What is the best commercial dog food for pancreatitis? It’s a very good question I hear from my clients and the answer is not well-defined. The best advice from veterinary nutritionists is based mostly on experience and best guesses rather than a lot of clinical research.
The best food for a dog with pancreatitis is one that is relatively low in fat, moderate in protein and low in fiber. You should consider what your dog was eating when he got pancreatitis. Aim to improve upon the nutritional values found in that food. Here’s what we know and how to choose a good food for your dog…
We don’t have a lot of information about the best way to feed dogs who have or are prone to pancreatitis. Veterinary nutritionists currently recommend low-fat food (Lem et al., 2008).
Since protein also stimulates the pancreas, high protein foods are out (Davenport et al., 2000). We’re looking for a food with a moderate protein level.
These dogs need highly digestible food, so it should have lower fiber content. Veterinarians may recommend high fiber food for dogs with concurrent hyperlipidemia or diabetes but those foods are not included here.
What Makes a Good Commercial Dog Food for Pancreatitis?
I came up with two categories of commercial dog food for pancreatitis: foods for severe pancreatitis and foods for mild to moderate pancreatitis. All nutrients were evaluated on a caloric basis.
I calculated the cost per calorie since your dog might need to eat one cup of food A, but only a half cup of food B. That way, you can compare the foods based on how much it will take to meet your dog’s caloric needs.
The criteria I used to choose the best dog foods are:
- 20% fat or lower for severe/chronic pancreatitis (fat level was the most important criteria used)
- 30% fat or lower for moderate cases
- 30% protein or lower
- 5% fiber or lower (fiber was the least important criteria in this article)
- Ingredients list with mostly real food items rather than highly processed ingredients
- Affordable products that are readily available in most areas of the United States
Find out how to help your dog with pancreatitis at home: Will My Dog Survive Pancreatitis?
What Should a Dog with Pancreatitis Eat?
There aren’t very many commercial dog foods that meet the strictest criteria for feeding dogs with pancreatic inflammation. I looked for food that has 20% fat on a caloric basis (or less), 30% protein on a caloric basis (or less), and a low to average fiber level of 5% (or less) on the guaranteed analysis label. The only food I found that has low fat, low protein and low-ish fiber is a prescription food.
Food for Dogs with Severe Pancreatitis
Royal Canin Veterinary Diet® Canine Gastrointestinal Low Fat dry dog food
You’ll have to let go of your notions about grain being bad for dogs if you want to feed this food. The first ingredient is brewer’s rice. It also contains wheat and barley.
There are only three nutrients in a dog’s diet: fat, protein and carbohydrate. In order for a food to be low in fat and moderate in protein, the calories have to come from carbohydrates. In this particular food, grains act as a carbohydrate source. Other popular carb sources in dog foods like potatoes and lentils have more fiber and may not work well for dogs with severe pancreatitis.
Royal Canin Canine Gastrointestinal Low Fat dry dog food has 242 calories per cup. Compare that to Royal Canin’s adult maintenance foods that have somewhere around 330 calories per cup. This is a low-fat, low-calorie dog food.
The nutrient levels meet all the criteria for feeding a dog with severe pancreatitis. Fat accounts for 17% of the calories and protein comes in at 22% on a caloric basis. The fiber level is below average dog food at 3.6% on the guaranteed analysis.
Most dogs take to this food just fine since its main ingredients are chicken and rice. I expect that it tastes pretty similar to average dry dog foods. My patients have taken to it readily unless they were already super picky about food.
Pros: Very low fat, low/moderate protein, average fiber meets the recommended criteria. Dogs accept it readily.
Cons: Prescription only, high cost relative to average dry dog foods, chicken may not agree with some dogs, ingredients are mostly plants and are highly processed.
Solid Gold® Fit and Fabulous™ With Fresh Caught Alaskan Pollock
Pros: Available without prescription, relatively affordable, very low fat, grain-free, added probiotics may help pancreatitis, protein source is fish and turkey which are good for sensitive dogs, good level of omega–3 fatty acids, Solid Gold Fit and Fabulous may be a more “holistic” food with fewer questionable ingredients.
Cons: Contains grain, moderate protein level, above average fiber level, the price is high for a non-prescription diet at about $2.29/pound.
Earthborn Holistic® Weight Control
Pros: Earthborn Holistic Weight Control dog food is available without prescription, relatively affordable, very low fat, added glucosamine and chondroitin may be a benefit for some dogs with orthopedic problems, stocked by pet food stores and online suppliers.
Cons: Moderate protein level, above average fiber level, chicken may not agree with some dogs, lots of plant-based ingredients.
Food for Dogs with Mild/Moderate Pancreatitis
Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets® Sweet Potato & Fish Dry Dog Formula
Natural Balance L.I.D. Sweet Potato & Fish dog food checks a couple of boxes for dogs prone to pancreatitis. First, it’s moderate in fat at 26% of calories coming from fat. It also has a moderate protein level (22% of calories) and a low fiber at 5% maximum on the guaranteed analysis.
Being a limited ingredient diet, it might also be helpful for dogs with food sensitivities. Calories in this food come from salmon, menhaden fish meal, sweet potatoes and potatoes. All of those ingredients work well for many sensitive dogs.
Pros: Available without a prescription, moderate fat, low/moderate protein, low fiber, ingredients suited to sensitive dogs.
Cons: Fat level may be too high for some dogs, price per calorie slightly higher than the Earthborn Holistic Weight Control food.
Wellness® Complete Health Senior
Wellness Complete Health Senior dry dog food is made for senior dogs but could also work well for a dog prone to pancreatitis. It has a moderate fat level (26% of calories), a moderate protein level (23% of calories) and a low fiber level at 4.25% maximum on the guaranteed analysis label.
Wellness makes this food with chicken and several grains, including oats, barley and rice. Peas add to the carbohydrates and protein in the food.
Pros: Available without a prescription, relatively low cost, the flavor should be acceptable to most dogs since it’s ingredients are similar to average dry dog food, moderate fat and protein level, low fiber, no wheat/soy/corn/meat by-products, has added glucosamine and chondroitin.
Cons: Chicken could be a problem for sensitive dogs, grains may be irritating to some dog’s GI tracts.
V-Dog® Kind Kibble
Here’s a unique food made without any animal products. Legumes, grains, potatoes and seeds provide the nutrients in V-dog Vegan Kibble. This food might especially appeal to your ethical senses.
Pros: Available without a prescription, moderate fat and protein, low fiber, lack of animal products will appeal to some humans, dogs with sensitivities to multiple animal proteins could do well with this food.
Cons: Costs more than all other dry foods I evaluated, some people believe dogs should eat meat, contains several grains and legumes which can be more difficult to digest.
Hill’s Prescription Diet ® g/d Aging Care Dog Food Canned Dog Food
Hill’s Prescription Diet g/d Aging Care is one of the only canned foods I could find that even came close to being appropriate for a dog prone to pancreatitis. It’s fat level is 24% of calories. The protein level is 19% of calories while the fiber level is low at 1.2% of the guaranteed analysis (but 5.5% on a dry matter basis).
The food contains pork, turkey and chicken as the protein sources. It also contains rice, cornflour, and beet pulp. The ingredients are more processed than some of the other foods on this list.
If you absolutely must feed canned food, this one meets the criteria I set out in this article. Your dog might be better off eating a homemade diet for pancreatitis if your dog won’t eat dry dog food.
Pros: Most dogs like canned food more than dry food, extra moisture may be beneficial to digestion, moderate fat and protein. This is one of the rare canned foods that doesn’t have way too much fat to be appropriate for a dog prone to pancreatitis.
Cons: Highest cost of the seven I evaluated, but then almost all canned dog foods are more expensive than similar dry foods. Prescription only, highly processed ingredients, canned food is less convenient than dry kibble.
Closing Notes on Feeding Dogs Prone to Pancreatitis
What should a dog with pancreatitis eat? Since every dog is different, you need to get your vet’s advice! You can use this list as a starting place for a conversation with your veterinarian about choosing the best food for you and your dog.
AAFCO feeding trials are the gold standard for dog food to prove it’s complete and balanced. That means the food adequately met the nutritional needs of a group of healthy dogs for a period of 26 weeks.
None of the foods listed here have been put through the paces of a feeding trial. Instead, they all have a statement on the label that they’re formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance.
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.
Last update on 2021-01-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API