Pancreatitis?

Any table scraps and dog treats with high-fat content should not be fed to a dog with pancreatitis.

Make sure to inform family members and house guests to avoid sharing these types of food with Fido to keep him from experiencing a relapse.

Also, do not leave food lying around in your house so your dog does not ingest it out of curiosity. For the same reason, trash bins should be securely covered too.

5. Can Dogs Prone to Pancreatitis Eat Eggs?

Yes, dogs prone to pancreatitis can eat eggs as long as the yolks are removed since they are difficult to digest.

Skip adding other ingredients like butter, oil, or whole milk so as not to add more stress to your dog’s GI tract.

6. Can Chicken Give Dogs Pancreatitis?

Chicken does not necessarily give dogs pancreatitis provided that dog owners only use lean parts of the meat. Keep chicken skin, wings, and thighs away from your canine companion since they contain high fat concentrations.


a dog is getting foodDiet plays a critical role in managing pancreatitis in dogs and alleviates its discomforting symptoms.

When searching for the right food for a pooch with pancreatitis, a highly digestible and low-fat diet is your best choice. It eases the workload of the pancreas, which allows it to rest and recover.

Supplementation can aid in preventing pancreatitis in dogs from progressing.

One supplement we have mentioned is pancreatic digestive enzyme supplements. Learn more about its impact on your dog’s digestive health by reading our article “The Function of Digestive System Enzyme Supplements on Dogs’ Stomachs.”

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