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How To Manage Pancreatitis In Dogs

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Pancreatitis in dogs is a frightening condition … especially when it’s an acute pancreatitis attack that is an emergency. But dogs can also have chronic pancreatitis. 

So here’s a look at pancreatitis in dogs, how to know when it’s an emergency … and some home remedies to use for both acute and chronic pancreatitis.

What The Pancreas Does

The pancreas is a glandular organ that has enzymatic and hormonal jobs in the body. The stomach secretes gastric juices into the duodenum, which runs between the stomach and small intestine. Next, the pancreas releases digestive enzymes, and the gallbladder releases bile. The pancreatic enzymes activate and adjust the pH (acid level) of the stomach contents … before they enter the small intestine.

What Is Pancreatitis In Dogs?

Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas. In pancreatitis, pancreatic enzymes get released inside the pancreas instead of the intestinal tract. The enzymes start digesting the surrounding tissue that damages the pancreas and triggers further inflammation in other parts of your dog’s body (1). This is extremely painful for your dog, so you’ll be able to tell something’s wrong.  

Types Of Pancreatitis

There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. 

Acute pancreatitis happens quickly, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Severe cases of acute pancreatitis require veterinary care … including IV fluids and pain management.

Chronic pancreatitis usually happens in dogs with …

  • Enzyme deficiency
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Nutritional imbalances 

Signs Of Acute Pancreatitis In Dogs

These are serious warning signs so consult your vet right away if you see any of these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Hunching 
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy, restlessness or pacing

Acute pancreatitis can lead to organ failure (kidneys, lungs, heart), septic shock or death. Get your dog to the vet quickly (keep reading to learn about acute pancreatitis treatment). 

Signs Of Chronic Pancreatitis In Dogs

This is a low-grade, simmering type of pancreatitis. It can produce intermittent mild signs such as:

  • Occasional vomiting
  • Colitis
  • Lack of appetite

What Causes Pancreatitis?

It’s not always clear what causes pancreatitis. High fat diets are often blamed … but it’s often a result of something like your dog getting into the garbage or eating a lot of fatty table scraps. Other things that can lead to acute pancreatitis include … 

  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Coexisting hormonal diseases (diabetes, hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia)
  • Medications (sulfa antibiotics, seizure medications, chemotherapy)
  • Organophosphate insecticide exposure 

Obesity can be a problem too. It causes altered fat metabolism that can lead to pancreas issues.

How Vets Diagnose Pancreatitis

A definitive diagnosis can be difficult. Here are some common diagnostic tools your vet may use. 

  • Abdominal ultrasound (can detect about 70% of acute cases). 
  • Ultrasound shows contributing issues … like a blockage of the pancreatic duct.
  • Bloodwork can show changes in liver, kidney, and electrolyte values. 
  • cPLI  or Spec cPL (serum canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity). It’s a more specific test but it takes days to get results (2). Veterinary clinics will do a “snap PLI” kit for a quick result. Negative means you can rule out pancreatitis. But a positive means you still need a cPLI to confirm a solid diagnosis. 
  • DGGR Lipase Assay (3) takes place at a lab. Results are usually available the next day. 

Treatment Of Acute Pancreatitis In Dogs 

If your dog gets acute pancreatitis, he’ll need emergency veterinary care. Here are some of the steps your clinic may take. 

  • Hospitalization for round-the-clock monitoring. Make sure your clinic is staffed at night … not all are. 
  • IV Fluids: IV fluids are often needed to avoid dehydration that can stress other organs and make the situation worse. Subcutaneous fluids aren’t enough unless it’s a very mild case. 
  • Pain Management: Acute pancreatitis is very painful. Pain also suppresses the appetite so medication is almost always needed. Pain can harm your dog’s gastrointestinal, renal and cardiovascular systems.   
  • Nausea Control: Your dog might need anti-nausea medication. 
  • Light Feeding: A dog with pancreatitis should eat frequent, small amounts of food to avoid the whole gastrointestinal tract shutting down. If he’s nauseous and doesn’t want to eat, your veterinarian can use a feeding tube to bypass part or all of the upper GI tract (4).
  • Antibiotics: If there’s an infection, your vet may prescribe antibiotics. But if there’s no infection, they’re not helpful or needed.

Natural treatment is helpful in the long term and once you get your dog home, you can use some of the remedies described below.  But acute pancreatitis is a case for immediate veterinary care. It’s a very serious condition that you shouldn’t try to treat at home. 

How To Manage Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is less serious, but it can still destroy 80-90% of pancreas cells if it’s not controlled. It can lead to serious conditions like diabetes or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)

Diet is key in managing chronic pancreatitis. 

What To Feed Dogs With Pancreatitis

If your dog’s recovering from an acute or chronic pancreatitis attack, Dr Jean Hofve DVM recommends you start with a recovery diet. 

Pancreatitis Recovery Diet For Dogs

Feeding a bland diet will help while your dog is recovering from a pancreatitis episode … whether acute or chronic. 

Bone broth is nutritious and tasty as your dog starts to feel better. When returning to solid food, feed a bland diet like cooked chicken breast and pumpkin. You can hold back supplements if you’re only feeding like this for a few weeks. But for the long term, you’ll want to follow a consistent, balanced diet

Long Term Diet For Pancreatitis

Once your dog is back to normal food, a  balanced homemade diet is ideal, with supplements as recommended in the section on prevention. Digestive enzymes that include pancreas or pancreatic enzymes can be especially important. They’ll reduce how hard your dog’s pancreas has to work, as well as support the normal function of the organ. Before returning to a raw diet (or starting one), wait until your dog’s inflammation subsides and healing is well under way. Then re-introduce or introduce it slowly. Keep your dog’s diet low-fat, with no more than 10% fat content. 

If you don’t plan on a homemade diet, a good quality pre-made raw, or canned food can also work.  But don’t feed kibble. Dry food is bad because of high carbohydrate content, high temperature processing, low moisture, sprayed-on fats and lack of live nutrients. 

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Home Remedies For Pancreatitis In Dogs

If your dog has chronic pancreatitis or is recovering from acute pancreatitis, here are some herbs and gemmotherapies (plant bud extracts) you can use, recommended by Canine Herbalist Rita Hogan. 

Giving your dog the herbs and gemmotherapies (plant bud extracts) described below will help heal the pancreas and speed his recovery. 

Herbs

Billberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) Fresh Or Dried HerbFor chronic and acute pancreatitis.

  • 150 mg for extra small dogs
  • 250 mg for small dogs
  • 350 mg for medium dogs
  • 450-500 mg for large dogs
  • 500-800 mg for extra large dogs

Antioxidants are important in pancreatitis as the destruction of healthy cells allows excess free radicals and metabolic waste. This puts extra pressure on your dog’s other organs. Billberry is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory effects. It also strengthens pancreatic B-cells that regulate glucose.  You can add fresh or dried bilberry to your dog’s meals, or use a supplement, dosed in these amounts, twice daily with food  …

Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale) Glycerin ExtractFor acute pancreatitis. 

Dandelion is an antioxidant herb that helps with acute pancreatitis and liver support. Research has shown that the root protects against increased CCK octapeptides … intestinal hormones involved in acute pancreatitis. Dandelion root strengthens the pancreas and the whole digestive system. It’s bitter and helps the liver and gallbladder release bile to digest fat. Give the following amounts 2-3 times a day without food. 

  • 4 drops for extra small dogs
  • 6-8 drops for small dogs
  • 10-12 drops for medium dogs
  • 15-20 drops for large dogs
  • 20-30 drops for extra-large dogs

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) Glycerin Extract or SeedFor acute and chronic pancreatitis.

Milk thistle supports liver and gallbladder function during an attack. Pancreatic trauma causes a cascade of metabolic wastes and puts pressure on the liver. 

Milk thistle helps support the liver’s cellular structure and function, and aids the liver in the detoxification process. Give the following amounts of glycerin extract or seed …

Glycerin Extract – 2-3 times daily without food

  • 4 drops for extra small dogs
  • 6-8 drops for small dogs
  • 10-12 drops for medium dogs
  • 15-20 drops for large dogs
  • 20-30 drops for extra large dogs

Seed – twice daily without food. 

  • 150 mg for extra small dogs
  • 250-300 mg for small dogs
  • 300-500 mg for medium dogs
  • 500-800 mg for large dogs
  • 800-1200 mg for extra large dogs 

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) For Pancreatitis For chronic and acute pancreatitis.

Slippery elm is anti-inflammatory and soothes mucous membranes in the GI tract. It contains fiber that feeds friendly bacteria and supports normal gastrointestinal function. Use 1 tsp to 4 oz of powdered herb stirred into in warm water. This will make a thick liquid you can syringe into your dog’s mouth. Dose as follows, 2-4 times per day as needed, 

  • 1 tsp for extra small dogs
  • 2 tsps for small dogs
  • 1 tablespoon for medium dog
  • 2 tablespoons for large dogs
  • 3 tablespoons for extra-large dogs

Note: You can increase the dosage by 50% if needed.

Gemmotherapies

Black Mulberry (Morus nigra) Gemmotherapy – For chronic pancreatitis. Don’t use it for acute pancreatitis.

Black Mulberry gemmotherapy can help dogs with chronic pancreatitis. It helps strengthen and stimulate the pancreas. Start out with a small amount and work your way up to the gemmotherapy dosage below, given twice daily before food. 

European Walnut (Juglans regia) GemmotherapyFor acute pancreatitis.

Walnut gemmotherapy is used during and after an acute attack. It’s anti-inflammatory and repairs mucous membranes. It also balances gut flora, regulates pancreatic enzymes and supports liver function and digestion. Give the gemmotherapy dosage below twice daily. 

White Birch (Betula alba) GemmotherapyFor chronic pancreatitis.

Betula alba (or Betula pubescens) gemmotherapy stimulates the immune system and lowers inflammation. It also supports the kidneys and promotes the regeneration of cells that aid in liver detoxification. 

Reducing toxic load is essential for dogs with chronic pancreatitis and digestive problems. It has salicylic acid which also helps managepain and inflammation. Give the following gemmotherapy dosage twice daily, without food. 

Gemmotherapy Dosage

  • 8 drops for extra small dogs
  • 10-15 drops for small dogs
  • 15-20 drops for medium dogs
  • 20-25 drops for large dogs
  • 25-30 drops for extra large dogs

How To Prevent Pancreatitis In Dogs

Many things can lead to pancreatitis, so it’s helpful to manage the factors within your control …  and these are all things that support your dog’s overall good health anyway.

  1. Feed a whole food, raw meat diet
  1. Include supplements such as:
  • Digestive enzymes – enzymes that contain pancreas or pancreatic enzymes help relieve some of the burden on your dog’s pancreas
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – even though it may seem like this would be too much fat a dog with pancreatitis, omega-3 fatty acids can help control your dog’s blood lipid levels
  • Prebiotics and probiotics – to support overall gut and digestive health
  1. Provide regular exercise and adequate rest.
  1. Keep your dog at a healthy (lean) weight.
  1. Don’t over-vaccinate. Research (5) has found vaccines are a major factor in autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.

Changes can be warning signs so note any differences in appetite, weight, stools, behavior or energy levels, and tell your holistic vet if you notice anything unusual.

Your dog may need conventional veterinary care for acute pancreatitis, but you can use natural remedies once you get him home, as well as to manage chronic pancreatitis. 

References

References:

  1. Jorg M Steiner DMV, PhD, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, AGAF. Pancreatitis and Other Disorders of the Pancreas in Dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual. October 2020. 
  2. Ruauz, Craig, et al. Canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (cPLI) test. Vetlexicon.
  3. Graca R, Messick J, McCullough S, Barger A, Hoffmann W. Validation and diagnostic efficacy of a lipase assay using the substrate 1,2-o-dilauryl-rac-glycero glutaric acid-(6′ methyl resorufin)-ester for the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis in dogs. Vet Clin Pathol. 2005;34(1):39-43.
  4. Mansfield CS, Beths T. Management of acute pancreatitis in dogs: A critical appraisal with focus on feeding and analgesia. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 2015;56(1):27-39.
  5. Hogenesch H, Azcona-Olivera J, Scott-Moncrieff C, et al. Vaccine-induced autoimmunity in the dog. Adv Vet Med 1999;41:733–47.

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