Enzymes: The Key to Better Digestion

M. Spencer Newman, DVM, MS
David I. Epstein, DVM, MS

Does your dog need help  digesting his food? On the  market today are a host of enzyme supplements which may provide your dog with digestive enzymes your dog may be lacking.

Enzyme formulations for pets vary considerably. Some also contain vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, or a combination of them. Biozyme and K-Zyme are two products which contain these supplements in addition to enzymes.

Other product formulations contain only the digestive enzymes in a carrier such as dextrose, lactose, or corn starch. Viokase V, Pancrezyme, and Prozyme are some brands.
Different products also contain different enzymes. The four basic digestive enzyme groups are: Proteases, which break down protein; Lipases which break down fats (or lipids); Amylases, which break down carbohydrates (principally starch and sugars), and Cellulases, which break down vegetable matter , including fiber.

The object of the “breakdown” is to improve digestion by increasing the availability of nutrients. By increasing digestive enzymes, more of the nutrient value of the food is absorbed by the body. Nutrient absorption occurs after the food passes through the stomach, and is in the small intestine.

Proteases must be stable enough in the body to withstand the stomach acids normally secreted. Maximum effectiveness of all digestive enzymes (protease, lipase, amylase, cellulase) requires that they survive the stomach and reach the small intestine.

In veterinary medicine, digestive enzymes have mostly been used for a condition known as Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI). This is a condition where the animal’s pancreas cannot secrete enough enzymes to help in the proper digestion of food. Most enzyme supplements are made from beef or pork pancreas or their derivatives. These supply the additional enzymes needed.

Most enzyme supplements require that the enzyme powders or granules be placed on the pet’s food 20 to 30 minutes before the food is given to the pet. This is because most of the digestive activity would be lost in the presence of stomach acids. For this reason, these products have little or no effect on the food once it is in the body. Prozyme is the exception. It’s sprinkled on the food and fed immediately.

Enzymes in most formulas help digest the meat and fat in the food. The cellulase enzyme in some products works on the cellulose fibers of vegetable and plant matter – the fiber in dog food.

While cellulose does not have nutritional value per se, valuable nutrients can be embedded or trapped within its structure. Among these nutrients are minerals, and sometimes vitamins. Neither our bodies, nor those of our pets produce cellulase, so it must be supplemented in order to have maximum digestion of vegetables and other fibrous material.

The late Dr. James B. Sumner, a Nobel Laureate from Cornell University, was a world-renowned biochemist and enzymologist. He suggested that premature aging and many illnesses are due to diminishing amounts of enzymes as the body ages. He also theorized that adding enzymes from the outside, as in food, would save some of this lost energy and keep the body functioning longer. A biochemist in the Midwest used Dr. Sumner’s theories as a starting point, and developed Prozyme.

Prozyme has been found to be a useful aid in correcting such digestive problems as chronic diarrhea of undeterminable origin and excessive gas (flatulence). It has also helped with skin problems including excessive shedding, dry, flaky skin, brittle haircoat, rough or “prickly” haircoat, thin haircoat, and other skin and coat conditions.

A study by a veterinary dermatologist showed a 93% success rate in treating seborrhea, a condition which is generally “managed,” not cured. Prozyme was used as a food supplement while the animals underwent a drugs and baths treatment. When the animals were well enough to have the drugs and baths stopped, the sebhorrea did not return as long as Prozyme supplementation was continued.

Thin or emaciated animals who seem unable to gain weight (known as “unthrifty” animals or “poor doers”) will usually put on weight and look normal after a few weeks on and enzyme product such as Prozyme. Their coats will improve, as will their bowel movements. Older animals who have lost their energy and interest in their environment are revitalized.

It is important to understand these enzymes work on the food, not on the body. You must feed a good diet. Enzymes add nothing to the diet that isn’t already there. They contain no vitamins, minerals, or fatty acids. If you are feeding a diet composed of poor quality protein, or lacking nutrients such as certain minerals, adding enzymes won’t put them into your pet’s food.

Dr. M. Spencer Newman practices at the Lenox Animal Hospital and Bird Clinic in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. David I. Epstein practices at the Northview Animal Hospital in Glenview, Illinois.


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