Pancreatitis has become a common ailment in dogs, especially in more recent years, with some breeds being more prone to it than others such as the miniature schnauzer, miniature poodle and cocker spaniel along with older and/or overweight dogs (1).
A Basic Overview
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas which can either be chronic or acute. The acute form may be mild (and sometimes not noticed) or severe.
The pancreas produces enzymes to assist food digestion as well as producing insulin and glucagon, which are hormones to regulate blood sugar levels. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, these digestive enzymes become activated before they reach the intestine causing secondary damage to the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts as well as the intestine. Examples of pancreatic digestive enzymes include:
- Lipase- breaks down fats
- Protease- breaks down proteins
- Amylase- breaks down carbohydrates/starches
These are known as endogenous enzymes and they carry a metabolic function required for digestion. Without them dogs are not able to digest their food.
Potential Dietary Causes of Pancreatitis
There are many controversial arguments on this topic with some pet food manufacturers and veterinary professionals blaming high fat diets as the leading cause of pancreatitis.
A pancreas that is underperforming due to inflammation does not process fats very well which can lead to hyperlipidaemia (fat in the blood). This can be assessed by a blood sample, checking for canine Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity (cPLI) concentrations (2). Higher levels are a sign the pancreas isn’t functioning as well as it should be and therefore fats are generally blamed.
Now this is very much the case if these fats are cooked at high temperatures such as those found in extruded kibble whereas unprocessed fats, like those found in raw foods do not tax the pancreas.
There are also other professionals and manufacturers that do not blame fats when it comes to dogs and pancreatitis. In fact they blame the common high carbohydrate diet (kibble). This is because, although dogs can digest them, they have ZERO requirements for carbohydrates at any life stage that we know of (3).
Dogs that suffer from immune responses to selected proteins, antigens in the body target the digestive tract, including the pancreas which may cause acute pancreatitis (13).
A Dog’s main energy source
Dogs aren’t like humans, they are facultative carnivores which means they thrive on a meat based diet (meats/organs/fats) but can utilise some plant matter as a way to survive.
Therefore, when it comes to the pancreas, the dogs primary enzymes are lipase and protease, although they do have a reduced level of pancreatic amylase and intestinal disaccharidase to help digest some carbohydrates.
Don’t forget humans are evolved to produce salivary amylase to immediately break down carbohydrates as soon as they enter the mouth; dogs do not produce any salivary amylases, with the exception of thai street dogs (9) hence the small amount they produce in the pancreas can easily be overloaded by high carbohydrate loads.
The pet food industry and kennel clubs are aware of this metabolic pathway too, as pictured below:
Therefore, it makes no sense that the majority of commercial pet foods (kibble) are on average 50% carbohydrates as the dog’s pancreas isn’t naturally equipped to handle carbohydrates in such volumes. Combine this with the lack of digestive enzymes and moisture in dry foods, it’s only natural that the pancreas may soon become inflamed.
PET FOOD LABELS
Interestingly enough, pet food manufacturers aren’t required to display carbohydrate content by law, here is an example:
Fat content: 10.0%
Crude ash: 8.0%
Crude fibres: 3.0%
As you can see there’s no carbohydrate content listed, you have to calculate this for yourself.
Calculation: 100% – 21% – 10% – 8% – 3% = 58%.
That’s 58% carbohydrates, this is a common occurrence in commercial pet foods and highly processed carbohydrate diets do have an impact on the pancreas, this is why being able to calculate this is so important when it comes to the health of your dog, especially if your dog is diabetic or already suffering from acute pancreatitis.
It’s not just commercial kibble that shares this flaw but veterinary formulas too, here is an example for digestive care:
Fat Content: 14.5%
No calculation needed this time, they have given us the carbohydrate content however if you add them up, you’ll notice you’ll get 99.90% more than likely as a result of rounding up/down.
Raw fats vs Cooked fats
These are the dogs primitive fuel source and least likely to cause a pancreatic flare up as they are unprocessed, bypass the pancreas until the body processes them and is able to break them down sufficiently and synergistically with other nutrients to be absorbed by the small intestine.
When subjected to high temperatures, oxygen or microbiological growth, these are most likely to contribute to a pancreatic flare up as they have an increased rate of lipid peroxidation (rancidity) which should be avoided at all costs when it comes to pancreatitis (7). It does not matter if the cooked fats/oils come from animal or plant sources.
Raw feeding and pancreatitis
It must be said that it’s not only kibble fed dogs that are susceptible to pancreatitis, raw fed dogs can also suffer, although it’s not as common. There are several mitigating factors that can cause this:
Imbalance/Insufficient Nutrient Intake
A raw diet needs to be fed methodically over time to balance out and ensure all their nutrient requirements are being provided, variety is key, although there are many that do balance each bowl. Remember nutrients are synergistic, if you’re missing any then the machine won’t function correctly.
If a dog is consuming an excess of calories daily, especially if the bulk of them are coming from fats, then this can be a sure way to cause pancreatitis.
Some carbohydrates are more appropriate for dogs, and the level of carbohydrates being given can also be an issue such as mixing high carbs with moderate to high fats long term can also lead to pancreatic flare ups.
Dogs that suffer with pancreatitis can be in a great deal of pain, this is because the digestive enzymes are released before they reach the intestine causing local inflammation in the surrounding liver, gallbladder, bile ducts and the intestine itself.
This often results in clinical signs such as but not limited to: nausea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, abdominal pain, diarrhoea/fatty stools (sometimes blood will be present), and decreased appetite (8). Visible symptoms are related to dog posture “prayer pose” often adopted due to the pain of pancreatitis.
It’s not always dietary
Pancreatitis isn’t always caused by a dietary choice, it can be caused by other conditions such as obesity, hypothyroidism, diabetes or a genetic predisposition.
Dog’s play rough and quite often run into things, which results in an abdominal injury, if the pancreas is impacted, then naturally it will bruise/inflame which can result in pancreatitis.
Certain medications can cause pancreatitis such as cholinesterase inhibitors, salicylates, azathioprine and thiazide diuretics.
These types of infections can cause pancreatitis because the pancreas doesn’t have its own microbiota, if the gut flora is weakened due to dysbiosis, then it can leave the pancreas vulnerable (5, 6).
Some breeds are genetically predisposed due to gene mutations in the SPINK1 variants, healthy dogs have two variants and pancreatitis-prone miniature schnauzers have three (11).
How Rocketo (Raw-Keto) makes a difference
Rocketo’s dog food and supplements are science led, with high quality organic/wild ingredients carefully selected in line with ketogenic principles, ensuring carbohydrates are appropriate and kept to a minimum. They are ideal for the canine pancreas to digest, whilst providing a plethora of functional nutrients at the same time.
Lab tested to compare with FEDIAF guidelines for accuracy (Meals)
Due to our bespoke air drying method, Rocketo foods and supplements ensure the natural digestive enzymes remain intact. We also recommended the best rehydration method using lukewarm water to ensure they reactivate for optimal activity.
Microbiological Growth Control
As we remove water from the products, it doesn’t allow for any microbiological growth such as bacteria or fungi during storage.