Pancreatic Enzyme Therapy For Pets

By Teresa Garden, DVM

Digestive enzymes are essential in the conversion of food to meet the energy needs of the body. They also function as catalysts in many biochemical processes. Enzyme deficiency is caused by either a specific organ functioning at less than optimal level or there is a lack of availability of the proper nutrients required for enzyme production. Minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids are required for the synthesis of various digestive enzymes that are produced in the pancreas. Use of pancreatic enzyme therapy is often beneficial when a pet’s digestive system is compromised. The addition of digestive enzymes should be part of an overall program to support digestive health.

Enzyme supplements are derived from animal, plant, and microbial sources. Animal-source enzyme supplements contain pancreatin from the pancreas of pigs or cows. Pancreatin provides protease, lipase, and amylase which will digest proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Animal-source enzymes may work best for pets with pancreatic damage. Plant and microbial-derived enzymes are frequently used together. Microbial enzymes are synthesized from fungal sources via fermentation. Examples of fungi used include Aspergillus, Rhizopus, and Trichoderma. Plant-derived enzymes come from papaya (papain) and pineapple (bromelain). These enzyme products supply lactase, cellulase, protease, lipase, and amylase. Microbial and plant-based enzymes may be less expensive than animal-based products.

The indications for supplementation with digestive enzymes are many and varied. They can be beneficial to both the young and old and to those with sickness or in relative good health. Dogs and cats would naturally consume digestive enzymes when eating the internal organs of prey. Most homemade and commercial diets today lack organ meats. Adding digestive enzymes will improve the nutritional benefits of these diets.
As pets age, their body may produce less than optimal levels of digestive enzymes. Supplementation can help correct this. These enzymes help the intestines absorb nutrients more efficiently which can play a role in keeping the mind sharp in our geriatric pets. At the other end of the age spectrum, our younger pets are often infected with intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and Giardia. Giving digestive enzymes during treatment for the worms will help the pet derive the most nutrition from their food and help to negate adverse effects of the infection. Give the enzymes until your pet has been shown to be free of parasites.

Flatulence is, unfortunately, a common affliction in many of our pets. Two things can help. Identifying the specific food intolerance and eliminating it from the diet is first and foremost. Giving digestive enzymes will help to break down gas-producing particles in the digestive tract. Some of our dogs, besides being gas bags, are poop eaters. Pancreatic enzyme therapy may help with coprophagia. Adding digestive enzymes to the food will make the stool smell less attractive to the dog. The enzymes can increase nutrient absorption and, hopefully, decrease stool-seeking behavior.
EPI, Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, is a syndrome caused by insufficient synthesis and secretion of digestive enzymes by the exocrine portion of the pancreas leading to insufficient activity of digestive enzymes in the lumen of the small intestine. This is a serious condition resulting in wasting of the pet along with vomiting and/or diarrhea. Pancreatic enzyme supplementation is the mainstay of treatment for this syndrome.
Acute or chronic pancreatitis can be a serious disease in dogs and cats. Supplementation with digestive enzymes helps to reduce inflammation and pain encountered with these afflictions. They can also reduce the workload of the pancreas, allowing it to rest and, thereby, promote healing within the organ.

There are many other common diseases in which digestive enzymes can play an important role in the treatment protocol. These include diabetes, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, hyperthyroidism, liver disease, food allergies, bloat, megacolon, FIV virus, and borborygmus (rumbling noise from the GI tract).

Although infrequently encountered in clinical practice, there can be adverse effects from supplementation with digestive enzymes. Vomiting, loose stools, and abdominal discomfort after eating have been reported. Adverse effects appear to be more common with pancreatin (animal-source) products. If this occurs, it is advised to stop the animal-sourced product and switch to a plant and microbial-based product.

Digestive enzymes are given by mixing with food. Powdered formulas are preferred for dogs and cats. Tablets, capsules, and enteric-coated products should be avoided. Do not heat food after adding the enzymes. They are deactivated by temperatures greater than 120 degrees. Do not use human products. They can pass through the dog’s or cat’s much shorter GI tract without being utilized. Examples of preferred products for pets include Prozyme Original, Prozyme Plus, Animal Essential’s Plant Enzymes and Probiotics, and NaturVet Digestive Enzymes.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area. 314-781-1738. www.AnimalHealthandHealing.com