Digestive Enzymes for DogsWe’ve heard that giving our dogs probiotics can be good for their digestive health, but what about digestive enzymes for dogs?

What are digestive enzymes for dogs?

Enzymes are active proteins that help aid in different aspects of metabolism in the dog’s body. Each type of enzyme has a specific job, depending on where it is located.

What do “digestive enzymes” do?

Digestive enzymes are produced by the dog’s pancreas and are present in the upper portion of your dog’s gastrointestinal tract [1]. These enzymes aid in the digestion of many types of foodstuffs that your canine consumes.

Which enzymes are included in enzyme supplements for dogs?

Typically, these digestive supplements for dogs include [7]:

  • Cellulase = cellulose digestion
  • Amylase = starch digestion
  • Lipase = fat and triglyceride digestion
  • Protease = protein digestion

Many dog supplements are combinations of probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes.

Does my dog need a digestive enzyme supplement?

Chances are, your dog does not need a digestive enzyme supplement. Some veterinarians think that healthy dogs with no digestive problems don’t need them. Similarly to giving a dog vitamins, buying digestive enzymes for dogs won’t hurt, but it may be a waste of money.

However, dogs with the following health problems may benefit from a daily digestive enzyme supplement [1, 4]:

  • Diarrhea
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Flatulence (gas)
  • Dental disease
  • “Sensitive stomach”
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
  • Weight loss
  • Coprophagia (eating feces)

My dog has chronic pancreatitis, could digestive enzymes help?

Dog pancreatitis is a common condition in canines. Some dogs, such as Miniature Schnauzers and Yorkshire Terriers, are more predisposed to developing pancreatitis compared to other dog breeds.

This condition in dogs can be caused by unknown factors or secondary to a fatty meal [12, 13, 14].

Common signs include vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, lethargy, abdominal discomfort and dehydration. Many dogs need hospitalization to treat canine pancreatitis.

The word pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas.  When the pancreas is inflamed, damage can be done to the cells that make digestive enzymes.

Digestive enzymes “escape” and basically “auto-digest” the pancreas. Dogs with chronic pancreatitis can end up with permanent damage. Scar tissue can lead to a secondary exocrine pancreatitis insufficiency and rarely, diabetes mellitus.

Some veterinarians think it can be helpful to give dogs with pancreatitis digestive enzyme supplements, but there is little evidence to support that theory. The thought is that if the digestive enzymes for dogs are given, that this will help to “rest” the pancreas. In humans, supplementation may help reduce the amount of enzymes in the pancreas being produced, thus decreasing the “auto-digestion” classically seen in pancreatitis [10].

Can pancreatitis be prevented by feeding digestive enzymes?

Not really. Feeding a low-fat diet high in antioxidants and but also carrying a sufficient amount of Omega-3s fatty acids can reduce occurrences in individuals that are prone to pancreatitis [11].

What is EPI and what causes it?

“Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a digestive disorder resulting from the insufficient secretion of enzymes from the pancreas. In dogs, this condition is often attributed to pancreatic acinar atrophy, wherein the enzyme-producing acinar cells are believed to be destroyed through an autoimmune process.” [9]

Dogs with EPI cannot make enough digestive enzymes on their own, due to damage to the pancreas.

Digestive enzyme supplementation is a major therapy for dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

My dog has diabetes. Will digestive enzymes help him?

It possible. However, there is no solid evidence that digestive enzymes for dogs with diabetes will help improve their digestion. Sometimes dogs with diabetes have low-level pancreatitis and digestive enzyme supplementation may be helpful [12].

My dog is healthy and doesn’t have any of these problems. Will digestive enzymes help keep him healthy?

Some veterinarians think that giving your dog digestive enzymes won’t do much good unless you are treating a specific problem, such as EPI.

Even if your dog suffers from “tummy troubles” from time to time, dog digestive enzymes may help to improve digestion.

How soon will I see results?

In dogs with EPI, some have improvement in stool quality in as little as 3 days after being fed an appropriate dose of digestive enzymes [1].

Owners can then decrease the amount of digestive enzymes given once a significant improvement has been seen. Many patients with EPI are maintained on the lowest beneficial dose of enzymes [8].

You may see the best results when the enzyme powder is mixed with the dog’s food immediately before feeding.

Keep in mind that every dog is different, so results may vary.

Variation has been reported regarding efficacy of digestive enzyme products from batch to batch. If you start your dog on a new batch or brand of dog enzyme supplement, and notice that his digestive problems worsen, it may be necessary to increase the dose temporarily [8].

Which enzyme supplement is right for my dog?

Always consult with your veterinarian before selecting a nutritional dog supplement such as digestive enzymes.

Powdered digestive enzymes are the most effective, compared to capsules and tablets [5]. Select a non-enteric-coated pancreatic extract [1].

Some dog supplements contain probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes, such as Rx Zyme (Rx Vitamins™ for Pets). Other similar supplements will have more ingredients, often to do with dog’s joint health and fighting dog arthritis.

How much should I give my dog?

If your dog suffers from digestive problems, such as EPI, feed 1 teaspoon of powdered digestive enzymes per 10 kg body weight with a meal [8].

Speak to your veterinarian about how much is right for your pet, as some may require more or less, depending on their particular health issue.

I feed my dog a raw diet, should I supplement digestive enzymes?

Raw food advocates encourage the feeding of raw porcine or bovine pancreas as a part of a balanced raw diet.

However, there is a difference in therapeutic effect between feeding powdered pancreatic enzymes vs. raw pancreas [4].

There is a small risk of transmission of Aujeszky’s Disease (also known as pseudorabies) from raw pork pancreas and Echinococcus from the pancreas of raw game [8].

Raw meats and organs should always be fed with caution to dogs with health issues, as food poisoning from E. coli or Salmonella could be life-threatening [1].

Are there any reasons why my dog shouldn’t take digestive enzymes?

If your dog suffers from food allergies and gastrointestinal problems, it is best to check the source of the enzymes and ingredients in each supplement. Most dog supplements contain enzymes of porcine (pork) origin or egg [4].

Are there any side effects to feeding digestive enzymes?

Oral ulceration and bleeding has been reported in dogs taking digestive enzyme supplements [5, 6]. Wetting down or moistening the food/enzyme mixture seems to improve or prevent this side effect [8].

One negative side effect of a low-fat diet is the possibility of loss of fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin A, and the loss of essential fatty acids [8].

The bottom line

Digestive enzymes can help improve canine digestion.

Chances are, your dog won’t benefit from digestive enzyme supplementation unless he has a specific problem.

Talk to your dog’s veterinarian to determine if digestive enzymes are worth the investment.

Want more general information on digestive enzymes for dogs? Keep reading.

For owners of dogs with EPI

Most dogs improve considerably after starting digestive enzyme supplements. However, there are some that do not respond as well. This can often be due to that particular dog’s inability to digest the fat in their diet. Even though the digestive enzyme supplement contains lipase, in certain dogs, their stomach pH is too high. This high pH inactivates the lipase that is in the supplement. Some of these dogs see an improvement after starting on a low-fat diet. Using antacids, such as omeprazole, can lower the stomach’s pH to the point where the lipase is useful once again.

Certain types of fiber can also impair the digestive enzyme’s ability to function. In such cases a diet low in non-fermentable (insoluble) fiber should be fed [8].

So what exactly happens during pancreatitis?

Scientists and veterinarians do not fully understand the entire etiology of pancreatitis. However, this is what we do know:

The major digestive enzymes exist in pancreatic acinar cells in inactive forms called zymogens. Packaging inactive enzymes into zymogens helps to prevent premature activation before they are released into the duodenum where they are activated. Enzyme inhibitors also exist within the pancreas (e.g. alpha-antitrypsin) as well as in circulating plasma (e.g. alpha-macroglobulins, antichymotrypsin, alpha-antrypsin).

Once zymogens are released into the intestinal lumen, they undergo peptide cleavage (breakdown) by enterokinase secreted by the duodenal mucosal cells; this activates the enzymes allowing them to begin breaking down nutrients as they were meant to do.

If the inhibiting substances are blocked or if the enzymes are activated while they are still in the pancreas, the pancreas inappropriately begins to digest itself and signs of pancreatitis occur. For example, the conversion of trypsinogen (inactive) to its active form, trypsin, can be triggered by enterokinase, bile, lysosomal enzymes or other stimuli.

The result is disruption of pancreatic membranes, arteriolar dilation, increased vascular permeability, edema, and hemorrhage. Pain, leukocytic infiltration and peripancreatic fat necrosis are consequences. Arterial hypotension with portal venous pooling and hypovolemia may lead to shock. Compounding the damage are peripheral venoconstriction and leakage of pancreatic enzymes into the abdominal cavity and vascular compartment.

Regional tissue invasion and destruction caused by release of pancreatic enzymes can be extensive. Possible end results include damage to liver, kidneys (renal failure), lungs, heart and abdominal lymphatics (chylous abdominal effusion can develop). Pancreatitis can cause biliary tract obstruction.” [11]


[toggle title=”References“]
  1. Marks, S. Advances in Dietary Management of GI Disorders. World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2013. Veterinary Information Network.
  2. Messonnier, S. My Favorite Supplements. Wild West Veterinary Conference Proceedings, 2011. Veterinary Information Network.
  3. Pidgeon G, Strombeck DR. Evaluation of treatment for pancreatic exocrine insufficiency in dogs with ligated pancreatic ducts. Am J Vet Res. 1982;43:461–464.
  4. Wiberg ME, Lautala HM, Westermarck E. Response to long-term enzyme replacement treatment in dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1998;213:86–90.
  5. Snead, E. Oral ulceration and bleeding associated with pancreatic enzyme supplementation in a German shepherd with pancreatic acinar atrophy. Can Vet J. 2006 Jun; 47(6): 579-582.
  6. Rutz GM, Steiner JM, Williams DA. Oral bleeding associated with pancreatic enzyme supplementation in three dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002;221:1716–1718 
  7. Pancrease-V information. Drugs.com [accessed September 20, 2015].
  8. Steiner, J. Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency. Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference Proceedings. 2011.
  9. Evans, JM. et al., Association of DLA-DQB1 alleles withexocrine pancreatic insufficiency in Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Anim Genet. 2015 Aug;46(4):462-5. 
  10. Allen, J. Dog With Recurrent Pancreatitis: Consider Pancreatic Enzyme Supplementation And Antioxidant Therapy. Vet-To-Vet Veterinary Information Network. September 22, 2006.
  11. Shell, L. Veterinary Information Network Associate Database. Last updated February 8, 2012.
  12. Xenoulis PG. Diagnosis of pancreatitis in dogs and cats. J Small Anim Pract. 2015 Jan;56(1):13-26. doi: 10.1111/jsap.12274
  13. Angelie Shukla. Acute pancreatitis attributed to dietary indiscretion in a female mixed breed canine. Can Vet J. 2010 Feb; 51(2): 201–203
  14. Watson P. Pancreatitis in dogs and cats: definitions and pathophysiology. J Small Anim Pract. 2015 Jan;56(1):3-12. doi: 10.1111/jsap.12293


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