Pet pancreatitis: Why feeding food scraps to your dog during quarantine isn’t a good idea

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – When Alan Levine’s usually fun, full-of-life dog Macy began to act lethargic and listless, he knew something was wrong but he never dreamed that the sudden change in his sweet pup would be his fault.

Last Friday, the CEO and President of Ballad Health had to shoulder the burden of having his dog stay overnight in the animal hospital on top of managing the area’s largest health care service.

“We have a routine every morning: I get up, I give her a treat, she goes out, she comes back in, she gets another treat, then I have my coffee, right? About a week and a half ago,  I noticed that she didn’t want her treat. Didn’t think much of it and she started to act kind of lethargic, her stomach got distended and hard, and I noticed she wasn’t drinking and she just wasn’t right,” Levine told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

The Levines took Macy to to the vet.

“It hit me like a freight train when my daughter told me that she had pancreatitis,” he said. “I love my dog, like most people who have dogs, you know, I love my dog and the worst part of it was seeing her suffer like that but then knowing I actually contributed to it.”

It was what he thought was an act of love that was actually detrimental to her wellbeing, Levine said.

“I kept feeding her from the table, I kept giving her more treats than she should’ve had and with everybody being home, with my daughter and son being home and such, I think they were getting a lot more food than they should have and probably getting food they shouldn’t have been eating that was unhealthy human food, so thank God for the vet, they diagnosed her right away, gave her the right medication and gave us the right directions and of course the behavior change is on me,” he said. “I have to make sure I’m doing things the right way for her health and she looks a lot better now, she is in much better shape.” 

Levine’s veterinarian, Dr. Sally Maclan of Appalachian Animal Hospital told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that she has seen cases of canine pancreatitis more than double over the last month. She contributes the sudden spike to pet owners being at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and following unhealthy feeding habits.

“I think because people are home more and they’re really trying to reward their pets and their pets are there all the time with them and so they’re wanting to reward their pets and those big brown eyes looking at them, they can’t say no,” she said.

What causes pancreatitis in dogs, though? Maclan explains: 

“It’s usually when they eat something fatty, something different from their normal diet and they get an inflammation of their pancreas and sometimes it can be very, very serious,” Maclan explained. “Usually it can be self-limiting, but in older dogs, it can be very, very serious, and in some breeds of dogs like Schnauzer.”

Maclan explained that some treats are still okay to feed your dog to reward good behavior. Treats that are low in fat content and the regular dog treats your pet is used to consuming, but in moderation, is acceptable.

“I think things that are healthy treats, like carrots, green beans, watermelons, blueberries, things like that would be a lot easier on their stomach,” she added.

How many treats and when should you treat your dogs? Maclan has an answer for that too:

“I think three or four small treats per pet would be fine every day, I don’t think there’s anything the matter with that, you know, maybe after they’ve come in from using the bathroom and then when they’re sitting around at night, they can have two or three,” she said.

To dog owners who have had to face the uncomfortable reality of having their dogs diagnosed with pancreatitis, Dr. Maclan has a message for them:

“Well, I would not feel guilty about it. Once you get them over the pancreatitis attack, just make sure that they don’t get fatty treats, make sure they get healthy treats, and I think that’s the best thing to do, but don’t feel guilty that you’ve had that happen,” she said.

The American Animal Hospital Association warns pet owners to look out for the following signs of pancreatitis in their pets:

  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • A pet who has clinical signs of vomiting or diarrhea for more than 24 hours or who does not eat for 24 hours should be examined by a veterinarian immediately.

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