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Pancreatitis and nutrition

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

pancreatitis in dogs
pancreatitis in dogs

The exocrine function of the pancreas is to secrete pancreatic juice containing the enzymes trypsin, amylase and lipase required for digestion of proteins, starches and fats respectively [1]. When the body is performing well the enzymes reach the small intestine where they are activated to digest the intestinal contents. If the process goes awry these digestive enzymes become active within the pancreas gland, this causes a cyclic reaction involving auto digestion, inflammation, increased enzyme production and pancreatic damage impairing pancreatic function, the disease known as pancreatitis [2].

Aside from genetic factors, nutrition is a leading cause of pancreatitis in dogs and cats. Essentially when pets are fed a nutritionally poor diet, either an unbalanced diet or inappropriate for their digestive needs, it places a greater enzymatic demand on the pancreas and on the digestive system as a whole. A common belief is that consuming an excessively fatty meal will trigger a case of pancreatitis as the pancreas is over stimulated to produce the enzyme lipase, responsible for digesting fats, which becomes active within the pancreas gland and the process of auto digestion ensues [3]. Another school of thought on pancreatitis is that the pancreas, like other organs in the body, has a finite level of capability and that over time its capacity to perform its tasks reduces until such time as it simply wears out. For those pets on a commercial diet of processed, sterile foods devoid of all natural enzymes, the burden placed on the pancreas to produce sufficient enzymes is far greater than those on a raw species appropriate diet which results in speeding up the ageing process of the pancreas. When those sterile diets are also based on inappropriate foods such as soy and rice which contain compounds which actively block enzyme function and nutrient absorption the effects on the pancreas are magnified with inflammation, damage and all out failure inevitable[3].

Transitioning the pet carefully to a raw, species appropriate diet is the first step. Although it will not undo the damage which has already occurred within the pancreas and other organs, basing the diet on raw, species appropriate food complete with enzymes to aid digestion can reduce pancreatic inflammation and minimise any further organ damage thus providing the pet with the best outcome [3].

Improving the general health of the gut is beneficial in restoring healthy digestion, bone broth to support the mucosal barrier as well as probiotics to support and repopulate healthy gut flora are great dietary additions. Constructing the main diet begins with high quality, species appropriate protein, i.e. raw lean meaty bones, game animals are preferred over farm animals as they tend to be leaner however any meat cuts can be trimmed to reduce the fat content if options are limited, for example due to allergies. Eggs are also a useful protein, easily digested and packed with essential nutrients for our carnivorous pets [3].

Organs are essential in a balanced diet; Raw Liver is packed with valuable B12 whilst raw green tripe is naturally high in enzymes and probiotic bacteria whilst being low in fat making it an ideal dietary choice. Raw pancreas is also a useful organ to include although much more difficult to source locally. Providing additional supplementation to the diet is recommended to further aid the pet nutritionally and support digestive and pancreatic function, for example, a pancreatic enzyme supplement to aid digestion, flaxseed oil or other omega 3 supplements along with Vitamin E to protect the pet against rancidity. Dark leafy greens such as spinach are an excellent source of fibre which aid in slowing digestion as well as providing other much needed antioxidants, enzymes and other nutrients to the diet.


[1] Tootill, E. 1981. The facts on file: Dictionary of Biology. New York, NY: Intercontinental Book Productions Ltd. [2] Hill, F. W. 1991. Infections and medical diseases: Endocrine disorders. In D. R. Lane, Jones's Animal Nursing, 5th ed. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press. [3] Syme, B. 2011. Scientific Guide to Natural Nutrition. Southbank, Australia: Vets All Natural Pty Ltd.

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