Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in Dogs

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, also known as maldigestion syndrome, represents a health condition characterized by a lack of digestive enzymes. The acinar cells, which are found in the pancreas, are responsible for producing the aforementioned enzymes. Dogs suffering from this disorder are not able to break down certain foods into smaller molecules that can be assimilated. As a result, the undigested food is eliminated in the feces and the dog starves to death, despite the normal amount of food that is ingested. Treatment options are both accessible and numerous.

Types of Digestive Enzymes

There are several types of digestive enzymes, and each of them is used for breaking down a certain type of organic compounds. Below are listed the enzymes, along with their role:

  • Trypsin and chymotrypsin decompose proteins
  • Amylase breaks down starches
  • Lipase is used in the digestion of fats and triglycerides

If 90 percent of the pancreas is destroyed, the absence of the aforementioned enzymes becomes obvious and the symptoms of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are noticed.

Causes of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

The precise cause of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is still unknown, but most veterinarians suspect several potential factors. Chronic pancreatitis is one of the disorders that may precede the maldigestion syndrome, and thus, it may be one of the causes. In some dogs aged 2 years or less, the number of pancreatic cells drops down suddenly, and in consequence, the function of these cells is also affected. In this particular case, it is believed that exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is inherited.  

Pancreatic Insufficiency Symptoms

The symptoms of this canine health condition are independent of the cause. Keep in mind, though, that maldigestion syndrome can develop progressively, over a few months, or very rapidly, over a fortnight at most. Signs that indicate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency include:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Poor hair coat
  • Yellow diarrhea
  • Undigested fat in the stool
  • Constant hunger

You are highly recommended to contact a veterinarian as soon as any of these symptoms is noticed.

Diagnosis of Maldigestion Syndrome

In the majority of the cases, the symptoms are sufficient for diagnosing pancreatic insufficiency. However, if the clinical signs are not clear enough and the veterinarian is not sure, there are several tests that can be performed. These include:

  • Blood tests
  • Chymotrypsin activity measurement
  • Analysis of digestive enzymes levels in the feces
  • Analysis of the feces under the microscope

The blood tests are meant to reveal the digestive enzymes level in the blood, and are considered the most reliable way to diagnose exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. At the other end, the analysis of the feces under the microscope is the least reliable diagnosis procedure.

Treatment Options for Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Maldigestion syndrome can be treated, but there are a couple of downsides to the treatment. First of all, it is very pricey, and secondly, your dog will need to follow the treatment for the rest of his life.

Basically, the digestive enzymes need to be replaced with enzymes from hog and cattle pancreases. Because freeze-drying and grinding the extracts of cattle and hog pancreases are two pricey processes, the price of the medication will also reflect this fact.

An alternative to the aforementioned medication is represented by raw pig pancreas. Between 3 and 4 ounces of chopped pancreas are sufficient for a 45-pound dog. The activity of the enzymes is preserved for up to 90 days if the raw pig pancreas is stored in a freezer at -4 degrees F.

Replacing normal food with highly digestible food may also be a solution. Foods rich in medium chain triglycerides are highly recommended, as these compounds do not need to be decomposed by pancreatic enzymes. Supplementation with fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K may also be necessary. Trying other cures than the ones listed above is not recommended, as other treatments may not be as efficient and may lead to the death of your dog.