Digestive Enzymes For Dogs: Why They’re Important

digestive enzymes for dogs

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 affect his health.

But what exactly are digestive enzymes and what can you do when your dog is running low on them? Here’s what you need to know about digestive enzymes for dogs …

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 keen on making withdrawals without depositing money, you’ll soon be broke.

Digestive Enzymes In The Body

The pancreas produces most of your dog’s enzymes and releases them into the small intestine. That’s 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.

Other enzymes that help your dog digest different food types include ... 

  • Cellulase – breaks down cellulose and helps the body obtain nutrients in fruits and vegetables. 
  • Invertase – breaks down sucrose products like refined sugar.
  • Lactase – digests milk sugar. 
  • Glucoamylase – breaks down maltose into glucose molecules.
  • Maltase – digests simple and complex sugars.
  • Alpha galactosidase – helps digest carbohydrates in certain less digestible foods like beans.

Many foods 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. 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! 

Digestive Enzymes Support The Pancreas

The pancreas can become strained when it has to produce too many enzymes to digest food. But when you feed your dog foods that 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:

  1. The body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest food.
  2. The food is better digested, so your 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 need to know about …

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 … 

Unfortunately, most dogs today eat enzyme-deficient foods. That’s because most dogs eat kibble or canned food that’s processed at high temperatures. Cooking at temperatures above 118 F destroys the naturally-occurring enzymes in food. So, instead of getting foods that help with digestion, your dog’s body has to produce all the enzymes he needs 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 have trouble producing enough digestive enzymes. And if your dog is deficient in enzymes, he’ll 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. But how do you know if your dog is enzyme deficient?

Signs Of Enzyme Deficiency

Enzyme deficiencies can often appear as digestive upset and flatulence. That’s because the food hasn’t digested properly. So you may hear your dog burping and farting … or he may have a gurgly tummy or bad breath.  

It’s a lot like the gas, diarrhea and bloating that occur in a lactose intolerant person eating dairy products. It 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. So he may also have diarrhea or very smelly poop. He may even regurgitate undigested food, or pass undigested food in his stool

If the deficiency continues 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. Food intolerances can also result, mimicking allergy symptoms

Enzymes For Health Issues

These are a few of the chronic problems that enzymes can help relieve … 

  • EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency) – Dogs with EPI don’t have enough pancreatic enzymes to digest their food, so it stops them absorbing nutrients. 
  • SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) – Many dogs with EPI also develop SIBO, because undigested food in the small intestine feeds bacteria there.    
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) – Dogs with chronic pancreatitis don’t produce enough enzymes, so they need extra digestive enzymes to ease the burden on the pancreas.
  • Yeast – this skin problem can be tough to get rid of because yeast has a protective biofilm. Digestive enzymes can help remove the biofilm to allow your dog’s yeast treatments to work more effectively. 

Digestive enzymes can also help with conditions like acid reflux, or food sensitivities and allergies. 

  • Acid reflux
  • IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
  • Leaky gut
  • Food sensitivities
  • Allergies 

Dogs with any of these conditions can benefit from getting extra enzymes. 

How To Feed Your Dog Enzymes

The best solution for enzyme deficiencies is to feed your dog foods that already have enzymes. Processed pet foods are dead foods that are devoid of enzymes. But raw and whole foods have plenty of enzymes.

Here are some foods that are high in naturally occurring enzymes. You can add these to your dog’s diet to boost his digestive health …

  • Papaya
  • Melon
  • Banana
  • Raw honey or bee pollen
  • Fermented vegetables
  • Apple cider vinegar

You may have to give extra 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. And older dogs will also benefit from extra enzymes as the body produces fewer enzymes with age. This is one of the reasons for age-related illness and debilitation.

The Best Digestive Enzymes For Dogs 

Dogs who get 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 it's often a good idea to add a digestive enzyme supplement as well as some enzyme-rich foods to your dog’s diet. It's especially true for older dogs, or dogs with problems like EPI or chronic pancreatitis.

When you buy digestive enzymes, make sure you find one made specifically for dogs. Dogs' enzyme needs are different from humans. Look for ingredients like papain, bromelain, cellulase and HCL betaine that help break down proteins and carbohydrates for absorption. Some supplements also contain ox bile, which supports your dog’s gallbladder and helps him digest fats. 

And if your dog has pancreatitis or EPI, you’ll want to find a supplement that contains pancreas or pancreatic enzymes. Dogs with EPI need to get the enzymes their own pancreas can’t produce. For dog with chronic pancreatitis. feeding pancreas helps support his organ function and give his own pancreas a rest. 

And adding a good quality prebiotic and probiotic will also help enzymes do their job by creating a healthy gut environment.

RECOMMENDED: Four Leaf Rover offers Digest digestive enzymes with New Zealand bovine pancreas to support your dog’s normal pancreas function, plus soil based probiotics for gut health. Buy Digest now >>

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 … and especially if he has any of the health problems described earlier.

References

Howell E. Enzyme Nutrition: The Food Enzyme Concept. New Jersey: Avery Publishing Group, 1985

Howell E. Food Enzymes for Health & Longevity. Lotus Press 2014. 

Villaverde C, Manzanilla EG, Molina J, Larsen JA. Effect of enzyme supplements on macronutrient digestibility by healthy adult dogs. J Nutr Sci. 2017;6:e12. Published 2017 Apr 18. 

Watson P. Chronic pancreatitis in dogs. Top Companion Anim Med. 2012 Aug;27(3):133-9. doi: 10.1053/j.tcam.2012.04.006. Epub 2012 Jun 23. 

Paula Jo (PJ) Broadfoot DVM. Digestive Enzymes In Dogs And Cats. Innovative Veterinary Care. June 13 2018.

Jean Hofve DVM. Digestive Enzymes. Innovative Veterinary Care. February 20, 2013. 

Medhekar R. The First Quantitative Evidence Proving The Efficacy Of Supplemental Enzymes. 2004. 

Edward J Hall MA VetMB PhD DECVIM-CA. Malabsorption Syndromes In Small Animals. Merck Veterinary Manual, June 2020. 

Timoleon S. Rallis, DVM, PhD, K Adamama-Moraitou DVM, Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency In Dogs And Cats: An Update. WSAVA World Congress Proceedings 2004. 

Wang, H.; Li, S.; Fang, S.; Yang, X.; Feng, J. Betaine Improves Intestinal Functions by Enhancing Digestive Enzymes, Ameliorating Intestinal Morphology, and Enriching Intestinal Microbiota in High-salt stressed Rats. Nutrients. 2018;10:907.

Jyotsna Chandra et al. Biofilm Formation by the Fungal Pathogen Candida albicans: Development, Architecture, and Drug ResistanceJ Bacteriol. 2001 Sep;183(18):5385-5394.


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