What are Lack of Digestive Enzymes?
The inability to properly digest food is called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), and it is caused by a lack of digestive enzymes in the pancreas. This condition can cause weight loss and vitamin deficiencies if not treated. It is a lifelong disease that will require daily digestive enzyme treatment.Lack of digestive enzymes in dogs is a condition in which the pancreas no longer produces enough enzymes to properly digest food, which means that food often passes through the digestive tract of dogs undigested, leading to extreme weight loss and malnourishment.
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Symptoms of Lack of Digestive Enzymes in Dogs
- Chronic diarrhea
- Inability to properly digest meals
- Weight loss despite increased appetite
- Pale, loose, greasy or foul smelling stools
- Coprophagia (stool eating)
- Pica (consumption of non-food items)
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
Causes of Lack of Digestive Enzymes in Dogs
- Pancreatic acinar atrophy - Most common in young adult German shepherds, Dachshunds, and rough coated collies, this is a lifetime condition that will require treatment with food supplements to help the dog break down nutrients in a way that is beneficial for their body.
- Chronic pancreatitis - An inflammation of the pancreas is relatively uncommon in dogs. It is characterized by abdominal pain, vomiting and loose, pale-colored stools. Repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis, which is a medical emergency, may lead to the destruction of the pancreas and chronic pancreatitis.
- Obstruction of the pancreatic duct - Pancreatic ducts in dogs can be blocked by gallstones, tumors or cysts.
Diagnosis of Lack of Digestive Enzymes in Dogs
In order to properly diagnose your dog with this condition, your veterinarian will take a thorough look at your dog’s medical history, perform a physical examination, and look to you to answer questions about symptoms like weight loss, diarrhea, and appetite.
The following tests may also be performed to secure a definitive diagnosis:
- Stool analysis
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Immunoreactivity and pancreatic function tests
The gold standard for diagnosis is a canine Tripsin-like Immunoreactivity (cTLI) test. It is a simple blood test that positively confirms the disease.
Treatment of Lack of Digestive Enzymes in Dogs
The majority of dogs with EPI are successfully treated for this condition with the supplementation of over-the-counter or prescription pancreatic enzymes, or chopped bovine pancreas from a butcher. Such enzymes are readily available and will need to be given with each meal for the remainder of your dog’s life. Animals are started at the maximum dose with enzyme therapy, and then that amount is gradually reduced once the animal has stabilized.
Dogs who have been shown to be malnourished or deficient in vitamins may also need to begin a temporary vitamin supplementation program.
All dogs should be given an easily digestible food, such as grain-free kibble or a raw diet. Foods made of complex carbohydrates, including treats, will be impossible for your dog to digest.
Recovery of Lack of Digestive Enzymes in Dogs
A lack of digestive enzymes is considered a benign condition in dogs and, though it requires lifetime treatment and vigilant monitoring on the part of dog owners, most dogs will gain weight back quickly, begin to digest food well, and can expect to live a normal lifespan.
Dogs are to continue normal exercise and activities, and you can expect to see an improvement in their condition anywhere from one to two weeks.
Careful monitoring of your dog’s health with your veterinarian may be initially necessary. After that, expect to visit your vet’s office a few times a year for follow-up care.