Dog pancreatitis: a holistic guide to pain-free prevention and care

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Dr Matthew Muir, Cindy Feng
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Any illness your dog faces is concerning, but pancreatitis can be particularly tough on both pups and their parents — it’s hard watching your pup in pain.

If your dog has pancreatitis, understanding the nuances of this complex disease can help you to catch it early and minimise damage to the organ. Dogs with acute pancreatitis may need ongoing veterinary care and severe cases could also require hospitalisation and medication.

The good news? Pancreatitis can often be well managed with a highly digestible, ultra-low-fat diet, as part of a holistic and comprehensive treatment plan.

This in-depth guide has been written in collaboration with Lyka Co-founder and Integrative Veterinarian, Dr Matthew Muir, to help you understand the disease, along with proven management solutions.

Pancreatitis is a serious illness that can be life-threatening. Address it early with your vet.

What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is a v-shaped organ that lies underneath your dog’s stomach. It produces digestive enzymes that break down food particles, along with glucagon and insulin to regulate your pup’s blood sugar levels.

Pancreas location diagram

What is pancreatitis?

what is pancreatitis description

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, which stimulates the early release of digestive enzymes that break down the pancreas.

Acute pancreatitis is the sudden onset of the disease, and some cases can be without a known cause (idiopathic). It can be reversed with supportive veterinary care and if you remove the cause.

Chronic pancreatitis is characterised by irreversible changes in the pancreas from fibrosis (thickened tissue or scarring) or atrophy (degeneration of the organ tissue).

The common signs of pancreatitis

The common signs of pancreatitis include:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Dehydration

  • Fever

  • Lethargy

  • Inappetence (loss of appetite)

  • Tender abdomen

  • Hunching position (like a play-bow)

Signs of pancreatitis in dogs

When pancreatitis is severe, your dog’s abdomen will be very tense and painful, and they may yelp or wince when you touch them or pick them up. It’s understandable to want to comfort your dog when they’re in pain. Lots of praise and affection can help them to feel reassured, just be very mindful of their tender tummies.

In some serious cases, you might notice yellowing of the skin, gums and sclera (the white parts of the eyes). This may be because the digestive enzymes have affected neighbouring organs, including the liver, triggering jaundice.

A high-fat, low-protein diet containing a high proportion of carbohydrates is the main risk factor for pancreatitis.

Carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin to regulate your dog’s blood-sugar levels, and dietary fat stimulates the release of digestive enzymes — all made in the pancreas. When carbohydrates and fat are in considerable amounts it puts the organ under significant stress.

It may only take a single fatty meal or too much saturated fat to tip a stressed pancreas over the edge, causing pancreatitis.

There’s often a significant increase in cases during holidays and festivals, when there are lots of fatty leftovers, like Christmas ham.

Dietary indiscretion like eating scraps from the bin or discarded food at the park can also trigger a bout of pancreatitis.

Download our top 10 nutrition tips for dogs with pancreatitis

How real food can help dogs with pancreatitis 

Dogs with pancreatitis struggle to produce digestive enzymes and hormones, affecting their ability to digest food effectively.

Dietary management is usually a vital part of a dog’s treatment plan.

The best food for pancreatitis is made with real ingredients for easy digestion and nutrient absorption.

Whether your dog’s pancreatitis diet is homemade or purchased, they should be made from high-quality produce. Ideally, they should also contain these elements:

Low-fat dog food for pancreatitis management 

Dogs need some fat in their diet as a source of energy and to help their body absorb nutrients. A diet high in saturated animal fat is not advisable for any dog, especially those with a sensitive pancreas.

But not all fats are the same.

A diet containing the right balance of essential omega fatty acids from fish or fish oil can optimise their digestive function. It’s also a natural anti-inflammatory ingredient.

The optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is important: too much omega-6 can be pro-inflammatory, potentially contributing to the disease. The AAFCO recommends a maximum ratio of 30:1. Lyka meals contain a much lower ratio of between 2-3.6:1 to minimise the risk of inflammation.

Pancreatitis can be triggered by hyperlipidaemia: excessive fat molecules in the blood. It’s worth knowing that in these cases the degree of fat restriction may only be relevant to the dog’s original diet. They may not need to switch to an ultra-low-fat diet.

“The primary dietary concern, in cases of canine pancreatitis, is ensuring a low-fat diet. Restricting fat limits the hormones that can hyper stimulate the pancreas, triggering pancreatitis. Lyka’s meals are high in Omega-3 EFA, shown to decrease mortality, and reduce infectious complications and length of hospitalisation, in cases of acute pancreatitis.”

— Dr Matthew Muir, Lyka Co-founder and Integrative Veterinarian

High-quality protein 

Moderate amounts of low-fat, high-quality protein is ideal for dogs with pancreatitis.

Some dogs may require protein-restricted diets to support their disease management. If this is the case, speak to your veterinarian, as a diet that’s too low in protein can delay tissue repair.

Anti-inflammatory ingredients

Natural anti-inflammatory ingredients including safflower oil, flaxseed oil, kelp and shiitake mushroom powder can reduce the development of inflammation in your pup’s body before it triggers pancreatitis.

Try to avoid pro-inflammatory ingredients like wheat, corn and soy commonly used in dog food.

Antioxidant ingredients

Choose a diet that contains natural antioxidants like raspberries, green cabbage and quinoa to combat oxidative stress that can lead to tissue damage and inflammation.

Low glycaemic index (GI) food

High-GI food cause spikes in your dog’s blood-sugar levels demanding a sudden increase in insulin from the pancreas.

Low GI vegetables like pumpkin or purple sweet potato release their energy slowly without stressing the organ.

Naturally high water content

A diet of real, gently cooked food retains moisture and nutritional value and minimises the risk of pathogens associated with raw food. Keeping your pup hydrated reduces the stress on their digestive system.

"Highly digestible foods are important for dogs with pancreatitis to reduce the workload on the pancreas and minimise flare-ups. Dogs with pancreatitis may benefit from a low-fat, moderate protein diet, including lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, and fish, and complex carbohydrates.”

— Dr Darcy Marshall, Lyka Veterinarian 


Other common causes of pancreatitis in dogs

Many cases can be traced back to one or more of these triggers: 


Obese dogs are often more at risk of developing pancreatitis than those of a healthy weight. Higher levels of fat in their blood and an abnormal metabolism can impact the function of the organ.

Link to obesity guide

Injury or blunt trauma

Inflammation caused by injury or trauma to the pancreas can trigger acute pancreatitis.


Certain chemical toxins, like organophosphate insecticides, can hyper stimulate the cells in a dog’s pancreas, leading to pancreatitis.


Some chemotherapy, corticosteroid, antiepileptic, and antibiotic medications can lead to inflammation in the pancreas. If your dog is prone to chronic pancreatitis, your vet can prescribe medication that won’t affect their sensitive organ.


If your dog experiences a hormonal imbalance that affects their metabolism, this can trigger pancreatitis.


An underactive thyroid causes hormonal imbalances that can affect your dog’s metabolism and trigger pancreatic inflammation.

Breed predisposition to pancreatitis

Some breeds are known to have higher levels of fat in their blood which can overstimulate the pancreas. Miniature Schnauzers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Miniature and Toy Poodles, and Cocker Spaniels can be predisposed to pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis diagnosis, treatment, and secondary health issues

When it comes to suspected pancreatitis, see your vet straight away so they can conduct the relevant tests to confirm a diagnosis and start a treatment plan.


A blood test can help identify elevated levels of pancreatic enzymes, like amylase and pancreas-specific lipase, which are released into the bloodstream at a higher level when the pancreas is inflamed or damaged. It may also reveal an increase in c-reactive protein and white blood cells, indicating an inflammatory response.

Your veterinarian may perform ultrasound imaging to visualise the pancreas and surrounding organs to assess for signs of inflammation or damage.

Treatment for pancreatitis in dogs

If your pup is diagnosed with pancreatitis and has experienced vomiting and diarrhoea, they may require IV fluids and electrolytes to address their dehydration. They could be given antiemetics to curb their nausea, which often affects their appetite too.

In severe cases, some dogs may require surgery to remove part of the damaged organ.

Once a dog has experienced a bout of acute pancreatitis, the organ becomes more sensitive to triggers like fatty food that can lead to chronic pancreatitis. Dogs tend to be prescribed an ultra-low-fat diet to minimise this risk.

Prevention is always better than cure, especially when it comes to this disease. Carefully monitor what your dog eats through a balanced and complete diet that isn’t high-fat, high-carbohydrate and low-protein.

Secondary health problems triggered by pancreatitis 

It’s important to mention that severe pancreatitis can weaken a dog’s immune system and increase the risk of developing infections like pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTI) and bloodstream infections.

A sensitive, struggling or damaged pancreas can lead to other health problems, including liver disease, diabetes mellitus and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). Both diabetes and EPI are significant illnesses requiring long-term treatment.

Liver disease 

Liver disease can be caused when inflammation from severe, acute pancreatitis spreads and damages liver cells, a condition known as hepatic dysfunction or hepatic injury. It can be identified by an elevation of liver enzymes in the blood.  

Serious inflammation in the pancreas can also lead to the formation of pseudocysts, in some cases. These fluid-filled sacs can put pressure on nearby organs, including the liver, and cause further damage.

Diabetes mellitus 

Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) is the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar levels effectively due to a deficient insulin production by the pancreas. In dogs, diabetes is a permanent condition that requires insulin injections, like humans with Type 1 diabetes.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) 

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is the pancreas’ inability to produce enough digestive enzymes to break down food particles for nutrient absorption, leading to malnourishment.

Lyka’s pancreas-protective approach to nutrition

Striking the optimal balance between healthy fats, low-GI carbohydrates and high-quality animal protein, Lyka meals may be the ideal dietary management solution for your dog’s pancreatitis.

Lyka’s ultra-low-fat Kangaroo Bowl is our top choice to prevent pancreatitis flare-ups. Our Chicken, Fish and Turkey Bowls are also naturally low in fat and may be suitable for milder cases too.

Each meal is made from highly digestible, real food ingredients to reduce the stress on your dog’s pancreas. They’re rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to help address the root cause of the disease.

Every pup is different, so speak with your vet about how Lyka can support your dog's treatment plan.

Have a question for us? Contact our Customer Care team.

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

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