Written By John Burns BVMS MRCVS
What is pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis seems to be becoming a very common problem in dogs, we get enquiries about in on the nutrition helpline daily. It is an inflammation of the pancreas, that is often a result of a diet too high in fat, or a large intake of fat at once. We get quite a few pancreatitis calls after Christmas when dogs have had lots of fatty table scraps! Other risk factors are being overweight/obese (which goes hand in hand with a diet too high in fat) and older dogs are more at risk of developing the disease as well.
The pancreas is usually responsible for producing enzymes that aid digestion, so during a bout of pancreatitis it will be difficult for your pet to digest food, especially ones high in fat.
What are the symptoms?
Pancreatitis can be a very painful condition. Dogs which are in pain and uncomfortable may adopt a type of stretch called the ‘prayer position’ and show symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, fever, weakness and collapse.
Why do dogs develop pancreatitis?
Scavenging or being given fatty foods can trigger this problem. We get a lot of calls about it after Christmas. We also had a case about a dog with pancreatitis where the dog had managed to eat the whole head of a hog roast! It’s not just a one off fatty meal that can cause it; many dogs on a regular diet high in fat may develop problems.
Other triggers include drugs like steroids, infections and trauma/damage to the pancreas. Research has shown overweight dogs are much more prone to this condition.
What should I do if I suspect my dog has pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis can be life threatening so you must take your dog to the vet as soon as possible so they can diagnose your pet and begin treatment.
What should I feed a dog that has had pancreatitis?
A low fat dog diet which is easy to digest is recommended. We recommend feeding a diet that contains 10% fat or under (dry food/dry matter basis – see below) or 2.5% fat or under (wet food/as fed – see below). Be sure to stick to the correct daily feeding amounts to ensure extra fat is not consumed.
Many people think they are feeding a low fat wet food but because wet foods have a high amount of moisture or water in them you often need to feed 4 times the amount of a wet food than a dry food.
Therefore you need to take this into account before comparing a wet food to other diets as they could be getting more fat in total (for further information into this please see Wet Vs Dry Foods. Small frequent meals spread throughout the day may be tolerated better by your dog than one or two larger meals.
A low fat diet is essential even if your dog has lost weight due to pancreatitis. It is not advisable to try and ‘feed him up’ after being ill as too much food can overwork the pancreas. If your dog is very thin it is important that you speak to your vet or one of our nutritionists for help.
What does ‘dry matter basis’ and ‘as fed’ mean?
Put simply, when protein and fat percentages are given on a dry matter basis, this is describing the amount of protein or fat in the food when all the moisture is taken out. With dry food which has a very low moisture content, this is easy to understand, but with wet food, which is often around 75% moisture, the protein and fat is instead displayed ‘as fed’, which takes into account the moisture per 100g as well as the nutrients. This means that a dry food with 10% fat is not equivalent to a wet food with 10% fat. A wet food with 10% fat actually has 40% fat when you take out all of the moisture (far too high for pancreatitis!). So when you are feeding a dog with pancreatitis, if you are looking at wet food they need to be less than 2.5% fat.
If you would like to understand this better, see our Comparing Wet & Dry foods page.