EPI or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is a serious condition that causes your dog to be unable to turn the nutrients in their foods into the fuel needed for life, leading to them passing back out through the body in the stools, virtually undigested. The condition is also referred to as maldigestion syndrome, and ultimately can led to a dog literally starving to death, despite being well fed.
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is caused by a problem with the pancreas, which limits the ability of the pancreas to produce the appropriate digestive enzymes naturally. This means that all manner of nutrients including fats, proteins, vitamins and starch will not be broken down for absorption, leading to emaciation and prolific loose, pale stools that will often smell particularly bad.
Learning that your dog has EPI can of course be very concerning, and means that they will need supplementary treatment with the necessary digestive enzymes for life in order to replace the work usually done by the pancreas. However, with the correct feeding and treatment, EPI can be managed in the dog, and kept under control. Read on to learn more.
Once your dog has first been diagnosed, they may need to stay in the clinic for a few days so that treatment can begin, and if your dog is very thin, so that they can begin the process of being brought back up to a normal weight. After this time, treatment usually continues at home, with trips back to the vet now and then for monitoring and any changes that might be needed to be made.
When your dog is first diagnosed, they will usually need to be fed little and often, with their food allowance being broken down into several small meals per day. Supplementary enzymes to treat EPI can either be added directly to their food as a powder, or given a short while before meals as a pill.
The content of the food itself is something that needs to be planned carefully, and often, commercial diets don’t fit the bill. A food for a dog with EPI should contain top quality protein and a source of carbohydrate, and be low in both fibre and fat. This is due to the fact that dietary fibre can further compromise the function of the pancreas’s production of digestive enzymes.
Your vet will work with you to design a food plan and recommend an appropriate diet for your dog, which will depend on how pronounced the condition is. This will also mean that some dogs may require additional nutrients and supplements as well as their mealtime doses of supplementary enzymes.
Alongside of EPI, many affected dogs will suffer from a deficiency in B12, as well as a secondary complication of the condition that leads to an excess of intestinal bacteria, which combines with EPI to further worsen the ability of the body to absorb vitamin B12. In a knock-on effect, this in turn can lead to deficiencies in the body’s folate levels, as well as potentially other fat-soluble vitamins including A,D,E and K.
This means that some dogs with EPI will also need to be given a supplementary injection of vitamin B12 every few weeks, as well as potentially oral medications to provide additional folate.
Your vet will talk to you about these supplements, and may need to run blood tests on your dog now and then to test their levels.
Fat in the right amount is an essential part of a balanced diet, and helps to keep your dog’s coat healthy as well as aiding in the absorption of certain vitamins. Special diets for EPI tend to be lower in fat than the norm, and so special fatty acids may be needed as an additional supplement, from a source called medium chain triglycerides, or MCT’s.
MCT’s are easier for dogs with EPI to absorb than the fat from foods, and are more effective within the body. Unrefined coconut oil is one of the most commonly given sources of supplementary fatty acid, and omega-3, a type of oil from fish, is another.
A diagnosis of EPI requires lifelong vigilance and supplementary feeding by the owner of the dog in question, and can affect many aspects of their life when it comes to what they can and cannot eat. Even the odd treat or snack can throw the disorder out of whack, and so you should not give any treats or scraps that are not recommended by your vet.
You will need to work closely with your vet for the long term to get the condition under control, and keep your dog on an even keel.
However, EPI does not have to be fatal, and once the condition is under control and properly managed, your dog should be able to lead an otherwise normal life.