The benefit of low fat nutrition for dogs with gastrointestinal disease


There are two main indications for feeding a low fat nutrition to dogs with gastrointestinal disease:

  • The first is for dogs that have GI disorders that result in difficulties digesting and/or absorbing dietary fats including lymphatic abnormalities.
  • The second is for management of dogs with gastrointestinal disease due to or related to hypertriglyceridemia.

The clinical relevance of hypertriglyceridemia is due to its complications – by far the most common of which is pancreatitis.

In a clinical trial, a therapeutic low fat food* has been shown to significantly reduce both preprandial and postprandial serum triglyceride concentrations (P<0.01).1

There is still some debate as to whether hypertriglyceridemia causes pancreatitis, pancreatitis causes hypertriglyceridemia, or both are caused by the same pathogenetic mechanism and neither causes the other. However, in a recent study, Miniature Schnauzers with a previous history of pancreatitis had significantly higher serum triglyceride concentrations than Miniature Schnauzers without such a history.2

Pancreatitis is of great clinical significance because an acute episode can be associated with systemic complications and death, and chronic disease leads to destruction of exocrine and endocrine pancreatic tissue that can lead to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and/or diabetes mellitus.3

Generally, treatment of hypertriglyceridemia is recommended when serum triglyceride concentrations are above 500 mg/dL (5.65 mmol/L).4 The primary therapeutic approach for the treatment of hypertriglyceridemia in dogs is feeding a low fat therapeutic food.3 In a recent study Miniature Schnauzers with hypertriglyceridemia were successfully managed by a dietary change to low fat food alone.5

Low fat therapeutic foods play a crucial role in the management of dogs with GI disease.    

For dogs without hypertriglyceridemia, it is important to remember that digestion of dietary fat is more complex than the digestion of proteins or carbohydrates, and thus fat digestion can easily be compromised in patients with GI disease. Therefore, dogs with a wide variety of GI problems can show malnutrition and/or malabsorption of fat. Decreasing the fat content in their food may improve clinical signs in these patients. Essentially, any severe gastroenteritis, including IBD (idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease) with or without a protein-losing enteropathy can lead to fat malabsorption. Even though these patients do not have hypertriglyceridemia, they cannot appropriately deal with the normal amount of fat in their diet and require the feeding of a low fat therapeutic food and avoidance of high fat treats.

There are many therapeutic foods on the market that have a moderately decreased fat content, but only a few that have a significantly decreased fat content. Also, since these conditions can be complex, these patients may also benefit from prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive agents.

Find more information on the right product for your GI patient on

*Test Food was Hill’s® Prescription Diet® i/d® Low Fat

1Data on File, Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc.

2Xenoulis PG, Levinski MD, Suchodolski JS, et al. Serum triglyceride concentrations in Miniature Schnauzers with and without a history of probable pancreatitis. J Vet Intern Med. 2011;25(1):20-25.

3Steiner JM. Exocrine pancreas. In: Steiner JM. ed. Small Animal Gastroenterology. Hannover: Schlutersche-Verlagsgesellschaft mbH,2008;283-306.

4Xenoulis PG, Steiner JM. Lipid metabolism and hyperlipidemia in dogs. Vet J. 2010;183(1):12-21.

5Xenoulis PG, Suchodolski JS, Steiner JM. Effect of a low-fat diet on serum triglyceride, cholesterol, and Spec cPL concentrations in Miniature Schnauzers with hypertriglyceridemia. J Vet Int Med 2011;25(3):687.

 62017 Veterinary endorsement study, data on file.

Written by Jörg M. Steiner, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ECVIM-CA, AGAF
Dr. Mark Morris Chair of Small Animal Gastroenterology and Nutrition
Gastrointestinal Labor; Texas A&M University; College Station, TX, USA

®/™Trademarks owned by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.

Photo credit: (c) iStock/Subman

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