In Choosing the Best Sensitive Stomach Dog Food Brand, I told you about the time I thought I’d found “The One.” The person who was right for me, with whom I might be able to share my life. And I told you how it all went to hell in a hand basket when “The One” tried to give Janice and Leroy a pan full of duck fat.
Maybe I’m just meant to live my life with dogs and forego human companionship. It’s not a big deal; I’ve always been “Simply for Dogs,” so it’s really not the end of my world if I never find the right human.
The whole scenario got me thinking, though. My big objection was that too much fat can cause pancreatitis. Supposing a dog did have that disorder, what would be the best dog food for pancreatitis? I decided to do a bit of research, and I’ll share with you what I’ve learned.
Before we go any further, I’d like to point out that what I’m talking about here is not puppies or bitches who are pregnant or nursing.
Oh, and since you were probably wondering, Janice is (assuming the breeding took) now two weeks into her pregnancy. I’ll keep you posted!
What I’m going to be talking about here are dogs that have recurring episodes of pancreatitis. Sometimes this is due to damage to the pancreas or due to hyperlipidemia (an overly high level of triglycerides). Dogs that have inflammatory bowel disease can also benefit from a diet that would be similar to that given to dogs that have pancreatitis; in other words, a low-fat diet.
Some dogs simply have trouble absorbing fat. In addition to pancreatitis, this can also cause diarrhea, gallbladder or liver disease, infections in the intestines, and other conditions. A good rule of thumb if you think your dog might have trouble with fat absorption is to feed them a low-fat diet. It won’t cause him any harm, and if he improves, problem solved!
How Much Fat Is Okay?
When you’re considering the best dog food for pancreatitis, or for other fat absorption issues, you should choose a food with under 10% fat. This is low-fat dog food. High-fat dog food contains more than 20% fat, and moderate-fat dog food contains between 10% and 15% fat.
Don’t take it on faith that your dog food really is “low fat.” The fact is, as I pointed out in How Good is Your Dog’s Food?, manufacturers can make all sorts of outrageous claims, and there’s very little in the law that can force them to back up those claims. There’s nothing to prevent a manufacturer of dog food from slapping a pretty red starburst on the bag, with the legend “Low fat!” or “Great for Senior Dogs!” or “Weight Control Formula!” when, in fact, the food might contain a ton of calories and enough fat to deep fry a turkey.
Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea. Read the label.
What About a Vegetarian Diet?
You may have heard it said that a vegetarian diet is pretty much the same as a low-fat diet. That’s actually true; a diet that is based entirely in plant matter will usually contain little or no fat, unless it’s added in the form of various vegetable oils. However, I don’t recommend a vegetarian diet for dogs. If you want to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, that’s fine for you, and I don’t really much care what the outcome is. After all, I’m not “Simply for Humans”!
When you bring your dog into the equation, though, I do care. A vegetarian diet is, bottom line, not good for dogs, and it can result in significant nutritional deficiencies. Most of the time, a vegetarian diet is way, way too low in fat for a dog, even if you are striving for a low-fat diet. It can also be ridiculously high in starches. You should consider vegetarian diets for dogs to be nothing more than a fad, and it’s a fad that you should take a pass on.
A very low-fat diet can lead to your dog not getting enough fat-soluble vitamins, can make him feel tired and constantly hungry, and can also lead to issues with his skin and coat. Simply stated, unless there is a reason to feed your dog a very low-fat diet, don’t do it. Consult your vet before going too low on the fat.
Is a Low-Fat Diet Always Best?
Keep in mind that not every dog who has pancreatitis necessarily needs a low-fat diet. In fact, sometimes the best dog food for pancreatitis can be pretty much the same as you would feed any other dog. Studies have shown that significantly restricting the fat often doesn’t deliver any real benefit.
The Best Commercial Dog Foods for Pancreatitis
There are many good dog foods out there that can work for dogs that have pancreatitis. Usually, they’re low in fat. If you’re not sure how much fat your dog food actually contains after looking at the label, get in touch with the company. Call, or send a message via their website. Reputable dog food companies will be happy to talk with you about what their dog food contains and answer your questions.
Other Special Diet Needs
Often, senior or overweight dogs also require low-fat dog foods. Again, don’t take anything on faith. Most reputable companies will not represent their dog food as being “light” or “good for seniors” if it’s not really true, but you can’t be sure. Also, keep in mind that a lot of the time, a dog food that is low in fat is also low in protein and high in carbohydrates. Since dogs get more nutrition from proteins than they do from carbs, it’s generally better to feed a high-protein food.
Also, bear in mind that foods that are low in fat aren’t always that enjoyable for your dog. A good way of illustrating this is to ask you if you prefer ice cream or ice milk. Which tastes better to you: regular yogurt, or that 0% stuff? Light cream cheese, or regular? A well-marbled T-bone steak, or inside round?
You get the idea.
If you’re feeding your dog a low-fat diet, you might want to think about adding something nice once in a while – maybe the drained liquid from a can of oil-packed tuna, or some sardines, or an egg fried in butter. Think about how you’d feel if you were constantly eating low-fat, barely tolerable foods.
Okay, here’s another one of those “Ash digressions” that I love so much, and probably should patent. I remember years ago, when I was trying to lose weight (before I gave up and decided that it didn’t matter because Janice and Leroy think I’m the most beautiful person in the world and everyone else should just go to Hell).
I tried the Stillman diet. It’s the one that killed Karen Carpenter. On Stillman, you can have all the meat, fish and eggs you want, all the veggies you want and you can soak every single thing in as much butter as you like. But you can’t have any condiments, or any starches. I lasted a week on Stillman, and at the end of it, I would have cheerfully murdered my mother for a single cracker with peanut butter. Or ketchup. Or even half a teaspoon of mustard.
I’d imagine that’s how a dog feels on a really fat-restricted diet.
Okay, digression over. Thank you for reading!
What About Fiber?
When choosing the best dog food for pancreatitis, your vet can help, but the reality is that vets really aren’t entirely in agreement as to how much fiber is good for dogs that have pancreatitis. Some vets recommend about 0.5% of the total diet, while others say you can go as high as 5%. There’s also the issue of whether soluble or insoluble fiber is best. Usually, a low fiber diet that’s mainly soluble is recommended for dogs that have acute pancreatitis, whereas it’s believed (generally) that dogs who have less difficulty could do well on a high-fiber diet.
I think the best advice that I can offer here is that you should decide whether you trust your vet to know what’s best for your dog. I trust Stephen, and if either Janice or Leroy should happen to develop pancreatitis, I would go with his recommendation. I hope that you have the kind of relationship with your vet that I do with Stephen. If you don’t, then pancreatitis might be the least of your worries; it’s possible that you should be shopping around for another vet.
The other thing you can do if you’re wondering about the best dog food for pancreatitis is make your dog’s food yourself. That way, you can have a very good handle on fat and carb content. You can increase the protein by using low-fat meat, or you can boil the meat to get rid of the fat. You can also add good carbs like pumpkin, sweet potatoes, quinoa and leafy greens. Remember, though, that although greens like spinach and broccoli do contain carbs, they’re not starchy carbs, and you’ll still have to make sure that your homemade dog food contains some starches.
Most of the homemade diet should consist of low-fat meats like chicken, turkey and lean beef. You can also use lamb or pork, but keep in mind that these meats are quite high in fat. If you’re using ground beef, remember that it comes in varying levels: lean, medium and regular.
You can also add eggs to homemade dog food. They’re high in fat, though. A single large egg contains about five grams of fat, which isn’t a whole lot for a big dog, but could be too much for a small dog that needs a low-fat diet. Most of the fat, though, is in the yolks, so if you’re looking to “up” the protein while not adding fat, just use the whites.
You can also use a lot of dairy in your dog’s low-fat diet. Some of the best dog foods for pancreatitis, made at home, contain cottage cheese or yogurt. Pretty much anything made from non-fat or low-fat milk is good.
Add some organ meats, too. They’re very low in fat. Beef heart is one of the best organ meats, but go easy on kidney and liver; these meats are so high in certain vitamins that, if fed to excess, they can actually cause more harm than good.
You can also add fruits to your dog’s diet, like blueberries, melon, papaya and banana.
If you’re making your dog’s food at home, you should also make sure that he gets enough calcium. You need about a gram of calcium for every 1,000 calories of food. A good way of naturally adding calcium is to grind up eggshells in a blender, and give about half a teaspoon per feeding.
Of course, it wouldn’t be right to deny your dog treats just because he’s on a low-fat diet. You want to feed them the best dog food for pancreatitis, but your buddy should still be able to enjoy something special now and again.
Fortunately, most treats that you buy at the store are low in fat. Dry treats, like Milkbones, contain virtually no fat. Rawhide chews are also low-fat. I’d advise against using flavored treats, though, especially if they’re not made in the U.S. Flavored treats from China have been linked to kidney failure.
As another note, I know that most dogs love cheese, hot dogs and bits of lunch meat, but if your dog is on a low-fat diet, please forego these. They’re very high in fat.
What About Kongs?
Oh, I know! You love stuffing those Kong toys with peanut butter, don’t you?
Look, there’s no “law” that says it has to be peanut butter, and trust me, the “Kong Police” aren’t going to come after you if you use yogurt instead!
The Final Word
When it comes to the best dog foods for pancreatitis, I think the most important thing I can tell you is “Do what makes sense.” Those numbers on the bag of dog food aren’t going to tell you everything. You might do just fine on one commercial dog food, or you might want to try another. You might want to make dog food at home. You might find that your dog does better on a dog food that’s just a little bit lower in fat, or you might have to go really low. Experiment. Talk with your vet. Ultimately, the best dog food for pancreatitis in your dog is the food that works best for him, so do what works.