If your dog has suffered from pancreatitis recently then it’s likely your vet has suggested a special diet for your dog as part of his ongoing care. You may have a few questions though, so in this article, we will explore pancreatitis in more detail and why you should feed your pet that recommended diet!
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What is pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is a painful inflammation of a small organ called the pancreas. The pancreas produces enzymes that are excreted into the intestines and help aid the digestion of food. In cases of pancreatitis, the enzymes are activated too early and start to cause damage to the pancreas itself (‘autodigestion’).
The exact cause of pancreatitis is unclear, but several factors can increase your dog’s chances of suffering from it. The condition is more common in middle-aged and older dogs, with some breeds being more susceptible than others e.g. cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzers and poodles. Being overweight can be a risk factor for some, as can dietary indiscretion (raiding bins and eating things they shouldn’t do!) and eating fatty foods. Certain toxins and drugs could also cause damage to the pancreas.
What are the symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs?
Dogs with pancreatitis will typically show the following symptoms –
- Reduced appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Changes in body temperature
The degree of severity of these symptoms is very variable between dogs. Some severely affected dogs could even die from this condition if prompt treatment isn’t sought.
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
Your vet will start by examining your dog to assess his overall condition. They will be looking for any evidence of dehydration and abdominal pain, as well as checking your dog’s heart rate and temperature. If they have concerns about your pet, then they may advise further tests.
Blood tests are used to screen your dog’s overall health status, as well as to look for markers that could indicate pancreatitis. They may also recommend a separate blood test that is more specific for diagnosing the condition, called canine specific lipase (spec cPL). If this is elevated, then it strongly suggests inflammation of the pancreas.
Your vet may also need to perform diagnostic imaging, however, to rule out other conditions such as foreign bodies or tumours. X-rays and ultrasound can be helpful with this.
How is pancreatitis treated in dogs?
There is no specific cure for pancreatitis, treatment is usually supportive whilst the inflammation subsides. Many dogs become quite unwell with pancreatitis and need hospitalisation. Intravenous fluids are often used to correct any dehydration and help keep your dog’s blood pressure up.
Pain relief is vital in the management of this condition, some animals require strong drugs to keep them comfortable. Anti-nausea medication is commonly administered to stop your dog from vomiting and help them feel more like eating again.
Nutritional management is also important, with food being given to support recovery once the acute phase is over and the animal has stopped vomiting. However, some dogs may require tube feeding usually through a nasogastric or oesophageal tube if they are unable to take things orally.
Why is diet important in the management of pancreatitis?
Low-fat foods are advised in the treatment of pancreatitis. In the early days of recovery, this may mean foods that are carbohydrate-based like rice, and high-value protein sources like skinless chicken and low-fat cottage cheese. Longer-term though your dog will need a more complete and balanced diet and this is where ‘special foods’ come in.
Your vet may advise transitioning your dog onto a special low-fat diet, that has been nutritionally balanced for long term feeding; especially if your dog has had more than one episode of pancreatitis.
Dietary fat is thought to be a trigger for the over-secretion of digestive enzymes, which can make inflammation of the pancreas worse. Being on a low-fat diet can also help to control hyperlipidaemia (high levels of circulating fats in the blood) thought to be a potential trigger for pancreatitis in certain breeds. Table scraps and fatty treats should be avoided in these animals. There are no medications that can prevent pancreatitis from reoccurring, which is why dietary management is important.
Your vet will advise you on the diets best suited to your dog.
Pancreatitis is a painful, and potentially fatal condition, for which there is no specific cure. Treatment is aimed at supporting your dog whilst he recovers, with nutrition playing a big part in this. A low-fat diet is crucial in helping your dog recover and also to try and stop flare-ups from happening in the future.