Diets for Dogs with Pancreatitis

Zip has had two bouts of pancreatitis, once, in an instance of worst-timing-possible, while I was away on a silent retreat with no phone or internet access.  He’s now 11 yrs old, and thriving, as near as anyone can tell, as he looks and moves like a much younger pug.  I manage his health with the assumption that the most important thing to watch is the pancreatitis.  Watching that also keeps his weight low, which is a factor in longevity.

The Pancreas in a Dog

I’ve been reading up on pancreatitis again, both because I’ve noticed how recommendations can change in the nutritional world – or how we often are given contradictory guidance (eg, one vet told me that protein is as important to watch as fat, and no other vet I’ve talked to has agreed – in fact I’ve read elsewhere that low protein diets, due to the necessarily high starch content, are a trigger) – and because one of our favorite customers, Max the chocolate labradoodle, has just been diagnosed & I want to be sure to give the best advice I can.

What causes pancreatitis?  Most sources agree on a short list of possibles:

– genetic predisposition

– sudden overload of high fat food (especially around holidays when dogs are given say the skin from the roast turkey)

– hyperlipidemia, or high fat levels in the blood

– hypercalcemia, or high calcium blood levels

– trauma, as in getting hit by a car

– bacterial infection/contaminated food or water

– corticosteroids (eg Prednisone)

– pesticides & some chemical flea & tick products

– concurrent diseases (like Cushings)

– overvaccinating

Generally, keeping the fat content low (low is usually considered no more than 10% dry matter) is recommended for dogs with a history of pancreatitis.  Most sources add that once a dog has recovered from an acute episode, he or she may be able to return to their normal (ie not necessarily low fat) diet.  When Zip had his second acute episode, I followed orders and put him on a chicken and rice diet with half the amount of chicken and double the rice.  He broke out in hives all over his back…the vet had never seen such a reaction, and from that point on, I’ve been careful of his exposure to grains.  Chicken he’s fine with, but that much white rice was clearly a problem.  Zip gets a lean raw diet that rotates.   Right now, he’s on Nature’s Variety Instinct Bison Medallions.  I also use rabbit and the venison, and mix them with Honest Kitchen Preference as a base to lower the overall fat content. Sometimes he’ll get cooked meat & vegetables, but I prefer raw for him as he appears to digest it best, he doesn’t put on weight, he isn’t itchy, his coat/eyes gleam, and I like the water content.  And he isn’t bothered by the grains.  I also supplement with Wholistic Pet Canine Complete Joint Mobility, mixed with Nupro for taste.  And I add Wholistic Pet Wild, Deep Sea Salmon Oil.  While salmon oil is fat, fish body oil lowers blood lipids, and has numerous benefits to the immune system, heart, brain, eyes and skin/coat.  Note that the fat content, adjusted to dry matter basis, is almost 25%, which is normal.  I get his blood tested every 6 months to a year, and his pancreatic enzymes are great.  So it could be a matter of what kind of fat, and how much food is fed per meal (I don’t give him the recommended amount; I cut back and add more vegetable content).

With rabbit, venison and bison being the most lean in pet foods (surprisingly, raw chicken diets by Nature’s Variety are higher in fat; I believe it’s the amount of skin that must get ground in), I took a look at some options to get the fat down to about 10% dry matter.  Remember that with a lower fat diet, you have to feed more to get the same amount of calories, especially for an active dog like Max.  So the following are just suggestions for you to follow up on, considering your dog’s caloric needs and the ingredients involved:

Blue Buffalo Senior …..chicken the #1 ingredient (but then when taking out the water content, would likely be lower…however it’s supplemented with chicken meal), fat at 8%, 8,8% adjusted to dry matter.  I’d rotate this one in.

Nature’s Variety Prairie Venison ….fat is at 15.5% dry matter, considered moderate rather than low…but look at the ingredients.  Venison first, then millet (a very high quality grain source for protein)

Natural Balance Ultra Reduced  …..note the large amount of grain and potato; fat at 8% but probably a little closer to 10% after moisture (moisture% not given)

Innova Low Fat Adult …..I like the ingredients better on this one. Fat at 7%, adjusted to dry matter about 8%.  I’d rotate this in too.

Canidae Platinum (Senior/Low Fat) …..Canidae performs very well, but there’s a lot of grain and potato before the 2nd, 3rd and 4th protein sources.  Fat, at dry matter, 9.4%.

When doing your own research, filter heavily articles that recommend specific prescription foods (Hill’s Prescription Diets for instance).  I found these articles to be really helpful:

Healthy Low-Fat Diets for Dogs with Special Dietary Needs

Canine Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis (B-Naturals Newsletter)



About Kathy Palmer

Loves: animals, her dog Zip, the rocky Maine coast, creative independent small business, good healthy food, spending time getting outside with pals, films set in France.