Fatty foods and schnauzer dogs don’t mix

Last week was a schnauzer-fest at work. The gods of chance and circumstance inflicted illness on several local schnauzer dogs at the same time, sending them to us for medical help. People sure do love schnauzers.

And what’s not to love? The breed comes in all sizes – miniature, standard and giant. I’ve only ever had one giant schnauzer as a patient, but the miniature variety pads through our doors everyday and we’ll concentrate on them for now. They are highly intelligent, inquisitive, but not overly busy and rarely aggressive although I’ve met more than a few with stubborn streaks. Probably the most common complaint about mini schnauzers is their tendency to bark.

More seriously, they also have a tendency to have gastro-intestinal problems, particularly pancreatitis. Two out of three schnauzers we treated last week were suffering from the condition.

The pancreas is a small but mighty organ that produces enzymes to digest food. When it’s inflamed, it starts to digest itself. This – not surprisingly – hurts a lot, causes severe nausea and can sometimes create so much damage it kills. The condition can occur spontaneously – at least, we don’t currently understand the cause – but, it can also be brought on by feeding fatty foods. Some schnauzers have hyperlipidemia, a problem metabolizing fat. Their blood gets thick with it, predisposing to pancreatitis even on diets with normal fat levels.

And the problems don’t end there. Too many episodes of self-digestion by the pancreas in one schnauzer’s lifetime deplete the organ’s ability to do its other important job of producing insulin. So, an unfortunate inability to deal with fat leads to pancreatitis which goes on to cause diabetes. This is not an inevitable cascade, but it happens often enough that all you schnauzer lovers should pay attention. Don’t feed your little bearded friend fatty foods. You might even want to have his blood tested for fat periodically. If a blood sample taken after fasting looks like milk, further tests for hyperlipidemia may be recommended. There are special diets and supplements that can help, so it’s worth investigating.

Although schnauzers are more prone to problems with fatty foods than most dogs, it’s never wise to give any pet high fat snacks. One of the worst cases of pancreatitis I ever saw was in a large mixed-breed dog that had bacon for breakfast. My own big poodle has hyperlipidemia which is now fairly well controlled, but only after causing a few bouts of pancreatitis.

So, none of this is meant to put you off schnauzers at all. They usually make loving, fun companions and the joy of barking can be controlled. But please keep their little beardy faces out of the ice cream.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Quinte West/Trenton, Ontario
March 2013