Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI, is a condition where the body fails to produce enough digestive enzymes in the pancreas.
These enzymes aid the digestion of fat, protein, and starches, and without proper function of these enzymes, the dog can rapidly lose weight. German Shepherds are especially prone to this disease, which can be hereditary, along with other breeds, such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Rough Collies, and Chow Chows, but responsible breeders will make sure that any of their dogs known to have the disease are not used for breeding.
What are the causes of EPI?
There are two main causes of EPI in dogs: the first is pancreatitis, which is a chronic inflammation of the pancreas. Bear in mind that some dogs, whose EPI has been caused by pancreatitis, may also suffer from diabetes. The other cause is idiopathic pancreatic acinar atrophy (PAA), which is a condition in which the pancreatic acinar cells, which aid the digestion of proteins and fats, fail to function properly. This usually happens when the dog is still fairly young. EPI can also cause a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to further weight loss.
What are the symptoms of EPI?
Rapid weight loss is one telltale sign of EPI, despite your dog eating a normal or increased amount of food. Chronic diarrhoea, which is greasy-looking, and yellow or grey in colour, is another common symptom, as is an increase in flatulence. Affected dogs may also eat their own faeces, and produce a rumbling sound in their stomachs. These unpleasant symptoms may cause the dog to become withdrawn and introverted, so be aware if your dog starts to hide himself away.
Testing and diagnosis of EPI
If your vet suspects EPI, he will probably order a number of tests to check your dog’s pancreatic function. He may also order urine tests and a stool analysis, and may check for a vitamin B12 deficiency.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is an important organ in the digestive system, which breaks down the nutrients in food, using digestive enzymes — amylase, lipase, and protease. The broken down nutrients are then absorbed into the blood, and transported to the organs where they are needed.
Treament for EPI
Once EPI has been diagnosed, your vet’s job will be to find the best way to supplement your dog’s digestive enzymes, usually in powdered form, which can be mixed with your dog’s food. Your vet may also suggest a grain-free, low-fat, or low-fibre diet to help him gain weight again, gradually and healthily. If your dog has also begun to suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency, a supplement of this important vitamin will also be necessary. This is generally given as an injection every week, for six weeks initially, and then another is given after 30 days, with a test of B12 levels 30 days after this final injection.
How can I help my dog who suffers with EPI?
One of the most important things is to keep a log of your dog’s diet, including the times of feeding and type of food, the amount of enzymes he is being given, and, if applicable, the dates of his vitamin B12 injections. Also, try to keep an eye on the types of stools he produces, as this is a good indication of his digestive health. Your vet may recommend that you don’t feed your dog any treats, as they could be filled with ingredients that will upset his sensitive digestive system.
DID YOU KNOW?
German Shepherds account for up to 50 per cent of EPI cases in the UK.