The Holistic Approach To Pancreatitis

On January 17, 2018 by AntheaAppel

Pancreatitis in pets Pancreatitis hits close to home for me.

About 11-years ago, my Siamese cat had an acute attack of pancreatitis and she almost died. Fortunately, she had a complete recovery and she’s been fine ever since. It was a turning point for me. It changed my entire approach to animal health. And it was a simple little discovery that unlocked the mystery of pancreatitis.

What’s The Research?

Hardly any.

Pancreatitis is a common complaint amongst cats and dogs. And you would think with a disease that is so common that there would be plenty of research. But, no. There is very little published studies on the treatment and prevention of pancreatitis.

Now, in the severe acute cases where the animal is so sick it has to be hospitalized then there is some medical data for treatment. And, the end results can go anywhere from a high mortality rate to a complete recovery. But, it’s the sub-clinical cases, or the chronic-but-not-so-severe instances of pancreatitis, or the prevention of the disease, is where there is a lack of information.

The most some veterinarians will do is prescribe a low-fat diet for your pet. In the case of my Siamese cat, my vet handed me a carton of canned low-fat cat food and told me she would have to live on it for the rest of her life. The thing is there has been no published clinical trials on whether these prescribed factory-processed low-fat kibble or canned foods has any beneficial effect on the treatment or prevention of pancreatitis.

What We Do Know

Recently, there has been some good research in the pathophysiology of pancreatitis. And it’s in this research we’re seeing success in the use of herbal and dietary therapies.

The Root Cause

Pancreatitis is difficult to diagnose and treat because the cause of the disease is wiped out by the inflammatory response. So, what is the ’cause’ that we’re looking for? Well, for the longest time nobody knew what it was. But, now researchers are beginning to zero in on Nitric Oxide. It appears this compound plays an important role in the pathogenesis of the disease. And this is because it’s Nitric Oxide that is being “wiped out,” or altered, during an active acute pancreatitis attack.

There are two types of Nitric Oxide that may be present in pancreatitis. The first, is Inducible Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide is the main regulator of all exocrine pancreatic activity. Inducible Nitric Oxide regulates the digestive enzyme secretion of the gland. So, basically, you need inducible nitric oxide for a properly functioning pancreas. But, during an acute inflammatory response it becomes excessive, and since Inducible nitric oxide influences blood flow to the pancreas this will cause the tissues to become engorged and edematous, resulting in the enzymes to disgorge. Also, Inducible nitric oxide is a free radical and that will contribute to further damage.

The second type of Nitric Oxide is Endothelial. This is nitric oxide that accumulates inside the blood vessel (unlike Inducible nitric oxide that accumulates in the pancreatic tissues, the PEComas). The more nitric oxide that is coating the blood vessel, the more the blood vessel is sealed up, and this prevents leakage. But, if there is less nitric oxide coating the blood vessel then the endothelial cells start to spilt and open up which allows the white blood cells to leave circulation, squeeze through the cell wall, and get into the PEComas. Eventually, this reaches a critical mass, and suddenly, a lot of Inducible nitric oxide is produced, BUT it’s the lack of Endothelial nitric oxide that triggers pancreatic inflammation. You see how this can be confusing? The vet will do an examination and see plenty of blood, enzymes, and nitric oxide and think “well, there’s nitric oxide in the tissues so it can’t be pancreatitis,” not realizing it’s the reduction of nitric oxide in the blood vessels that’s causing the problem.

It’s interesting to note that researchers say feline pancreatitis is more difficult to diagnosis than that in the canine, citing “nonspecific clinical and biochemical signs”  (See: A Case of Feline Pancreatitis).

One other thing: the use of NSAIDS and steroids will inhibit Endothelial nitric oxide and that can trigger pancreatitis, and also, aggravate insulin resistance, which I’ll talk about next:

The Role of Insulin

Also, insulin has a huge influence in triggering pancreatitis. Even though insulin is secreted by the pancreas, the pancreas will become insulin resistant when there is a lack of Endothelial nitric oxide. Insulin resistance can also happen when there’s too much insulin being produced in our body. How does that happen? It happens because for the past couple of decades our western diet of factory-processed and high fat foods has increased the insulin levels of the average person by 20% to 30%. This processed and high fat diet is also fed to domesticated animals, whether its livestock, or our companion animals. So, yes. A low-fat diet is recommended. BUT, the veterinarian prescribed low-fat processed kibble/canned food is not as effective as fresh, REAL, low-fat raw meat from the butcher. Why? They’re both low-fat, isn’t that the idea? Yes, but the processed food is still boosting insulin levels which will lead to insulin resistance because of the assimilability and calorie absorption of the food. And this is why dogs/cats suffering from chronic pancreatic inflammation never get well on these prescribed diets. So, low-fat, fresh, raw meat which is going to be lower in calories is the best way to prevent and treat pancreatitis.


A very sick animal that is experiencing an acute pancreatic inflammation is going to be treated differently than sub-acute chronic or prevention of a relapse of pancreatitis.

In Chinese Medicine, acute pancreatitis is considered Damp Heat. Here, the animal would receive harsh, cold, bitter, anti-inflammatory herbs. Anti-Heat herbal formulas are also potent insulin sensitizers. For prevention, it would be very mild, gentle, herbal tonics. These are formulas that finish resolving pancreatitis and to help prevent a relapse (do NOT give tonics during a raging, severe acute pancreatic inflammation).

NOTE: It’s best to work with a practitioner of Chinese herbs so that the correct formula is used for the specific stage and various symptoms of pancreatitis.

Holistic veterinarians have observed that a combination of Chinese herbs and a species appropriate diet of raw meaty bones & organs has shown the most promise for helping your pet recover during an acute episode of pancreatitis and for preventing a relapse. From my own experience, my Siamese cat was immediately switched to a low-fat raw meaty bone diet the day she came home from the vet clinic. And that was 11-years ago and she has never had a relapse, and I owe that to her diet.

If you have a cat or dog with pancreatitis and you need help with a diet plan and herbal/homeopathic remedies, I would suggest a consultation.

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