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There are many wonderful supplements your pet can take to enhance its health. Commonly prescribed supplements include omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, glucosamine, antioxidants, and enzymes. Of these, enzymes are the least understood, yet they possess several health benefits for your pet.
What They Are
I remember my professor of my undergraduate nutrition class teaching us about enzymes. He said that enzymes used in the body for just about everything, as they act as catalysts for so many chemical reactions that occur multiple times every minute in each and every cell. Since enzymes are so important, he told us that if we ever did not know an answer to a question on one of his chest, we should write the word “enzyme” as our answer and we would likely be correct!
Enzymes are chemicals that the body uses for all cellular reactions. Most commonly though, when we think of enzymes we think of substances produced by the pancreas (such as lipases, amylases, and proteases) which allow people and pets to digest their food and absorb nutrients from the digest food. Each enzyme is relatively specific for its activity, so lipases digest fat, amylases digest starches, and proteases digest protein. Enzymes contained in foods, specifically vegetables and fruits, also assist in the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Examples of well known food-based enzymes include papain from papaya and bromelain from pineapples. Because cooking can and activate substances such as enzymes that are present in foods, raw or gently cooked foods contain a greater amount of active enzymes.
As already mentioned, enzymes are critical in allowing people and pets to properly digest food and absorb nutrients. Pets (most commonly German Shepherd dogs) that suffer from exocrine pancreatic insufficiency have a shortage or absence of digestive enzymes and are unable to properly digest the food. Diarrhea and weight loss result from this inherited condition, and lifelong supplementation with enzymes (among other therapies) is needed.
As is true with people, it is suspected that aging pets face a decreased production of digestive enzymes. Therefore, it may be prudent to supplement all older pets diets with digestive enzymes.
There are many other uses of enzymes that can benefit our pets.
- Hairballs. I have found the use of digestive enzymes very helpful in many of my patients, mainly cats, that suffer from chronic hairball irritation. They can be especially helpful in those cats which do not like to take a flavored petroleum-based laxative products, or for those cats whose owners prefer a more natural remedy to this common problem.
- Inflammatory bowel disease. Pets with IBD are not able to properly digest absorbed nutrition their food due to the inflammation present in the cells of the intestinal tract. Using digestive enzymes along with other natural therapies, such as probiotics and glutamine, can be very helpful for pets with IBD. Long term use of these natural products often allows a reduction or elimination in the chemotherapy drugs commonly used to treat this widespread condition.
- Diarrhea. Even pets that do not have IBD but that simply present with acute diarrhea can benefit from enzyme supplementation.
- Cancer. An important use of enzymes is in pets with various cancers. Enzymes may be able to reduce side effects seen with conventional therapies including chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It is also speculated that enzymes might be able to slow tumor growth and spread by removing cells associated with the tumor and/or reducing inflammation which contributes to the growth and spread of cancer.
- Allergies. Many pets with allergic skin disease will benefit when enzymes are added to their integrated treatment program. It is theorized that the use of enzymes can remove chemicals that cause inflammation, redness of the skin, and itching.
- Arthritis. As is true for pets with allergies, arthritis is an inflammatory condition and many pets benefit when enzymes are added to their treatment protocol.
- Post surgery. In people, enzymes appear to speed up post-surgical recovery time.
Any condition which might result from inflammation. Since enzymes are helpful in reducing inflammation, they can be used without harm for virtually any disease a pet may have in which inflammation is an important part of the disease process. Even autoimmune diseases, conditions in which the body forms chemicals which attack its various parts, may benefit from the addition of enzymes. It is thought that enzymes might be able to modulate the immune system and prevent the formation of or aid in the renewal of immune complexes that can damage tissues in the body.
How to Administer Them
Choose a product that contains a variety of digestive enzymes. As a rule, the products should contain some form of amylase, lipase, and protease enzymes. Many products also contain cellulose, this enzyme, which digest cellulose skeletal structure of plant materials, is not made by dogs and cats. Having cellulose in the enzyme product you use can increase digestion of fruits and vegetables and other plant materials in the diet.
Generally enzymes come in either a powdered or tablet/capsule form. Do to ease of administration, I prefer flavored powders. The powders are easily mixed in with food, and tablets or capsules are given orally. When treating pets with gastrointestinal problems (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, acute diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, etc.) enzymes are most useful when administered with a meal. When treating pets with other conditions, a better response is usually seen if the enzymes are administered on an empty stomach or with only a tiny amount of food, otherwise the enzymes will be used for digesting the food rather than treating the specific disease for which they are administered.
As a rule, enzymes are very safe and usually devoid of side effects. In people, it has been recommended not to use enzymes without a doctor’s advice if the person is taking acarbose (Precose®) or miglitol (Glyset®). It is also recommended that people taking warfarin (Coumadin®) not use digestive enzymes containing papain without a doctor supervision. These drugs were rarely if ever used in pets so it is unlikely that a pet taking enzymes and have an interaction with any other supplements or drugs. Still to be safe, it’s always a good idea to visit with your veterinarian to choose the best product for your pet and ensure it is given safely.
Enzymes are inexpensive, easy to administer, and useful for a variety of medical problems. They can also be used to keep your pet healthy, ensure normal gastrointestinal health, reduce food wastage and fecal output due to increase digestion and absorption, replenish enzymes in pets which might show enzyme deficiency (pancreatic disease, older pets, etc.,) treat various causes of vomiting and diarrhea, and help control problems such as hairballs. As such it makes sense to consider adding enzymes supplement to your pets current supplement regimen.
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