Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in German Shepherds is a lot more common than you think. About 70% of dogs diagnosed with the condition are German Shepherds. The disease, also known as EPI, is characterized by the pancreas’ inability to produce enough enzymes to help the body digest and absorb food nutrients.
What is the function of the pancreas?
The pancreas is an integral part of the digestive system. Aside from releasing insulin, the organ is also responsible for supplying digestive enzymes to the stomach and the digestive tract. These enzymes help break down food into digestible ingredients that the body can absorb.
What happens inside your German Shepherd’s body if he has exocrine pancreatic insufficiency?
When a dog has exocrine pancreatic insufficiency disorder, his pancreas fails to secrete the adequate amount of digestive enzymes. Without sufficient enzymes in the digestive system, the consumed food remains undigested and your German Shepherd’s body is unable to absorb nutrients. Even if a dog with EPI consumes adequate food, he could suffer from malnourishment, have organ failures, and starve to death. This disease can also contribute to bacterial overgrowth in the intestine.
What causes exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in German Shepherds?
Idiopathic pancreatic acinar atrophy (PAA) is the most common cause of EPI in German Shepherds. With PAA, there is a progressive destruction of the acinar cells, which are involved with enzyme production. The damage to these cells causes the inadequate production of enzymes and bicarbonate essential in digesting foods.
On the other hand, chronic pancreatitis is the second leading cause of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in German Shepherds. When pancreatitis is the cause of EPI, there is a very high chance that your pet may suffer from diabetes.
What are the signs of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in German Shepherds?
Common signs of EPI in dogs include:
- gray or yellow stool that may look fatty
- coprophagia (eating of stool)
- weight loss
- muscle atrophy
- increased appetite
- poor coat quality
- large amounts of stool
- frequent defecation
- chronic diarrhea
- excessive drinking
These symptoms may either come over a long period of time or set in within a week or two.
How is EPI in dogs diagnosed?
If signs of EPI are discernible in your pet, take him to the veterinarian without any delay. Blood tests and x-rays help rule out other diseases. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in German Shepherds is confirmed by measuring of blood trypsinogen levels through trypsin-like immunoreactivity (TLI).
Is there a way to treat EPI in German Shepherds?
To treat exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in German Shepherds, the pancreatic enzymes must be reinvigorated. Enzymes supplements are available in the market in both tablet and powdered forms. They can be either mixed with your dog’s meal or be given separately before his meals. These manufactured enzymes help dogs with EPI to break down the food they eat and allow for proper digestion and absorption of its nutrients. Improvement becomes visible within a week of starting this treatment.
It is a must to observe your German Shepherd’s condition – especially the texture and color of his stool – in the first few weeks of treatment to figure out the correct amount of enzymes he needs. Your pet may also start to gain weight.
EPI relapse is a threat. So observe your German Shepherd to see if signs of EPI are coming back. Generally, dogs who suffered from EPI can still live a normal and happy life as long as the recommended diet and enzyme supplements are given. In most cases, stopping the enzyme supplementation results in the recurrence of the disease.
It is recommended to feed your German Shepherd with several small meals daily instead of giving him one big meal. The ideal diet for dogs with EPI is low in fat, fiber, and carbohydrates.
If the EPI in your German Shepherd is caused by an underlying condition, such as pancreatitis, that condition must be dealt with first.
How to prevent exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in German Shepherds?
There is no sure way to prevent exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in German Shepherds. Symptoms of the disease usually do not appear until there are signs of pancreatic damage or inadequate enzyme production. Because it is common to diagnose EPI in German Shepherds, there are studies suggesting that the disease can be inherited. For this reason, removing dogs with EPI from breeding programs are recommended. The disorder caused by pancreatitis can be prevented with proper diet and care.