Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
The pancreas is a very important organ that is found between the stomach and duodenum (in the small intestine). The pancreas is classified as an endocrine gland as it is responsible for secreting a number of hormones including insulin and glucagon which are crucial in regulating blood sugar levels. In addition, the pancreas acts as an exocrine gland which produces and releases enzymes that assist in food digestion. Without the effective functioning of the pancreas your pet cannot properly digest foods and it will suffer from blood sugar related problems.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency is recognized as the most common cause of digestive enzyme problems in dogs and is usually related to an atrophied pancreas. Evidence strongly suggests that exocrine pancreatic insufficiency has genetic causes and German Shepards and certain collies are especially at risk for developing this syndrome. In cats, it is believed that chronic pancreatitis is the primary cause of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency but there are no proven genetic links.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The symptoms of EPI in animals unfortunately do not develop until your around 85% of your pet’s pancreas is unable to secrete enzymes. Symptoms in dogs and cats include weight loss, problems with their coat, flatulence, coprophagia, diarrhoea and heightened appetite. In addition, you’ll notice that your pet’s stools are often yellow and grey in colour and have an excessively oily makeup.
Diagnosing exocrine pancreatic insufficiency involves a simple blood test for your pet. In normal animals, the digestive enzyme trypsin is stored in the pancreas until it is activated and released to help with digestion. Animals with endocrine pancreatic insufficiency will have very low levels of trypsin in their blood. In order for an accurate blood test to be done it is necessary that your animal fast before the test. This usually requires that your dog or cat not eat for 24 hours prior to the blood test.
Another common diagnostic for EPI is the Fecal Protease Test. This requires that you submit a sample of your pet’s stool for testing for the presence of digestive enzymes. Fasting is not necessary for an accurate fecal protease test but your veterinarian will need at least 3 samples to ensure an accurate result.
Treatment for EPI is a lifelong endeavour. Your pet will likely need to make some dietary changes and will need supplements that contain these necessary digestive enzymes. Digestive enzyme supplements work to stop diarrhoea and will help your pet to gain weight. Usually veterinarians will recommend powdered enzyme supplements over tablets as they are easier to administer in your pet’s diet and they actually work more quickly.
As far as diet is concerned, you’ll want to aim to feed your pet a highly digestible diet. Foods high in fibre and fat have been found to be especially helpful for pets suffering from EPI. Be aware that animals with EPI often have more than normal amounts of bacteria growing in their intestines and these bacteria feed off the nutrients received through your pet’s diet. This means that vitamin B12 deficiency is a serious concern and for this reason your veterinarian may also prescribe a course of antibiotics.