Canine Pancreatitis Support and Prevention Naturally

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

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 (RAW fats and proteins in carnivores/dogs)

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 fed 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.
Under normal conditions and digestion, digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas are activated when they reach the small intestines to aid in the digestion of a meal. 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 dis-ease 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.

In some cases dogs that 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 and life style is never addressed.
The associated inflammation with an attack of pancreatitis 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 dis-ease. 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.

Will my dog recover?

Recovery depends on the extent of the dis-ease when presented and a favorable response to any initial therapy. Dogs that present with shock and depression have a more guarded prognosis. Most of the mild forms of pancreatitis have a good prognosis for full recovery.


The successful management and alleviation of pancreatitis will depend on early detection and prompt therapy. Resting the pancreas from its role in digestion by fasting the dog is one the best treatments for the mild form of the disease. The only way to “turn off” the pancreas to rest is to withhold all food for a short period of time.  In many cases, even water is withheld for a day or two and is accompanied by intravenous fluids to maintain normal fluid and electrolyte balance especially in severe cases. In addition, the inflammation should be addressed and of course, natural remedies as alternatives to prescription medication are available and most affective.  Essential oils, herbs, proteolytic enzymes or homeopathic remedies work very well, especially when changes are made in the diet and lifestyle.
When breaking the fast, veterinarians will recommend you feed what they call a “bland diet” of cooked rice and boiled chicken. Please note that while this may be very easy on a human/omnivore’s digestive system it is by no means easy for a dog/carnivore to digest and  in reality may only make matters worse.
Dogs, being carnivores were designed to eat meat, bones and organs in their RAW state. They are not equipped with the right kind of enzymes necessary to  pre-digest, let alone digest cooked meats and/or grains (Yes, rice is a grain). The easiest foods for a dog to digest under any circumstances is RAW meat and bones.  Carnivores digestive system is designed to digest raw meat and bones very quickly and they do not require the pancreas to tax its self in producing extra enzymes in an attempt to digest something it was never intended to. Cooked food and grains (and vegetables too) have to remain in the dog’s stomach and intestines for many hours in order to ferment and breakdown before they can ever be digested. This is extremely taxing to the digestive system.
In the case of Pancreatitis, 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 aided with the supplementation 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, especially when changes are made to the diet and lifestyle.

Naturopathic/Holistic Recommendations to Prevent and Alleviate Pancreatitis

1. First and foremost we recommend that the diet 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 of any kind, it’s time to realize that is not a good diet for them.  Cooked foods, especially cooked fats, oils, grains and vegetables should be avoided. Carnivores, such as dogs and cats, lack the enzymes necessary to digest and/or break down grains, vegetables and cooked meats so when these things are fed, they put a large drain on and tax the pancreas.
As stated above, one of the main causes of pancreatitis is usually eating a very high fat, rich meal that the dog is not used to  eating or that the pancreas and immune system has become weakened by a constant diet of processed, cooked meals.

Natural, raw fats (emphasis on raw) are normally very well tolerated and easily digested by healthy dogs. It is the cooked and/or processed fats that tend to cause the problem. So, unless your dog has chronic pancreatitis, there is really no need to switch to a lower fat diet for the dog, just a healthier, raw 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 raw diet. 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 this particular food.

Since the pancreas is in control of insulin production, which controls blood glucose regulation, this means that often dogs with diabetes can be more prone to pancreatitis, and also that 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, fruits, sweeteners with fancy, long names hard to pronounce, and some kind of grain or starch.

If you feed table scraps or cook for your dog, be sure to avoid feeding them cooked animal fat or fatty foods such as gravy, bacon, ham, sausage, margarine or processed foods. Feed only unseasoned meats and leave out the fat, veggies, grains and be sure to feed grass fed/pastured raised/organic when ever possible.

2. Dietary enzymes

Enzymes are heat sensitive and easily destroyed in the processing/cooking of all commercial foods as well as in any cooked diet that is heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are still feeding a cooked and/or processed diet, it is urgent that you consider putting dietary/ digestive enzymes back into the diet, in order to maintain proper wellness and not deplete the 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
* Vaccine reactions
* Reduce itchy ears
* Prevent and aid in healing yeast infections,
* Bladder infections,
* Hotspots,
* Reduce healing time from injury and or surgery (ear cropping/bloat/c-sections),
* Reduce recovery time from anesthesia.
You see, enzymes have natural anti-inflammatory properties ~ so you can avoid the use of risky medications.  Enzymes aid in detoxing the body from residual toxins while boosting the immune system.

3. 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

4. Sunlight.

It may sound funny to you but sunbathing in moderation is great for the over all health of our dogs. According to the groundbreaking research, humans exposed daily to natural sunlight on a daily basis, are nearly 50 percent less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than others who are not exposed.

Our domestic dogs have moved into our homes and sadly, much like us, they do not get near enough exposure to sunlight and its healing and life promoting benefits. If you have a fenced yard, let the dog out to play or nap in the early morning sun each day.

5. Exercise

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).

Supplements or Herbal Remedies

There are several great herbal remedies, therapeutic grade essential oils and supplements to support and promote a healthy pancreas and over all wellness in your dog. 

If you have questions or 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.
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.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article and on this web site is intended as education/information only.  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 naturopathic and/or conventional veterinary advice.   A consultation is highly advised.
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