When choosing the best dog food for dogs with pancreatitis we tend to look for foods that are low in fat, have a controlled level of protein, and that are highly digestible. However, depending on the dog, and any other medical conditions they may have – other nutritional factors may need to be considered.
Where we run into issues choosing diets, and treats for dogs with pancreatitis is that most over-the-counter foods are high in fat. The reason for this is because fat is a great energy source for dogs. And many of the less-expensive cuts of meats are high in fat. In order to make a higher protein, low-fat, highly digestible food – a company will need to spend more money on ingredients, or be very creative with plant-based energy sources to make sure fiber isn’t so high that it negatively effects protein digestibility.
But before we get into diet options – we first have to understand what pancreatitis is. This can help you better understand WHY certain diet compositions are important. And ultimately why/how pancreatitis becomes a chronic life-long condition.
What is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is simply the inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis comes in two forms – one of which is acute in nature – like after thanksgiving or a holiday where a pet might eat a large fatty meal – or it can be chronic.
Both acute and chronic forms can be mild to severe in nature. This means that you might have a mild chronic form of pancreatitis that causes symptoms once a month, or symptoms might be so severe that your pup requires a daily management strategy to prevent from having active flares.
Function of the Pancreas
In order to understand why pancreatitis can be such a life-threatening condition, it’s important to understand what and how the pancreas functions within the body.
- Secretes digestive enzymes
- Secretes insulin and glucagon, which help regulate how dogs utilize the nutrients within the foods that they eat.
In essence – the pancreas is one of the main drivers for nutrient absorption and digestibility of ingredients.
What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?
There are many different documented correlations and potential causes of pancreatitis in dogs, the three most common of which are:
- Eating food items from the trash
- Eating an unusual or new food prior to episode
- Eating table scraps over the paste week.
However pancreatitis has many other potential causes…
- High fat diet
- High calcium
- Cushing’s Disease or Hyperadrenocorticism
- Diabetes Mellitus
Breed Predisposition: Miniature Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, Terriers, Non-sporting dogs.
Clinical Signs of Pancreatitis in Dogs
The pancreas which usually houses digestive enzymes suddenly gets triggered to release those enzymes prematurely causing inflammation and irritation to it and the surrounding tissues/organs.
- Not eating (aka inappetence, anorexia)
- Loose stools
- Pain – behavioral changes
Diagnosis of Pancreatitis in Dogs
The diagnostic process for pancreatitis is typically much easier to diagnose in severe cases, but can be much more difficult to diagnose in mild cases. Usually pancreatitis is diagnosed with a combination of factors, including: clinical signs, examination findings, bloodwork and possibly imaging (ultrasound). Usually after a physical examination, a veterinarian will run bloodwork to rule out other conditions with similar clinical signs – like liver or kidney disease – then will proceed to more specific testing methods for pancreatitis.
- CBC – Complete Blood Cell Count
- Blood Chemistry
- +/- Free T4
- +/- Urinalysis
- Spec CPL
- +/- Radiographs
- +/- Ultrasound
- +/- Pancreatic Biopsy
Possible Complications after Acute Injury
After the initial treatment period, once your pup is stable and able to go home, your veterinarian may place your pup on a new specialized diet for a certain period of time – between two weeks to several months – in order to allow the pancreas to continue to heal. Your pup may also need to come in for bloodwork rechecks in order to continue to monitor this recovery.
For many dogs pancreatitis resolves complete with no lingering effects – these dogs can go back onto their normal diet going forward.
It is also possible that irreversible damage was done during treatment… If this occurs, long-term management of pancreatitis may be required or may lead to the need for other supplements or treatment protocols (depending on the condition). The three most common diseases that happen as a result of pancreatitis are…
- EPI or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency – this disease happens when the pancreas can no longer produce and excrete digestive enzymes. If your pup is diagnosed with EPI they will be placed on digestive enzymes.
- Diabetes Mellitus – basically due to the inflammatory damage done to the pancreas. Your pup may no longer be able to produce insulin in order to regulate their blood sugar.
- Hepatic or liver disease – Since the pancreas secreted digestive enzymes into the surrounding tissues, it’s possible that the liver was heavily affected. This may require your pup to be put on both a diet that is specific to liver disease long-term, along with starting certain supplements like Denamarin or Milk Thistle.
Nutritional Management of Pancreatitis in Dogs
When comparing different diets for your dog to find the best dog food for dogs with pancreatitis, it’s important to understand both the macronutrient needs of your dog, and how that different from the typical dog.
It is also important to understand how to read dog food labels and understand the difference between a guaranteed analysis, dry matter, and caloric basis. If you are having trouble converting between the guaranteed analysis and a dry matte or caloric basis – check out my free calculators.
Protein in Dog Food for Dogs with Pancreatitis
Protein can be a major stimulant to the pancreas in some dogs with pancreatitis – in particular the amino acids phenylalanine, tryptophan and valine). For dog’s with pancreatitis it is recommended that adequate protein, and not excessive protein is supplied within the diet. Depending on a dog’s activity level, and severity of trauma/inflammation to the pancreas needs may range between 15 to 35% protein on a caloric basis.
Fat in Dog Food for Dogs with Pancreatitis
Fats are probably the most important factor to consider in dog food for dogs with pancreatitis. Specialists recommend keeping fat levels to less than 30% fat on a caloric matter basis for dogs at a good body condition. However some dogs will need even lower fat content, this is especially true for dogs who are overweight or those with high levels of fat in the blood. Dog Foods with less than 20% fat on a caloric basis are recommended for overweight dogs or those with high levels of fat in their blood. It should be noted that though fat is the primary nutrient that nutritionists – not all dogs need a fat restricted diet to the same degree or even at all.
Is Fish Oil SAFE for Dogs with Pancreatitis?
Now you might be thinking – but isn’t fish oil a fat? Yes – however research has found that the addition of omega 3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation resulting from pancreatitis. The hard part about adding fish oils into the diet of a dog with pancreatitis is that there is no generally accepted or established dosing, and some dogs cannot handle the additional fat regardless of its “anti-inflammatory” properties.
Board certified veterinarians recommend speaking to your veterinarian directly about the addition and dosing of fish oils to your dog’s diet, as dosing may vary based upon circumstances.
Fiber Content in Dog Food for Dogs with Pancreatitis
Having a food that is easily digestible is extremely important for dogs with pancreatitis. We don’t want to force the gastrointestinal tract or the pancreas to work harder than it needs to in order to get the nutrition that they need. Thus often times we look for low-residue, low fiber, and highly digestible dog food for dogs with pancreatitis.
Examples of carbohydrates that can be a good choice in recipes for dogs with pancreatitis are those with low fiber such as white rice, white potatoes, instant oats, whole wheat bread, and pearled barley.
Some forms of fiber that provide prebiotic support to the gut, such as flax seeds and beet pulp are actually recommended for dogs with pancreatitis. And for dogs with con-current conditions like diabetes, high fiber diets may actually be recommended to support these conditions.
Moisture and Digestibility Needs for Dogs with Pancreatitis
Foods that have a high moisture content are ideal because they actually move through the digestive tract faster than ones without moisture. In situations like that of pancreatitis, we want stomach emptying to be quicker in order to limit pancreatic stimulation. Moisture rich foods also help maintain overall hydration status in the dog.
Any diet given to a dog with pancreatitis needs to be highly digestible. Specialists recommend diets that are over 85% digestible on a dry matter basis.
DIGESTIVE ENZYMES Using digestive enzymes for pancreatitis in dogs is commonly done for dogs with EPI – or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. They are sometimes given for the first couple weeks after being released from the hospital after having acute pancreatitis. However long-term use once the pancreas has recovered is very controversial, and possibly unnecessary… Scientific research has also looked at the addition of digestive enzymes (both plant and animal based) and found no change in the overall digestibility of food with the addition of digestive enzymes in healthy dogs. This is again an area where working directly with your veterinarian is important – they should be able to direct you as to if digestive enzymes are appropriate for your pup.
The Best Dog Food For Dogs with Pancreatitis
There are many diet options for dogs with pancreatitis, and although the ones mentioned below are a good start for a pup that has the condition, they will not work for ALL dogs. The reason being is that some dogs with Pancreatitis may have other diseases/conditions they are managing at the same time – like allergies, IBD, or even cancer.
Your veterinarian will be able to guide you to which diet is most appropriate for your dog. If some situations contacting a board certified veterinary nutritionist to advise you on which diet may be best suited to your pup’s needs may be ideal. For some dogs, conventional diets may not be the best solution – in which case they would be able to guide you through formulating and preparing a homemade diet for your dog with pancreatitis.
The Problem with Low-Fat “Over the Counter” Dog Food
When comparing diets it is important to note that you CANNOT compare diets based on the guaranteed analysis that is listed on the pet food bag. The reason for this is that that guaranteed analysis includes MOISTURE. Dry foods by law are required to have less than 12% moisture, whereas canned foods may have upwards of 80% moisture, and freshly cooked might have closer to 70% moisture.
You can adjust for this by converting the guaranteed analysis to dry matter or caloric basis using a simple calculation. Most veterinarians will give you a dry matter or percent caloric content to “stay under”. Always convert fat content prior to considering feeding any dog food.
What you need to understand is that the fat content listed on the diet’s guaranteed analysis is just a MINIMUM. There is no guaranteed MAXIMUM. Practically what this means is that fat content if no guaranteed maximum is listed can vary. How much? A LOT. Some diets may vary as much as 10-15% in their fat content between batches. If you choose a recipe for your dog make sure their is both a guaranteed minimum AND maximum fat on the guaranteed analysis.
Prescription Dog Food for Dogs with Pancreatitis
When we consider diet choice for dogs with pancreatitis we look at several key nutritional factors: protein content, fat content, and digestibility.
- Depending on the severity of pancreatitis and con-current medical conditions (like obesity, or blood triglyceride levels), fat content may be recommended to be higher or lower.
- Protein content may or may not need to be limited significantly within the diet in order to see long-term control of the condition.
- Additional training may be needed in order to teach your pet what is “allowed” vs. “not allowed” to eat without your permission. Teaching a STRONG “leave it” que is recommended.
- Environmental management during family meal-times to prevent the ingestion of high fat “treats” or accidental ingestion of certain foods may be advised.
Obviously cost will also need to be considered, and though a moisture rich diet may assist in helping the food move through the digestive process more easily. Simply adding moisture to dry foods can achieve similar results. And remember - adding moisture does not increase overall digestibility, only stomach emptying time.
Chart of Prescription Dog Foods for Dogs with Pancreatitis
The chart below includes both dry and wet diets for dogs with pancreatitis. All of these recipes are created to be complete and balanced for adult dogs. Some select recipes – such as Purina EN, Purina HA and Hill’s i/d- are complete and balanced for puppies as well. For dogs with Pancreatitis that also suffer from food allergies – the Rayne Kangaroo recipe, or the Purina HA (hydrolyzed protein) may be excellent options. More novel-protein options can be found below in our fresh food section.
|Rayne Kangaroo Recipe (Dry & Canned)||Kangaroo, Quinoa||33%, 93.6g/1000 kcal||20%, 23.2g/1000kcal||unknown||313 kcal/cup|
|Hill’s i/d (Dry & Canned)||Chicken, Corn, Rice||23%, 78g/1000kcal||31%, 43g/1000kcal||0.1g/1000kcal||337 kcal/cup|
|Hill’s i/d Low Fat (Dry & Canned)||Chicken, Corn, Rice||25%, 83g/1000kcal||17%, 25g/1000kcal||0.2g/1000kcal||300 kcal/cup|
|Royal Canin Low Fat (Dry & Canned)||Chicken, Rice, Wheat||24%, 64g/1000kcal||17% 19g/1000kcal||0.4g/1000kcal||248 kcal/cup|
|Purina EN (Dry & Canned)||Chicken, Rice, Maize||32%, 75g/1000kcal||16%, 17g/1000kcal||unknown||327 kcal/cup|
|Purina HA (Dry & Canned)||Soy, Salmon, Corn||22%, 61g/1000kcal||26%, 30g/1000kcal||unknown||316 kcal/cup|
|Purina HA (Dry)||Soy, Corn (Vegetarian)||19%, 53g/1000kcal||21%, 24g/1000kcal||unknown||314 kcal/cup|
|Blue Buffalo GI Low Fat (Dry & Canned)||Fish, Chicken, Peas & Potatoes||28%, 78g/1000kcal||17%, 22g/1000kcal||unknown||297 kcal/cup|
Fresh Dog Food for Dogs with Pancreatitis
Over the years more companies have realized a need for lightly cooked premade recipe options for dogs with pancreatitis. Lightly cooked dog food can be more palatable for dogs who are picky, and often have more options as far as “novel” or unique protein choices for dogs with food allergies. These low fat fresh dog food recipes also have the added benefit of higher quality human-grade ingredients, and lower cooking temperatures.
Of the gently cooked dog food recipes for pancreatitis below, the Just Food For Dogs Metabolic, and the Just Food For Dogs Hepatic are both prescription recipes – these will require veterinarian approval. The Metabolic recipe is designed to be higher in fiber for certain other metabolic conditions like Diabetes – thus may be good for dogs that have Pancreatitis with Secondary Diabetes. The Hepatic recipe is a diet designed for liver disease, and has a lower level of phosphorus and copper. This recipe may be a great choice for dogs with secondary liver, or kidney disease that also have pancreatitis.
For puppies with pancreatitis the JustFoodForDogs Fish recipe, and Pet Plate Venison recipe are both complete and balanced for growth. Thus may make excellent choices as a dog food for puppies with pancreatitis. Both are also more “unique” novel proteins – well suited for dogs with food allergies to poultry and beef.
|JustFoodForDogs Metabolic (Rx)||Turkey, Beef, Egg & Oats||33%, 70g/1000kcal||23%, 25g/1000kcal||0.6g/1000kcal||34 kcal/oz|
|JustFoodForDogs Balanced Remedy||Turkey & Rice||16%, 47g/1000kcal||8%, 14.5g/1000kcal||0.3g/1000kcal||39 kcal/oz|
|JustFoodForDogs Fish||Fish & Potato||33%, 93g/1000kcal||23%, 32g/1000kcal||0.4g/1000kcal||26 kcal/oz|
|JustFoodForDogs Hepatic (Rx)||Fish & Rice||23%, 49g/1000kcal||11%, 10g/1000kcal||0.5g/1000kcal||43 kcal/oz|
|My Perfect Pet Chicken & Rice||Chicken & Rice||38%, 91g/1000kcal||18.5%, 22.9g/1000kcal||unknown||47 kca/oz|
|Pet Place Venison||Venison & Pasta||25%||23%||unknown||35 kcal/oz|
|Nine & Line Digestive Care||Chicken & Rice||33%||22%||unknown||???|
Homemade Dog Food for Dogs with Pancreatitis
Another option for dogs with Pancreatitis is a homemade diet. Balanced Homemade Dog Food Recipes for Dogs with Pancreatitis are great because they are the most customizable option. This allows us to accommodate for things such as allergies, taste-preferences, and con-current medical conditions. Fresh food diets for dogs with pancreatitis are also typically tastier than kibbled or dry food diets, which can be very helpful for picky eaters.
There are a lot of different options out there for the creation of homemade recipes for dogs with pancreatitis. The first of which is using BalanceIT Ez Recipe generator for Vet patients. BalanceIT was created by board-certified veterinary nutritionists in order to give pet parents access to complete and balanced recipes for both health pets, and different diseases and conditions. Each recipe has the option of using the BalanceIT multivitamin supplement or human supplements.
This recipe generator gives you access to dozens of recipes for different diseases and conditions. Simply click on the button for “Lower Fat (eg Pancreatitis)”, then select either Pancreatitis -Moderate Fat Restriction, or Pancreatitis -Severe Fat Restriction. If you are unsure which is the best choice for your dog, ask your veterinarian for guidance! After selecting your recipe click “done” and you will see a list of recipes.
From there you will need to request a prescription from your veterinarian in order to access the recipe. Click “view” then create an account, and add your vet’s info. This will generate a prescription request to your veterinarian using the information you provide. I would recommend following up with your vet in 2-3 business days if you do not receive approval to make sure the request went through.
Custom Homemade Recipes for Dogs with Pancreatitis
If you are looking for a more customized recipe using a board-certified veterinary specialist is probably your best option. This is especially true if you have a dog with multiple concurrent medical conditions. You can find a full list of boarded nutritionists that do client consults at the ACVN.org . Currently in the USA there at 20 board-certified veterinary nutritionists that do consults with clients. These consultations are typically around $500, and you will need to provide your veterinarian’s information in order to book a consult.
Treats for Dogs with Pancreatitis
The main foods we need to avoid as treats for dogs with pancreatitis is foods that are high in fat, cooked in fat/oil, or foods that have added oil for taste. For some dogs with severe pancreatitis meats may be off-the-table all together as a treat. But generally speaking – most fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates will make great treats for dogs with pancreatitis.
FOODS TO AVOID: Oils / Fats - coconut, fish, flaxseed oil High fat meats - beef, chicken thighs with skin, duck High fat dairy - goats milk, whole milk, full-fat yogurt Nuts/Seeds - peanut, almond, walnut, flax, hemp, etc Foods with added oil/fat - like sautéed vegetables, fried eggs
High Value Treats for Dogs with Pancreatitis
Lean meats make great high value treats for dogs with pancreatitis. Some options for high value, low fat treats are:
- Chicken Breast
- Turkey Breast
- Pork Loin
- Nonfat Greek Yogurt*
- 1% Cottage Cheese*
*consider placing these in a refillable babyfood squeeze pouch and use as a treat while out and about.
It's always a good idea to speak to your veterinary team before adding on any meat-based treats into your dog's routine.
Healthy Treats for Dogs with Pancreatitis
Steamed and pureed fruits and vegetables can also make great snacks for dogs with pancreatitis. These fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that can help with oxidative stress, and inflammation. They are also typically low in calories – so great choices for our dogs that needs help loosing or maintaining weight.
- Seedless Watermelon (without rind)
- Honeydew Melon (without seeds or rind)
- Apples (without seeds)
- Pears (without seeds)
- Mango (without seed/skin)
- Pineapple (without rind)
- Blueberries, Raspberries, Strawberries
- Broccoli, Broccoli Sprouts
- Bell Pepper (without seeds)
- Spinach, Kale, Arugula, Collard Greens, Mustard Greens
- Celery, Cucumber
- Dill, Parsley, Basil, Oregano, Rosemary
- Shiitake, Maitake, Loins Main, Turkey Tail – Mushrooms
Some of these foods may be better-suited as a “smoothie” mixed with some low-fat yogurt or pureed and added on top of food. Each dog is a bit different here, and each dog will have their own preferences.
Squeeze Pouch Treats for Dogs with Pancreatitis
Probably one of my favorite ways to give treats to dogs with pancreatitis is squeeze pouches. You can purchase baby food refillable squeeze pouches and fill them with all different types of treats for your dog to use for training – or just around the house!
Here are some simple options:
If using a kibbled diet – soak 4 parts water, to 1 part kibble overnight. In the morning simply puree in a food processor or blender and spoon into squeeze pouches! If you’d like – add 1 cup of the steamed/boiled veggie or fruit of your choice.
For a fun summer treat – add 1 cup watermelon (seedless, without rind), 1 cup cucumber (seedless without rind), and tsp mint – blend well – and you have a sweet and refreshing mix for your pup. You can also freeze these as a “pupsicle”. (Total 63 calories)
For an antioxidant boost – add 1 cup nonfat greek yogurt, 1 cup steam veggie of choice (spinach may be a great option here!), and 1/2 cup water. (Total 100 calories)
Monitoring and Transitioning to the “New Normal”
I think the hardest part of having a dog with pancreatitis is feeling like you are limited in the food options that you can supply them. And also being overwhelmed during family gatherings where they might “accidently” be slipped a food that could cause a hospital visit.
Guilt from the lack of Variety
I’ve seen many times where people feel “guilty” about what they are feeding their pets because it lacks the “variety” that other pet owners are able to feed. I understand. But it’s important to realize that though your pup can’t have peanut butter – there are literally HUNDREDS of other foods that they can eat. If you want to provide variety in treats – fruits and vegetables – should be your “go to”. Plus – we have research that shows that adding in veggies to your dog’s diet helps prevent certain types of cancer. So adding those in should probably be a priority for everyone.
The biggest challenge for pet owners that have dogs with pancreatitis can be family gatherings. Or in some cases – just meal-time if you have someone who likes to “share” with their pets. It might be that Grandma is 90 years old and has “always fed her dogs from the table”. Or maybe you have kids that are not the best at keeping food on their plates. Maybe a toddler that is still learning how to use utensils. The best we can do is manage these situations based on our best judgement.
- Maybe your dog gets their food during your mealtime in another room?
- You could place carrots at the dinner table to allow people a “safe” food to give the dog?
- Another option may be that your dog gets a special enrichment item like a licki-matt during meal times?
- During large family events maybe your pup stays at a sitter or a friend’s house away from all that temptation on the counter?
- Or you could work with a trainer to teach your pup new skills so they know and understand some boundaries to keep them safe?
Making sure you clearly communicate to everyone who is watching or in contact with your dog is so important. A pet sitter, family member, friend, groomer – will not know your pup has a condition unless you tell them. Make sure they understand your dog’s food restrictions right away so they don’t accidently feed them things they shouldn’t eat.
Working with your Veterinary Team
Never feel bad about asking questions to your veterinary team. If something feels off, your struggling, your dog’s routine changes – give them a call. If symptoms seem to flare – let them know, and bring them in sooner rather than later. If your dog did eat something they shouldn’t – call your vet so they can advise you! And if you don’t feel comfortable communicating with your vet, don’t feel bad about finding a new vet. It’s not personal – everyone has different communication skills and techniques – you might just not “gel” and that’s okay. If you can find someone who you do get along with – do so!
My biggest take-way I want you to have is – Pancreatitis is a manageable condition – often with diet-change alone! No medications, no supplements, no fancy therapies. YOU can do this! And there are lots and lots of options for both complete and balanced diets, and treats.
About the Author: Nikki is a Registered Veterinary Technician (Veterinary Nurse) and Dog Mom with over a decade of experience with dogs and cats. Since graduation from college (BS Biology, AS Animal Health -2013) she has adopted two mixed breed dogs – Ranger and Ash, and has focused her time learning about pet food and nutrition.
Nikki shares information on a range of dog nutrition topics: from how to create a homemade complete and balanced dog food recipes, to how to choose a dog food. Nikki strives to give dog parents the information they need in order to make the best nutrition decisions for their pup!
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