What Can a Dog with Pancreatitis Eat? & Foods to Avoid (a Vet’s Guide)
You just found out your dog is dealing with pancreatic inflammation. After he’s gotten professional treatment and is ready to resume everyday life, you’ll probably wonder what can a dog with pancreatitis eat? How much fat is too much? Are there commercial dog food and treat options?
Dogs with pancreatitis usually do best eating a complete diet that is relatively low in fat, moderate in protein and highly digestible. Figuring out which foods are best can be difficult when you only have information from the product label.
In this article, I will discuss what I recommend to my clients who are feeding dogs with sensitive pancreases. You’ll also learn foods to avoid or feed with caution. Discuss your questions with your veterinarian so they can give input specific to your unique dog.
What Is Pancreatitis in Dogs & What Causes It?
Dog pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed and releases pancreatic enzymes into surrounding tissues.
Symptoms of the disease include vomiting, poor appetite, abdominal pain, diarrhea and a painful belly.
A fatty diet is only a risk factor, not necessarily the sole cause of the disease. Acute pancreatitis may be triggered when a susceptible dog eats a large amount of fatty food. But in most cases, no cause is ever identified.
Drugs such as potassium bromide and diseases such as diabetes mellitus and Cushing’s disease may trigger pancreatitis. Trauma to the abdomen is another cause of an inflamed pancreas.
Some dog breeds are more prone to pancreatitis including the Cocker Spaniel, Miniature Schnauzer, Dachshund, Poodle and Terrier. Obese dogs and those over 5 years of age have a higher risk of developing the disease.
What Can a Dog With Pancreatitis Eat
Since the pancreas is stimulated each time a dog eats, it is crucial to choose the right food for a dog with an inflamed pancreas. The wrong food can add to the problem while the right foods can speed healing.
For years, veterinarians have recommended a low-fat diet for dogs with or prone to pancreatitis. Vet nutritionists advise dog owners to feed food that is lower in fat than the food the dog was eating when they developed acute pancreatitis.
How much fat constitutes a low-fat dog food appropriate for pancreatitis-prone pets? A very rough rule of thumb is to look for dry dog food with 7% fat or lower according to the guaranteed analysis label. But this number can be misleading because it’s calculated on a dry matter basis.
While that advice is good, there are more factors to consider when choosing dog food for pancreatitis.
Based on the advice of veterinary nutritionists, I look for dog food that meets the following criteria:
- FAT 20% or lower for severe/chronic pancreatitis; 30% or lower for moderate/mild cases
- PROTEIN 30% or lower
- FIBER 5% fiber or lower
- Provides complete and balanced nutrition according to AAFCO standards
- Made by a reliable company with a long history of quality
These percentages should be calculated on a calorie basis. Because dog food labels generally give nutrient values on a dry matter basis, you can’t simply look at the label for this information. It requires some calculations that are frankly a pain to do when you’re shopping for dog food.
So I’ve looked at dozens of non-prescription dog foods for you. Below are a handful of products to consider if your dog has mild to moderate pancreatitis. Dogs with severe disease often need to eat prescription dog food. Consult your veterinarian before choosing one of these products.
My Top 3 Dog Foods for Pancreatitis (& Treats)
For your convenience, you can find these links to these dog foods and treats on my resources page. This website may earn if you purchase products but that does not influence my product selection. CLICK to view product links.
Solid Gold® Fit and Fabulous™ With Fresh Caught Alaskan Pollock
Very low fat content (22% of calories, moderate protein (29% of calories), grain-free for owners who prefer this, added probiotics may help pancreatitis, the protein source is fish and turkey which are good for sensitive dogs, good level of omega 3 fatty acids.
Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets® Sweet Potato & Fish Dry Dog Formula
Moderate fat (26% of calories), moderate protein level (22% of calories) and a low fiber at 5% maximum on the guaranteed analysis. Limited ingredient diet for dogs with food sensitivities.
Wellness® Complete Health Senior
Moderate fat content (26% of calories), a moderate protein level (23% of calories) and a low fiber level at 4.25% maximum.
Pancreas-Friendly Dog Treats
You should be very careful about treats and tidbits you give your dog with a sensitive pancreas. A snack with high fat content or a large meal with a lot of protein or fiber could trigger pancreatitis.
Low-fat dog treats are tolerated by most dogs with mild pancreatitis. Here are a few my canine patients like:
- Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets® Lite Snackers
- Nutrisentials® Lean Treats Nutritional Rewards for Dogs
- Hill’s® Dog Treats Crunchy Fruity Snacks with Cranberries & Oatmeal
CLICK to view product links.
There are many high fat dog treats you should avoid feeding to dogs with a sensitive pancreas. These include pig ears, some types of jerky treats and regular Pup-peroni®.
Rawhide chews and bully sticks are usually low in fat, but are hard for even normal dogs to digest, so I don’t recommend these for dogs with a history of pancreas problems. Greenies® Original chews are low in fat so they might be OK, but proceed with caution.
When in doubt, don’t give a treat to your dog with a sensitive pancreas until you ask your vet!
Balanced Homemade Dog Food for Pancreatitis
If you are so inclined, a homemade diet is a viable option for dogs with pancreatitis. But you can’t just mix chicken and rice and think that’s good enough!
I always recommend consulting the veterinary nutritionists at BalanceIT.com to get a complete and balanced recipe for homemade pancreas-friendly dog food. They can set you up with a simple recipe that is perfectly safe and vet-approved for long-term feeding.
Ask your vet for help in choosing ingredients appropriate to your dog’s specific needs. Most vets in the US are familiar with the Balance IT recipe creation services but don’t offer the option to clients since so many prefer pre-made commercial dog food.
Foods to Avoid for a Dog with Pancreatitis
Every dog has different sensitivities, but many dogs with sensitive pancreases do best avoiding
- Foods high in fat or fiber
- Large portions of protein
- Any food dog is not used to
- Food that is toxic to all dogs (grapes, xylitol, macadamia nuts)
Table food and treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s caloric intake. That means you should only give a bite or two of these each day!
Below is a list of some low-fat and higher-fat human foods. The list is not all-inclusive. And remember that feeding a high-fat item all by itself is more likely to cause pancreas problems than feeding it with a full meal without a lot of fat. Every dog has different tolerances, so start very slowly with any new food and watch for adverse reactions.
|OK (Low Fat)||CAUTION (Higher Fat)|
|Dairy: non-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat cream cheese||Dairy: cheese, full-fat yogurt, full-fat cottage cheese, butter|
|Egg whites||Egg yolks|
|Fruit: banana, blueberries, apple||Fatty meat: fatty hamburger, chicken skin, salmon, bacon|
|Grain/legumes: plain corn/popcorn, oats, wheat, rice, peas, beans, lentils||Oils/fats: coconut oil, olive oil, canola oil (all oils)|
|LEAN meat: chicken breast, low-fat beef, turkey breast, white fish||Nut butter: peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter (all nut butters)|
|Vegetables: carrots, pumpkin, potatoes,|
Tips for Feeding a Dog with Pancreatitis
You should be cautious when introducing new foods or changing the diet of a dog prone to pancreatitis.
A dog’s GI tract becomes accustomed to digesting one particular kind of food every day, it can be thrown into chaos if the diet is abruptly changed. By making a gradual transition to new foods, the digestive tract will have time to adapt. Plan to make the transition over a period of 7-14 days, each day adding a bit more of the new food and removing a bit of the old food.
Watch for poor appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet for advice on how to proceed. You may need to change more gradually, return to the previous food, choose a different food or have more diagnostic testing done.
- Dog pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas, an organ in the abdomen, becomes inflamed. The cause of pancreatitis is often unknown.
- Veterinarians often recommend a low-fat, highly digestible diet with a moderate protein level.
- Non-prescription low-fat dry dog foods appropriate for dogs with mild pancreatitis include Solid Gold® Fit and Fabulous™ With Fresh Caught Alaskan Pollock, Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets® Sweet Potato & Fish Dry Dog Formula and Wellness® Complete Health Senior.
- It is important to consult a veterinarian when choosing food for a dog prone to pancreatitis. Dogs with moderate to severe cases may need to eat prescription dog food.
- Davenport DJ, Remillard RL, Simpson KW, et al. Gastrointestinal and exocrine pancreatic disease. In: Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, Roudebush P, eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th ed. Marceline, MO: Mark Morris Institute; 2000:725–881.
- Lem, K. Y., Fosgate, G. T., Norby, B., & Steiner, J. M. (2008). Associations between dietary factors and pancreatitis in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 233(9), 1425–1431.