Brats: Good for People, Bad for Dogs

By Kim Everson, DVM

Happy 4th of July! Campfires, cookouts and fireworks. Heat, humidity and biting bugs. Each is an icon of Wisconsin summer. Some we dream of on a frigid January day. Others we put up with as necessary evil. Each would make a great blog topic for The Practical Pet Vet as patriots and their pets celebrate this holiday weekend.

Hard as it is to pass over a discussion on firework phobias–there will be time later since fireworks season lasts all summer long nowadays giving phobic dogs no peace–I figured to talk about a threat less well known. Brats. Yes, you heard right. Brats. Not just a formidable adversary to trim waistlines everywhere, brats can be a deadly foe to our canine comrades.

Sipping a wine cooler, watermelon slice in hand, the off-duty veterinarian (never truly off duty as we shall see) stretches out in the lawn chair beside a crackling fire. Mosquito repellent perfumes the air. A group of children play flashlight tag under a stand of pine trees. The party’s host mans the grill, loading a plate high with steaming succulent brats. Oops! A tasty pork delight slides off the plate onto the ground. “Here, Freddy*!” the host calls out graciously to his dog wriggling nearby in anticipation. “Noooooooo!” shouts the veterinarian lunging to grab the poor pooch’s collar as he makes for the brat.

Huh? The host and other party guests (those not married to the crazed veterinarian) are dumbfounded. It happens time and again that some seemingly innocent trifle sets off the DVM in the crowd. Why can’t the dog have a brat? Apologetically, I explain (yes, the veterinarian is yours truly) that fatty foods, notoriously pork products, are known to trigger pancreatitis in dogs.

One of the jobs of the pancreas is to secrete enzymes into the intestines to help break down food. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the enzymes leak into and start digesting surrounding abdominal tissue! This condition is not only painful, but also in the worst cases it can be deadly. Dogs with pancreatitis usually stop eating and drinking, repeatedly vomit, develop diarrhea and have severe abdominal discomfort. Treatment often includes intensive supportive care, pain medications, and a special low-fat diet when the dog leaves the veterinary hospital.

A dog begging for food.

Certainly not every dog who eats a brat or a slice of bacon develops pancreatitis. For instance, my two dogs ingested an astounding amount of unadulterated pig fat, the trimmings from a spanferkel (a.k.a. pig roast) last fall with no lasting ill effects. They barfed up most of the fat in a putrid pile on the garage floor and merely suffered from a bit of a belly ache for the rest of the day. We dodged a bullet that time.

There are no hard and fast rules about which dog will get pancreatits. There are many factors that contribute to the disease. Breed, genetics, obesity, fatty meals and certain medications have all been linked to pancreatitis. Some dogs develop low-grade pancreatitis and recover without so much as a trip to the vet. Others develop complications from the disease and die despite heroic efforts in the veterinary hospital. It’s a terrible game of Russian roulette.

So, let’s not take any unnecessary chances. Just pick up that fallen brat and give Freddy his evening scoop of kibble instead. And let’s get back to celebrating our Independence Day.

* Name changed to protect privacy.

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