Medically reviewed by Erica Irish, DVM
Pancreatitis in dogs is a painful condition that often requires a special diet.
The last thing you want to do is feed your dog anything that’s going to make the condition worse.
Depending on how bad your dog’s pancreatitis is, your vet may have given him a special diet to help him feel better.
Unfortunately, prescription diets for dogs can get a little boring for you and your dog.
I don’t care what anybody says, giving my dog treats is part of what makes having a dog fun. We offer dogs treats as rewards and sometimes just for being so darned cute.
The problem, of course, is what kinds of treats are safe for dogs with pancreatitis?
This post will offer a quick refresher on what pancreatitis is including symptoms, causes, treatment, and dietary management (including treats!).
Please remember that the treats suggested in this post may not be suitable for all dogs with pancreatitis.
As always, moderation is key. Consult with a veterinarian for the best advice when it comes to the best diet for your dog.
A Quick Refresh on Pancreatitis in Dogs
Pancreatitis can either be acute or chronic. Acute cases are typically isolated incidents that involve severe and sudden inflammation of the pancreas.
Chronic pancreatitis usually refers to a long-standing condition lasting months or years. That said, it is possible for a dog to have acute pancreatitis episodes that lead to long-term (chronic) pancreatitis.
What Does the Pancreas Do?
The pancreas is a gland that secretes hormones like insulin and glucagon to control blood sugar.
It also produces digestive enzymes that breakdown carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These pancreatic enzymes help the body digest food.
What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?
It can be challenging to identify the precise cause of pancreatitis.
We might not want to admit it, but many dogs (sometimes our own) will eat just about anything they happen to find on the ground.
Spill-over from a garbage can, dead birds, mice, and anything else they find are all fair game.
My dog, a Labrador retriever, likes to walk near the local elementary school because of the food waste left by the children.
Half-eaten sandwiches, pizza slices, candy are there for the taking unless I stop her, which I do.
Still, dogs are fast, especially when they spot something they want.
It only takes a second for your dog to swallow all kinds of things they aren’t supposed to eat. Unfortunately, a lot of those things were not designed for canine consumption.
It’s not always easy to identify the cause of pancreatitis in dogs.
Eating foods high in fat, however, is definitely a risk factor. Another risk factor for dogs includes having too many triglycerides (fats) in the blood.
What Can Trigger Pancreatitis in Dogs?
There are many things that can trigger pancreatitis in dogs including:
- High-fat diet
- Inherited disorders
- Medications (for example, corticosteroid administration)
- Certain toxins including chocolate
In some cases, pancreatitis appears to develop out of the blue.
Watch this great video on pancreatitis in dogs!
How Do You Fix Pancreatitis in Dogs?
Early detection and prompt medical treatment are essential for the effective management of pancreatitis.
When a patient has mild, edematous pancreatitis, supportive care is used to “rest” the pancreas and let the body heal itself.
Vomiting dogs should be fasted until the vomiting stops. If necessary, patients can go a few days without eating. When recovering, dogs who are not vomiting may be fed a low-fat, highly digestible diet.
In order to keep the body’s fluid and electrolyte balance in the normal range, analgesics will be administered to reduce the severe pain.
Anti-inflammatory drugs or medications to stop vomiting or diarrhea are frequently needed in addition.
If a concurrent infection is thought to be present, antibiotics will be given. Most canines with pancreatitis stay in hospitals for two days.
The Cost of Treating Pancreatitis in Dogs
The overall costs of treating dogs with pancreatitis vary. Generally speaking, costs can range anywhere from $500 to over $2000.
Read this Market Watch Guide for a detailed explanation of costs: What to Know About Pancreatitis in Dogs and Treatment Cost.
How Long Can a Dog Live with Pancreatitis
It is difficult to predict how long a dog with pancreatitis will live.
In mild cases, the dog will likely make a full recovery, especially if the dog is maintained on veterinarian approved diets (low-fat diet).
It’s important to keep veterinarian appointments and to follow veterinarian advice.
Sudden onset, severe (acute) pancreatitis may have a more guarded prognosis. Dogs that develop acute pancreatitis usually need more intensive medical intervention including:
- Intensive intravenous (IV) fluids and electrolytes
- Feeding tube for nutritional support
- Special medication to protect the stomach
- Pain medications
Acute inflammation of the pancreas, depending on the severity, can result in cardiovascular shock, abnormal blood clotting (known as disseminated intravascular coagulation), and multi-organ failure.
Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Severe forms of pancreatitis can include the following signs:
- Abdominal pain
Unfortunately, dogs with mild pancreatitis may not show any signs. Vague signs could include low appetite, lethargy, or diarrhea.
Dog Breeds Susceptible to Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis can occur in any dog, but some breeds seem to be more susceptible than others. These breeds include:
- Miniature schnauzers
- Miniature poodle
- Cocker spaniels
- Older dogs
- Overweight dogs
Are There Any Safe Treats for Dogs With Pancreatitis?
Unfortunately, treats for dogs with pancreatitis may not be advisable.
There are, however, ways around the treat dilemma.
Sometimes, just giving your dog a different type of kibble is treat enough for them The fact that they are getting something different from what they normally eat can be defined as a “treat”.
Dogs with acute pancreatitis should not be given anything beyond what the veterinarian recommends. That said, mild, chronic cases of pancreatitis may have a little more leeway.
Disclaimer: Please be careful when feeding dogs with pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a serious condition. Always speak to a veterinarian for nutritional advice.
Too many treats of any kind are not good for dogs. Ideally, pet parents should aim to keep their dogs at a healthy weight. Low-fat dog treats that meet a dog’s nutritional needs are the best choice.
1. Fruits and Vegetables
Apples, blueberries, broccoli stalks, bananas, carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin are great ways to add nutrition and fiber to your dog’s diet.
Pet owners often ask about offering a home-cooked diet.
The trick here is to ensure your dog is getting the full nutritional requirements needed for optimal health. A home-cooked diet may require supplementation.
Talk to your veterinarian before adding supplements to your dog’s diet.
2. Chicken or Turkey
Sometimes, a low-fat food topper can help stimulate your dog’s appetite while acting like a “treat”.
Of course, food toppers are nothing like traditional dog treats, but when it comes to pancreatitis, you may need to get a little creative.
3. Low-Fat, Grain-Free Kibble
Let’s face it, kibble is just dog food. However, if it’s one that you only give to your dog occasionally, it could be considered a treat.
Sometimes a small change in moderation is as exciting to a dog as a regular treat.
4. Non Food Items
I know you want to find great tasting and safe treats for your dog, but sometimes it’s good to step away from traditional treats.
Offering non-food items like a new toy can be equally rewarding.
Of course, it’s not the same! Also, unless you’re really wealthy, you probably don’t want to buy several new toys a day to give as “treats”.
Still, it’s something to think about. You could invest in a monthly subscription plan
5. Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet
Okay, this isn’t a “treat”, but it could be.
All you have to do is scoop a small amount into an ice cube tray and stick it in the freezer overnight.
What dog wouldn’t be excited to see you pull something from the refrigerator just for him/her? Seriously, it works!
This particular food:
- Encourages optimal nutrient absorption with readily digestible proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
- Low-fat formula for pups who have a hard time digesting fat.
- Made with prebiotic fibers to help balance and support healthy microflora for overall gastrointestinal health.
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Summing it up
Dogs with severe cases of pancreatitis should not be fed anything beyond what the veterinarian recommends. In most cases, that involves a prescription diet.
Pancreatitis can be treated in a number of ways, from giving the person an IV in severe cases to just changing their diet.
Once a veterinarian gives a definitive diagnosis, you’ll need to discuss what you can and cannot feed your dog.
Remember to bring friends and family members into the conversation, especially if you’re used to feeding your dog table scraps. Remind everyone that the key to your dog’s health is a high quality diet.
Tufts University has an interesting article on pancreatitis you might want to read: Pancreatitis: A Real Pain in the Abdomen.
Dogs with pancreatitis cannot eat high-fat foods.
Nutrition is a complicated subject. The successful management of pancreatitis will require follow-up care with a veterinarian along with the best food choices for your dog.
May your dog be happy, healthy, and full of life for years to come!
Thank you for reading.