What are Lack of Digestive Enzymes?
Lack of digestive enzymes in cats is caused by a maldigestion disorder called Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI). The pancreas provides two very important functions – exocrine and endocrine. The endocrine function plays a role in controlling blood sugar and releasing insulin into the bloodstream. The exocrine function plays an important role in digestion, releasing digestive enzymes into the duodenum (short portion of the small intestine). A lack of these digestive enzymes caused by inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), pancreatic cancer, or fluke infestation, can lead to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
When a cat is constantly hungry, but losing weight, and has foul-smelling, semi-formed stools, this could be an indication that your cat is lacking in digestive enzymes. Digestion is the processes of breaking down food to be absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed throughout the body. The digestive process begins as soon as your cat puts food in its mouth; as saliva breaks down food and the food makes its way down the digestive tract, the pancreas (a v-shaped organ that sits between the left kidney and duodenum) begins to release three important digestive enzymes. The protease enzyme is released to break down proteins, lipase to digest fats, and amylase for starches. When your cat is lacking in these three digestive enzymes, the food eaten will not be properly absorbed into the body.
Symptoms of Lack of Digestive Enzymes in Cats
When a cat is suffering from a lack of digestive enzymes, the first few symptoms you will notice will be the feline’s behavior and appearance. Without the ability to absorb nutrients from the food, your cat’s body will think it’s starving. The feline will always be hungry, continuously asking you for food, meowing and checking her bowl for kibble. The food the feline does eat never stops for absorption, quickly passing through her in the form of foul-smelling diarrhea. Loose and unformed stools can cause the feline to become dehydrated, making the cat consume more water (polydipsia). The cat’s skin will soon dry out and the hair will become brittle, or perhaps fall out (alopecia). The lack of digestive enzymes will make the feline loose a large amount a weight, which can put stress on the liver, causing fatty liver disease. Lastly, if the cat does not receive medical care, the feline could quickly die of starvation.
Causes of Lack of Digestive Enzymes in Cats
Lack of digestive enzymes in cats can be caused by an inflamed pancreas (pancreatitis), which can then cause the pancreas to halt the release of insulin. When insulin production has ceased, the cat may develop diabetes mellitus as a secondary condition of EPI. Lack of digestive enzymes can also be caused by pancreatic hypoplasia, pancreatic cancer and chronic pancreatitis. Middle-aged and elderly cats are at risk for developing a lack in digestive enzymes, but it should be noted that EPI is generally an uncommon health problem in cats.
Diagnosis of Lack of Digestive Enzymes in Cats
Your veterinarian will ask you a number of diagnostic questions while he begins a physical examination on your cat. Knowing the answers to questions such as, when the problem first started, your cat’s bathroom habits, and any recent changes to diet or medication will aid the veterinarian in his/her diagnostic exam. It is not uncommon for the veterinarian to ask for a fecal sample from your cat with digestive distress. A stool sample taken directly from the litter pan will cause false readings on a fecal flotation test, so talk to your veterinarian about proper sample collecting technique. A fecal flotation test will detect the possibility for Fluke infestation, plus the doctor will be able to see the degree of food breakdown in better perspective under a microscope.
Next, your veterinarian may want to perform a test called the serum trypsin-like immunoreactivity test. This test is specially designed to detect exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and is performed on the serum of a cat’s blood, therefore, this test requires a blood sample. Image testing, such as an MRI or x-ray, may also be a tool your vet uses in his/her diagnostic proceedings to locate pancreas cancer.
Treatment of Lack of Digestive Enzymes in Cats
Treating lack of digestive enzymes in cats can be done through pancreatic enzyme supplementation. The enzymes themselves can be given directly to your cat in the form of a powder, tablet, capsule, or a raw pancreas. Talk to your veterinarian about the best treatment option for you and your cat, as each case is different.
Recovery of Lack of Digestive Enzymes in Cats
The prognosis for lack of digestive enzymes in cats is very positive for those who have received treatment earlier enough to not develop a secondary condition. The prognosis is unknown for cats with secondary EPI conditions such as diabetes mellitus, or those who have pancreatic cancer.
For the majority of cats with a lack of digestive enzymes, treatment is required daily or with each meal your cat takes. With the restoration of digestive enzymes, your cat will be able to absorb food, gain weight and restore her general state of health. A dietary change may also be recommended by your veterinarian to coincide with the prescribed supplementation.