Pancreatitis In Dogs. Deconstructed

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

Fats

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. 

Carbohydrates

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). 

Food Allergens

Dogs that suffer with immune responses to seleced 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:

Source: https://www.purinaproclub.com/resources/dog-articles/nutrition/bettering-the-breed/the-role-of-fat-in-canine-nutrition

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

Commercial Kibble

Interestingly enough, pet food manufacturers aren’t required to display carbohydrate content by law, here is an example:

Analytical Constituents

Protein: 21.0%

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 high 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.

Veterinary Kibble

It’s not just commercial kibble that shares this flaw but veterinary formulas too, here is an example for digestive care:

Analytical Constituents

Protein: 25.8%

Fat Content: 14.5%

Fibre: 1.4%

Ash: 6.8%

Carbohydrates: 51.4%.

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

Raw 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.

Cooked Fats

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.

Calorie Intake

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.

High Carbohydrates

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.

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).

It’s not always dietary

Ailments

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.

Injuries/Blunt Trauma

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.

Medications

Certain medications can cause pancreatitis such as cholinesterase inhibitors, salicylates, azathioprine and thiazide diuretics.

Bacterial/Fungal Infections

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).

Genetic Predispositions

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

Low Carbs

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.

Balanced/Complete

Lab tested to compare with FEDIAF guidelines for accuracy (Meals)

Digestive Enzymes

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.

References

(1) https://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/acute-pancreatitis-dogs
(2) Edwin N. Frankel, Introduction, Editor(s): Edwin N. Frankel, In Oily Press Lipid Library Series, Lipid Oxidation (Second Edition), Woodhead Publishing,2012, Pages 1-14, ISBN 9780953194988
(3) Brady, Connor Dr, Feeding Dogs, Dry or Raw? The science behind the debate, Orla Kelly, Red Pen Edits, Farrow Road Publishing, 2020, ISBN:978-1-9162340-0-0
(4) http://veterinaryirelandjournal.com/images/pdf/small/sa_jun_2018.pdf
(5) SCHMID SW, UHL W, FRIESS H, et alThe role of infection in acute pancreatitis Gut 1999;45:311.
(6) D. Pagliari, A. Saviano, E. E. Newton, M. L. Serricchio, A. A. Dal Lago, A. Gasbarrini, R. Cianci, “Gut Microbiota-Immune System Crosstalk and Pancreatic Disorders”, Mediators of Inflammation, vol. 2018, Article ID 7946431, 13 pages, 2018.
(7) https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/10/2016-1112_ACVN_Pancreatitis_NO-AD.pdf
(8) https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/pancreatitis-in-dogs
(9) Sanguansermsri P, Jenkinson HF, Thanasak J, et al. Comparative proteomic study of dog and human saliva. PLoS One. 2018;13(12):e0208317. Published 2018 Dec 4. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0208317
(10) https://www.creative-enzymes.com/resource/effect-of-temperature-on-enzymatic-reaction_50.html
(11) Teich N, Rosendahl J, Tóth M, Mössner J, Sahin-Tóth M. Mutations of human cationic trypsinogen (PRSS1) and chronic pancreatitis. Hum Mutat. 2006;27(8):721-730. doi:10.1002/humu.20343
(12) Bishop MA, Xenoulis PG, Levinski MD, Suchodolski JS, Steiner JM. Identification of variants of the SPINK1 gene and their association with pancreatitis in Miniature Schnauzers. Am J Vet Res. 2010 May;71(5):527-33. doi: 10.2460/ajvr.71.5.527. PMID: 20433378.
(13) Manohar M, Verma AK, Upparahalli Venkateshaiah S, Goyal H, Mishra A. Food-Induced Acute Pancreatitis. Dig Dis Sci. 2017;62(12):3287-3297. doi:10.1007/s10620-017-4817-2
 

Written by
DR. ANDREW BUTCHER
BVSc MRCVS

Click here to know more about Andrew, or meet him on LinkedIn.

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