Like Fred and Ginger or salt and pepper, enzymes and health go hand in hand.
But the foods your dog eats, as well as his age and health, can create a void in the enzyme department. And this can cause nutritional deficiencies that can affect his health.
But what exactly are digestive enzymes and what can you do when your dog is running low on them?
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Enzymes are special proteins that are responsible for thousands of important functions in the body. One of their most important jobs is to break down and absorb nutrients from food. Without digestive enzymes, your dog would starve!
The body can't produce a finite supply of enzymes. Like a bank account, if you continuously make withdrawals without depositing money, you’ll soon be broke.
The pancreas produces most of your dog’s enzymes and releases them into the small intestine. This is where most of your dog’s food gets digested. And it's where his enzymes work their magic and break foods down into smaller units his body can use for fuel.
There are three main digestive enzymes produced in the body and each has its own role:
- Protease breaks proteins down into amino acids.
- Lipase breaks fats down into fatty acids and glycerol.
- Amylase breaks carbohydrates down into sugars.
But your dog has other sources of digestive enzymes too ... many of his foods also contain enzymes. Here’s an example ...
If you've ever eaten a fruit that wasn't ripe, you've probably noticed it's not very sweet. That's because the sugars in fruit are bound together in chains called carbohydrates.
Fruits also contain an enzyme called beta-amylase that helps digest the fruit. More specifically, it helps to break the carbohydrate chains down into simple sugars. But this process begins before you’ve even taken a bite. It’s what we call ripening. And the riper the fruit, the sweeter it is.
This is all thanks to the enzyme beta-amylase. It has started digesting the fruit and essentially started the digestion process for you and your dog. And that's a good thing!
The pancreas can become strained when it has to produce too many enzymes to digest food. If the foods you and your dog eat contain their own enzymes, they can help ease the load on the pancreas.
And food scientists have learned that food-based enzymes might play an even greater role in digestion. The enzymes found in plants begin digesting food while it's still in the stomach … the same way it does before you’ve had a bite.
In essence, it pre-digests the food, just like the ripened fruit. This offers two benefits:
- The body doesn't have to work as hard to digest food.
- The food is better digested, so the dog gets more nutrition from his food.
But enzymes in the body don’t just digest food ... they play many other important roles in the body:
- Boost immune function
- Reduce inflammation
- Remove toxins and waste from the body
- Regulate hormones
- Slow the rate of aging
And enzymes do this with the help of vitamins, minerals and other coenzymes. Coenzymes are non-protein compounds that help the protein-based enzymes do their job.
So enzymes are critical for a healthy dog ... but there's one problem you should be aware of.
Enzymes Are Like A Bank Account
In the 1930s Dr Edward Howell pioneered enzyme research. He proposed that, because enzymes are critical for many functions in the body, they should be essential nutrients. (Just like most vitamins and minerals). But the opposite has happened ...
Most dogs today eat enzyme-deficient foods.
Cooking at temperatures above 118o F destroys the naturally occurring enzymes in food. This means your dog's body has to produce all the enzymes necessary to digest and metabolize his enzyme-deficient food.
Dr Howell believed that animals are born with a limited capacity to produce enzymes. If there aren’t enough enzymes in their food, the digestive system can't produce enough enzymes to carry the entire digestive load.
And here's another problem ...
Drugs, antibiotics, heavy metals and sugary or high-glycemic foods can deplete the body’s ability to produce its own enzymes. Older dogs and sick or stressed dogs will also be hard-pressed to produce enough digestive enzymes. And if your dog is deficient in enzymes, he will have a nutritional deficiency ... even if he's eating a nutritionally complete diet.
So enzymes are like a bank account ... if you don't make any deposits, you'll soon be overdrawn. So how do you know if your dog is enzyme deficient?
Symptoms Of Enzyme Deficiency
Enzyme deficiencies can often appear as digestive upset and flatulence. That’s because the food hasn’t digested properly. Think about the gas, diarrhea and bloating that occur in a lactose intolerant person eating dairy products.
This happens because they lack the enzyme lactase that digests the sugars found in milk. This is exactly how an enzyme deficient dog would feel after eating a meal. There may also be fat or grease in the stools, or undigested food particles.
If the deficiency occurs over a period of time, it can cause a wide variety of health issues. And that’s because enzymes are part of so many metabolic processes. And food intolerances can also occur, mimicking allergy symptoms.
Putting Enzymes Back In The Diet
The best solution for enzyme deficiencies is to feed your dog foods that already have enzymes. Processed pet foods are devoid of enzymes and essentially dead. Raw and whole foods have plenty of enzymes.
And there are also some foods that are high in naturally occurring enzymes you can add to your dog's diet to boost his digestive health including:
- Raw honey or bee pollen
- Raw dairy products
- Fermented vegetables
- Digestive enzyme supplement
You may have to increase enzyme-rich foods depending on what’s going on in your dog’s life. Your dog uses enzymes up faster during some illnesses, extreme weather or strenuous exercise. Older dogs will also benefit from extra enzymes as the amount of enzymes produced in the body declines with age. This is one of the reasons for age related illness and debilitation.
Supplementing With Enzymes
Dogs who are getting enough digestive enzymes have better immune health, skin, coat, joints and teeth. And they’ll do a better job of getting all the nutrients out of their food. That means adding a digestive enzyme supplement and enzyme-rich foods to your dog's diet might be a good idea, especially for older dogs.
You'll want to look for plant-based enzymes if you're buying a supplement. Other types of enzymes are easily destroyed by the dog's acidic gut.
Some digestive enzymes are also enteric coated. You don’t want this because coatings prevent the enzymes from working in the stomach.
And adding a good quality prebiotic and probiotic will also help enzymes do their job by creating a healthy gut environment.
Remember, when the enzymes are gone, they're gone - so now is a great time to make sure your dog is getting enough in his diet!