What Is Pancreatitis?

by Dr. Jeannie Thomason

When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the disorder is called pancreatitis. It is a disease process that is seen commonly in the dog. There is no age, sex, or breed predisposition. The function of pancreas br> The pancreas is a vital digestive organ that lies on the right side of the abdomen and has two functions: 1) to produce enzymes which help in digestion of food and, 2) to produce hormones, such as insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the blood sugar. The enzymes produced are necessary for digesting food. Dogs, being carnivores have no digestive enzymes in their saliva like an omnivore does so for them digestion does not and can not begin in the mouth. When our dogs are fed a cooked diet or diet with grains and vegetables in it, the pancreas gets over stimulated and overworked and in turn becomes inflamed. The inflammation itself can activate the digestive enzymes before they’re released in the intestines which can result in triggering the process of “self digestion”. The enzymes from the inflamed pancreas can also leak out in the abdominal cavity and damage the abdominal lining and other organs which only serves to add to a serious and often life-threatening situation. Causes of pancreatitis

The cause of pancreatitis can be one of many things and usually is related to a compromised immune system and improper diet. It is often associated with a cooked, rich, fatty meal. In some cases, it may be associated with the administration of cortisone; factors that can contribute to the development of pancreatitis can be infections; metabolic disorders including hyperlipidemia (high amounts of lipid in the blood) and hypercalcemia (high amounts of calcium in the blood); and/or trauma and shock. Middle-aged dogs appear to be at an increased risk of developing pancreatitis. Dogs with diets high in cooked fat, or dogs who ‘steal’ or are fed greasy ‘people food’ seem to have a higher incidence of the dis-ease. However, in most all cases these dogs are also fed a processed pet food diet.

What happens is, under normal conditions, digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas are activated when they reach the small intestines. In pancreatitis, these enzymes are activated prematurely in the pancreas instead of in the small intestines. This results in digestion of the pancreas itself. The clinical signs of pancreatitis are often variable, and the intensity of the disease will depend on the quantity of enzymes that are prematurely activated. There are two main forms of acute (sudden onset) pancreatitis: 1) the mild, edematous form and, 2) the more severe, hemorrhagic form. A few dogs that have and recover from an acute episode of pancreatitis may continue to have recurrent bouts of the acute disease, known as chronic, relapsing pancreatitis if their diet is never addressed. The associated inflammation allows digestive enzymes to spill into the abdominal cavity which can result in secondary damage to surrounding organs, such as the liver, bile ducts, gall bladder, and intestines. Nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea typically manifest the disease. The symptoms can also be a very painful abdomen, abdominal distention, lack of appetite, depression, dehydration, a ‘hunched up’ posture, vomiting, diarrhea and yellow, greasy stool. Fever often accompanies these symptoms. If the attack is severe, acute shock, depression, and death may occur. Laboratory tests usually reveal an elevated white blood cell count; however, many other things besides pancreatitis may also cause an elevated white blood cell count. The elevation of pancreatic enzymes in the blood is probably the most helpful criteria in detecting pancreatic disease, but some dogs with pancreatitis will have normal levels. Radiographs and ultrasound studies may show an area of inflammation in the location of the pancreas. Unfortunately, many dogs with pancreatitis will elude detection with any of these tests. Consequently, the diagnosis of pancreatitis may be tentative in some cases.

Will my dog recover?

The prognosis depends on the extent of the disease when presented and a favorable response to initial therapy. Dogs that present with shock and depression have a very guarded prognosis. Most of the mild forms of pancreatitis have a good prognosis.


The successful management of pancreatitis will depend on early diagnosis and prompt therapy. Resting the pancreas from its role in digestion by fasting the dog is one the best treatments of the mild form of the disease. The only way to “turn off” the pancreas is to withhold all oral fluids and food for a short period of time. This approach is of course, accompanied by intravenous fluids to maintain normal fluid and electrolyte balance is often needed in severe cases. In addition, natural anti-inflammatory herbs,proteolytic enzymes or homeopathic remedies are sometimes administered. The presence of shock necessitates the immediate and intense use of intravenous fluids. A Bland Diet?

Veterinarians will recommend you feed a “bland” diet of cooked rice and boiled chicken. This may be very easy on a human/omnivore’s digestive system but it is by no means easy for a dog/carnivore to digest and may only make matters worse. Dogs, being carnivores were designed to eat meat and bone in its RAW state. They are not equipped with enough of the right kind of enzymes necessary to digest cooked meats let along grains (Yes, rice is a grain). The easiest foods for a dog to digest under any circumstances is RAW. Raw meat and bones digest very quickly and do not require the pancreas to tax its self in producing enzymes in an attempt to digest something it was never intended to. Cooked food and grains have to remain in the dog’s stomach and intestines for many hours to ferment and breakdown before they can be digested. This is taxing to the digestive system.

Usually, a number of cells that produce the digestive enzymes are destroyed either prior to the attack or due to the attack its self which will cause insufficient digestion of foods to follow. This is known as pancreatic insufficiency and can be treated with daily administration of enzymes added in the food. If a significant number of cells that produce insulin are destroyed, diabetes mellitus can result and insulin therapy may be needed. In rare cases, adhesions between the abdominal organs may occur as a consequence of pancreatitis. However, most dogs recover with no long-term effects.

Recommendations to prevent and treat pancreatitis

1. Dietary enzymes

Enzymes are heat sensitive and easily destroyed in the processing/cooking of all commercial foods as well as in any cooked diet. If you are still feeding a cooked and/or processed diet, it is urgent that we put dietary enzymes back into the diet, in order to maintain proper wellness and not deplete their body of this important resource. Enzymes are of course needed to properly digest foods but they have other functions in the body as well, such as helping or preventing the following: * Allergic reactions * Arthritis * Orthopedic problems ~ HOD, OCO, Pano, Wobblers, Hip Dysplasia, ACL Epilepsy and Seizures * Vaccine reactions * Enzymes act as a natural anti-inflammatory ~ so you can avoid risky medicines * Enzymes Cleanse residual toxins from medicines, flea and parasite preparations. * Enzymes Boost the immune system * Reduce shedding * Reduce itchy ears * Prevent and aid in healing yeast infections, * Bladder infections, * Hotspots, Enzymes reduce healing time from injury and or surgery (ear cropping/bloat/c-sections), * Reduce recovery time from anesthesia. We recommend: 1. Naturally sourced digestive enzymes


2. Probiotics or “friendly bacteria”

Probiotics are microorganisms necessary for a healthy and balanced intestinal tract. There are two types of bacteria found in the intestinal tract, good and harmful bacteria. Good bacteria, or probiotics, ensure good health, as they are absolutely vital to help: 1. Produce natural antibiotics, which can fight harmful bacteria 2. Regulate and increase hormone levels 3. Manufacture B group vitamins, biotin and folic acid 4. Stimulate the immune system 5. Reduce food intolerance 6. Increase energy levels 7. Inhibit the growth of some yeast 8. Absorb nutrients, antioxidants and iron from food that is eaten 9. Reduce inflammation 10. Increase digestibility of food 11. Enhance Immune Function

We recommend Fastrack Canine Gel and/or Fastrack Canine Microbial Supplement powder, which also contain enzymes as well!

3. Diet

The diet should be a raw, species appropriate diet of raw meat, bones and organs which is easily digested by our carnivorous pets.

Nutrition and your dog;s daily diet should be closely examined. Hopefully if you found this article you are already feeding your dog a raw meat, bone and organs diet or at the very least home cooking for him. However, if you are still feeding kibble or canned, processed foods, please read the labels on your dog’s food and see what the ingredients are and what the fat, salt and grain content are. All of these should be avoided as well as any vegetables – raw or cooked. Carnivores, such as dogs and cats, lack the enzymes necessary to digest and/or break down grains and vegetables so when fed, this puts a large drain and tax on the pancreas.

As stated above, pancretitis is usually caused by eating a very high fat, rich meal that the dog is not used to or due to the use of cortisone at some point. Natural, raw fats (emphasis on raw) are normally well tolerated by healthy dogs. It is the cooked, processed fats that tend to cause the problem. So, unless your dog has chronic pancretitis, there is really no need to switch to a lower fat diet for the dog, just a healthier one over all.

If you are still not quite ready to go with a totally raw diet, please, at least try a dehydrated or freeze dried diet such as Ziwi Peak that has very little to no vegetable matter in it. There is also a grain and potato free food that is layered with freeze dried ingredients that is still kibble but instead of having a synthetic, heated vitamin mixture sprayed on the kibble, the freeze dried raw ingredients are applied to the food instead so there is actually SOME nutritional value to the food. For more information on this great transition food, click HERE

The pancreas is in control of insulin production, which controls blood glucose regulation. This means that often dogs with diabetes can be prone to pancreatitis, and pancreatitis can lead to diabetes. This means it would be a good idea to watch the amount of sugar in the diet as well. Processed kibble and canned food are quite high in high glycemic vegetables, sweeteners, salt and some kind of grain. If you feed table scraps or cook for your dog, be sure to avoid feeding them cooked fat or fatty foods such as gravy, bacon, ham, sausage, margarine or processed foods. Feed only unseasoned meats and leave out the fat, veggies and go easy on the fruit making sure to feed organic when ever possible.


Most of our dogs these days are left indoors all day while we go to work. They get very little to no exercise as a general rule. Exercise moves the lymph, improves digestion and intestinal movements, resulting in a healthier immune system and digestive system, which is important in preventing pancreatitis. Exercise can also keep the dog from becoming obese (Obesity is one predisposing factor to pancreatitis).

If you are interested in learning more about natural, preventative health for your dog or just need some help with transitioning your dog to a raw diet, please view my consultation page for more information and questions you may have.

References: Stewart, AF. Pancreatitis in dogs and cats: Cause, pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment. The Compendium on Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian. 1994;16(11):1423-1431.

NOTE The information on this site is based on the traditional and historic use of naturopathy as well as personal experience and is provided for general reference and educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or promote any direct or implied health claims. This information is and products mentioned are not intended to replace professional veterinary naturopathic and/or conventional medical advice

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