This article originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Schutzhund USA Magazine.
Feeding as many German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs) as we do, we encounter a fair number of dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). For those who deal with it, it can have a significant impact not just on the ability of the dog to work, but also the ability to simply maintain a normal, healthy life. Veterinary evaluation and care are a must, but there is a significant nutritional aspect of dealing with EPI as well. As that’s our area of expertise, we’ll focus on that area.
What Is EPI?
For those who have been fortunate enough to not deal with it, EPI is the inability to produce sufficient pancreatic enzymes to digest proteins, fats and carbohydrates. This digestive difficulty results in poor nutrient absorption by the affected dogs. As these are the basic building blocks of any nutrition program, this presents some serious obstacles to even basic canine health. As GSDs are one of the breeds most known for EPI, this is often a topic of particular interest.
Common symptoms of EPI are voracious appetite, weight loss, frequent or constant diarrhea and, occasionally, frequent vomiting. If not properly diagnosed and treated, a myriad of secondary symptoms may arise as health issues develop from insufficient nutrient absorption. Fortunately, these symptoms can be managed, and your dog can live a long and largely normal life with proper diagnosis and treatment.
Feeding Program Recommendations
Due to our large working dog consumer base, we regularly run into EPI due to the very high number of GSDs in that population. Consequently, we’ve been able to develop some feeding regimens that help to both manage the symptoms and improve the overall health of the dogs. We’re not looking to get them to a minimal level of health. Our goal is to get them to a place where they can perform work at a high level. Here’s what we’ve seen that has been successful.
Replace the Enzymes – Since the dog isn’t providing the enzymes, they must come from an external source. The source we recommend is our Bios 36K supplement. Unlike most digestive supplements that are primarily just probiotics, our Bios 36K includes a full range of prebiotics, probiotics and digestive enzymes. In addition to providing the needed digestive enzymes, the prebiotics and probiotics boost the entire digestive system. It’s also very cost effective for ongoing use compared to almost anything else on the market.
Provide Digestible Nutrition – A diet that features digestible protein, fat and carbohydrate sources is a must. It should also be low in fiber, particularly insoluble fiber. As these requirements tend to apply to a lesser degree to any dog under heavy stress, our diets are already built to accommodate them. We’ve had tremendous success with our Active 26K and Power 30K formulas in dogs with EPI. Which formula you choose largely depends on the needs and condition of your particular dog. Those dogs with severe weight loss and very high metabolism generally require the Power 30K.
Management is a Balance
EPI does not generally go away and it’s important to have your veterinarian monitor your dog’s condition on a regular basis. While we have had very good results in improved health and performance with a proper nutrition program, dogs may respond differently to both the condition and various methods of treatment and management. In many cases, we have seen dogs improve to the point that they can discontinue all prescription treatments in favor of food and supplementation. As a general rule, we feel that a nutritional solution is preferred to alleviate and avoid a medical solution if possible. While this may not be an option for many dogs, a natural dietary approach presents the lowest risk for long term treatment in dogs that respond favorably to the program.