Like Fred and Ginger, salt and pepper, enzymes and health go hand and hand.

But the foods your dog eats, as well as his age and health, can create a void in the enzyme department – and this can cause nutritional deficiencies that can affect his health.

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Enzymes are specialized proteins that are responsible for thousands of important functions in the body. One of their most important jobs is to break down and absorb nutrients from food. Without digestive enzymes, your dog would literally starve!

The body can’t produce a finite supply of enzymes – like a bank account, if you continuously make withdrawals without depositing money, you will soon be broke.

Most enzymes are produced in the pancreas and they’re released to the small intestine. This is where most food is digested in your dog and it’s here where his enzymes work their magic and break foods down into smaller units his body can use for fuel and to build critical cells and structures.

There are three main digestive enzymes produced in the body, all playing a unique role:

  • Protease breaks proteins down into amino acids.
  • Lipase breaks fats down into fatty acids and glycerol
  • Amylase breaks carbohydrates down into sugars

But the dog has other sources of digestive enzymes too … many of his foods also contain enzymes. Here’s an example …

digestive enzymes for dogs

If you’ve ever eaten fruit that isn’t ripe, you’ve probably noticed it’s not very sweet. That’s because the sugars in fruit are bound together in chains called carbohydrates. But fruit contains an enzyme called beta-amylase that digests the fruit. More specifically, it starts to break the carbohydrate chains down into simple sugars … and this is what we call ripening. So the riper the fruit, the sweeter it is. And this is because the enzyme beta-amylase has started digesting the fruit and essentially started the digestion process for us.

And that’s a good thing because the pancreas can be strained when it has to produce too many enzymes to digest food. But luckily, food contains its own enzymes that help ease the load on the pancreas.

And food scientists are starting to learn that food-based enzymes might play an even greater role in digestion. The enzymes found in plants begin digesting food while it’s still in the stomach … in essence, it pre-digests the food, just like the ripened fruit. And there are two benefits to this:

  1. The body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest food
  2. The food is better digested, so the dog gets more nutrition from his food.

But enzymes in the body don’t just digest food … they play many other important roles in the body including:

  • Immune function
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Remove toxins and waste from the body
  • Hormone regulation
  • Slow the rate of aging.

And enzymes do this with the help of vitamins, minerals and other coenzymes. Coenzymes are non-protein compounds that help the protein-based enzymes do their job.

So enzymes are critical for a healthy dog … but there’s one problem you should be aware of.

Enzymes Are Like A Bank Account

In the 1930s Dr Edward Howell pioneered enzyme research and he proposed that because enzymes are critical not just for proper nutrition, but for many other important functions in the body, they should be called essential nutrients, just like most vitamins and minerals.

But the opposite has happened … most dogs today eat enzyme-deficient foods.

Cooking at temperatures above 118o F destroys the naturally occurring enzymes in food. This means your dog’s body has to produce all of the enzymes necessary to digest and metabolize his enzyme-deficient food.

Dr Howell believed that animals are born with a limited capacity to produce enzymes and, if there aren’t enough enzymes in the food,  the digestive system can’t produce enough enzymes to carry the entire digestive load.

And here’s another problem …

Drugs, antibiotics, heavy metals and sugary or high-glycemic foods can deplete the body’s ability to produce its own enzymes. Older dogs and sick or stressed dogs will also be hard-pressed to produce enough digestive enzymes. And if your dog is deficient in enzymes, he will have a nutritional deficiency … even if he’s eating a nutritionally complete diet.

So enzymes are like a bank account … if you don’t make any deposits, you’ll soon be overdrawn. So how do you know if your dog is enzyme deficient?

Symptoms Of Enzyme Deficiency

Enzyme deficiency can often appear as digestive upset and flatulence because the food isn’t being digested properly. Think about the gas. diarrhea and bloating that occur in a lactose intolerant person eating dairy products … this happens because they lack the enzyme lactase that digests the sugars found in milk. This is exactly how an enzyme deficient dog would feel after eating a meal. There may also be fat or grease in the stools, or undigested food particles.

If the deficiency occurs over a period of time, it can cause a wide variety of health issues because enzymes are involved in so many metabolic processes. And food intolerances can also occur, mimicking allergy symptoms.

Putting Enzymes Back In The Diet

The best solution for enzyme deficiency is to feed your dog foods that already have an abundance of enzymes. Whereas processed pet foods are devoid of enzymes and essentially dead, raw and whole foods have an abundance of enzymes.

And there are also some foods that are high in naturally occurring enzymes you can add to your dog’s diet to boost his digestive health including:

  • Papaya
  • Melon
  • Raw honey/Bee pollen
  • Raw dairy products
  • Kefir (make your own with this great recipe)
  • Coconut water
  • Fermented vegetables (find out what vegetables you should be feeding your dog and how to best prepare them … click here)
  • Digestive enzyme supplement

Enzymes are used up faster during some illnesses, extremes in weather or strenuous exercise. Older dogs will also benefit from extra enzymes as the amount of enzymes produced in the body declines with age and this is partly responsible for age related illness and debilitation.

Supplementing With Enzymes

Dogs who are getting enough digestive enzymes have better immune health, skin, coat, joints and teeth, and will do a better job of getting all of the nutrients out of their food … so adding a digestive enzyme supplement and enzyme-rich foods to your dog’s diet might be a good idea, especially for older dogs.

You’ll want to look for plant-based enzymes if you’re buying a supplement because other types of enzymes can be destroyed by the dog’s acidic gut. Some digestive enzymes are also enteric coated, but this coating prevents the enzymes from working in the stomach so you’ll want to avoid those.

And adding a good quality pre/probiotic will also help enzymes do their job by creating a healthy gut environment.

Remember, when the enzymes are gone, they’re gone – so now is a great time to make sure your dog is getting enough in his diet!