Is your dog’s pancreas digesting itself?
I know this sounds weird, but that’s what can happen with dog pancreatitis. In order for your dog’s body to function properly, the pancreas needs to be healthy …
… but if it isn’t, your dog may be suffering.
One of the most common diseases of an unhealthy pancreas is pancreatitis.
What’s The Pancreas?
The pancreas is a tiny gland that has a big job. It’s located just below your dog’s stomach and is attached to his small intestine. It’s part of both the endocrine system and the digestive system.
The pancreas has 2 major functions:
- Produce and store hormones (insulin and glucagon) to help maintain proper blood sugar levels.
- Produce and store enzymes (trypsin and chymotrypsin) to help the body digest protein and fats.
When the pancreas is under attack, the result is pancreatitis.
Dog pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. It’s primarily caused by diet and stress. Foods that are high in fat and foods that are processed, including grain-based kibble, are hard for your dog to digest, and stress causes high levels of cortisol in the body.
Dogs’ digestive tracts are shorter than ours, making them well suited to handle meats, bones, organs, veggies and fruit, but not starches. Starch and grains shouldn’t be part of your dog’s diet. When you feed your dog kibble, his pancreas has to work harder than it should, causing it to become inflamed.
In a healthy pancreas, one that isn’t overworked or stressed, digestive enzymes are activated when they reach the small intestine. However, if your dog has pancreatitis, those enzymes are activated too early in the process, when they’re still in the pancreas. This results in pain and inflammation and can cause damage to the pancreas and its surrounding tissue and other organs. At this point the pancreas actually begins to digest itself.
Pancreatitis is a serious condition and it needs to be treated carefully and as soon as you have a diagnosis from your vet. If pancreatitis goes untreated, pancreatic enzymes can leak into the abdominal cavity, damaging the abdominal lining and other organs like the kidney and liver.
How To Tell If Your Dog Has Pancreatitis
Dog pancreatitis can either be acute or chronic. Both can have symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
Acute Dog Pancreatitis
This is an attack of pancreatitis that comes on suddenly, usually with no history of the condition. Often these attacks come around the holidays when dogs are more likely to get into food that is very fatty, either from the garbage or from overly-eager feeders of table scraps. Stressful changes to regular routine, such as boarding at a kennel, having company or family members going away or extra commotion and visitors over the holidays, can also cause acute attacks. These tend to be the more serious of the two.
Chronic Dog Pancreatitis
Chronic pancreatitis develops over time, more slowly than acute. What makes chronic pancreatitis even more of a problem is that the symptoms are less obvious – you may not even see symptoms at all. Often dogs develop chronic pancreatitis after repeated acute attacks.
Symptoms Of Pancreatitis:
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Pain in the abdominal area
- Difficulty breathing
- Back pain
- Arched back
If you suspect your dog has pancreatitis, have your vet perform a few different tests to properly diagnose it. These tests should include a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry panel and urinalysis. The blood levels of two pancreatic enzymes, amylase and lipase, should be tested.
You can also request a canine pancreas specific lipase (cPL) test. This test is usually done separately and is more reliable than pancreatic enzyme testing since the enzymes may be high for other reasons. An ultrasound or x-ray may also be helpful to rule out other conditions, since vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or lethargy could have other causes.
Managing Dog Pancreatitis Naturally
It is important to support the body to heal naturally from pancreatitis, both short and long term.
The information below on homeopathic remedies, diet and supplements comes from the protocol homeopath Julie Anne Lee DCH RCSHom uses at her holistic vet clinic.
Step 1: Fast your dog
Give the pancreas a rest by fasting your dog for 24 to 48 hours.
Since pancreatitis is essentially just inflammation, the best thing you can do to relieve the symptoms is to rest the pancreas and remove any stimulation caused by eating. Give very small sips of room temperature bottled water. Count to 5, then remove the water. If your dog can keep it down, repeat every hour. Or, instead of counting, give about 3 tablespoons for a medium size dog (give less for toy breeds and more for large breeds).
Step 2: Bland food
Once you’ve given the pancreas time to rest and you notice the symptoms have improved or gone away, start feeding small amount of bland food, such as bone broth. Be sure to cool the broth and skim off the fat that sets on the top before giving it to your dog, to keep the fat to a minimum.
[Related] Bone broth is easy to make and so good for your dog. Here’s how to do it.
Short term food reintroduction. To give the body time to recover gradually, Julie Anne Lee recommends cooking food for three days, making sure there is NO bone in the diet, and blotting ALL fat. Feed 6 times the first day, in very small amounts. If your dog’s symptoms have gone away, you can then work your way back up to the regular feeding schedule over the next 3 days by cooking the food less each day until it’s back to raw.
Step 3: Homeopathy
Use the following homeopathic remedies to relieve the pain and inflammation and support the healing of the pancreas.
The first thing to do is to try and decrease inflammation and pain. The more pain your dog has, the more it stimulates the inflammation and it becomes a vicious cycle.
- So first, start by giving Aconite 200c and Arnica 200c once an hour for three doses.
Next, select the remedy that best fits your dog from the list below. If at any time your dog has pain again, you can also give a single dose of Aconite 200C plus Arnica 200C as needed.
Dosing frequency: for the remedies below, dose every two hours for three doses. Once symptoms are alleviated, continue 3 times a day for 3 days.
- Nux vomica 30C or 200C. Use this remedy if you know that fat is the culprit and especially if your dog is grumpy.
- Phosphorus 30C or 200C. Give this remedy for acute pancreatitis, especially if your dog is clingy, fearful, sensitive and tired and can’t hold water down. The Phosphorus dog is not restless like the Arsenicum patient (see below). For chronic pancreatitis give this remedy twice a day for up to a week.
- Arsenicum 30C or 200C. If restlessness is your dog’s primary symptom, use this remedy.
- Iris Versicolor 30C or 200C. Use this remedy if you can hear gurgling sounds and see abdominal pain with straining to poop. This is also an excellent remedy for chronic cases. You can give a 12C potency twice a day for up to one month. You can also use it this way for organ support after an acute attack is resolved.
To give these remedies: Most homeopathic remedies come in little pellets and the easiest way to dose your dog is to make a liquid solution. To make a liquid solution put 2 or 3 pellets in a ½ to 2 oz dropper bottle. Fill the bottle with filtered water (reverse osmosis, distilled, spring) up to the shoulder of the bottle, leaving room for air. Add the pellets and allow them to dissolve. Hit the bottle on your palm (this is called succussing) ten times (do this before every dose). Put ½ dropper on the gums; pulling your dog’s lower lip out near the corner of his mouth is an easy way to do this.
This mixture will keep on your kitchen counter without refrigeration for 2 or 3 days. You can also make the solution in a small glass of water, in which case, instead of succussing, just stir the liquid each time before you dose. Do not refrigerate homeopathic remedies.
Step 4: Stay away from antibiotics
Pancreatitis isn’t a bacterial infection so antibiotics won’t help and any additional toxic burden on this vital organ can cause more problems and stress the pancreas out even more.
Once the symptoms are alleviated, that doesn’t always mean it’s gone away. It’s important to take steps to heal pancreatitis and prevent it from returning long term.
Long Term Prevention
1. Limit the fatty foods in your dog’s diet.
2. Get rid of the starchy carbs (that means NO KIBBLE!). That stuff is not only hard to digest (meaning it’s stressful for the pancreas), it’s also full of mycotoxins and aflatoxins – cancer-causing molds found in grains such as corn, wheat, and rice, as well as nuts and legumes grown in poor conditions or stored in substandard environments or for extended periods of time.
3. Feed fresh, whole foods. As mentioned, your dog’s digestive tract is small and it can easily digest meat and bone. A fresh, raw diet that’s well balanced will help his digestive system flourish.
4. Feed pre and probiotics. Probiotics (and the prebiotics that feed them) help keep bad bacteria in check and they’re often depleted when your dog has an acute attack. Once he has recovered, feed them every day. You can feed your dog probiotic-rich foods like kefir, fermented veggies or raw goat milk or give him high quality probiotic and prebiotic supplements.[Related: You can make your own fermented foods at home. Find the recipe here]
5. Give digestive enzymes, which are extremely important for animals with pancreatitis. When the pancreas is inflamed, its ability to produce digestive enzymes — and get them to the right place — is compromised.[Related: Digestive enzymes are really important. Find out more about why here]
6. Supplements help support a healthy inflammation response and will also support the healing process. If you’re using a product made for pets, give according to the directions on packaging. If you use a product made for humans, assume it’s for a 150 lb person and adjust for your dog’s weight.
- Colostrum has immune-boosting properties that can help with digestion.
- Green lipped mussels are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, amino acids and enzymes. Make sure to buy a supplement that’s cold extracted as heat destroys the nutrients.
- Phytoplankton contains Superoxide Dismutase, the king of the antioxidants. It’s good for reducing inflammation, supporting the liver and helping with digestive issues.
7. Support the other organs. The liver, gallbladder and kidneys all support the pancreas so it’s vitally important to support these organs when the pancreas is stressed. A supplement that covers all these organs will keep them healthy for continued support to try and derail another onset.
Your dog’s pancreas has an important job. Make sure it is up to the task. Dog pancreatitis is a serious condition, but luckily you can support the body to heal naturally and prevent it from happening again.