Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in the German Shepherd
Of all dogs diagnosed to have Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI), the German Shepherd is a common patient as well as the Rough-coated Collie. One estimate shows that about 70% of all dogs diagnosed with Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) are German Shepherds while 20% diagnosed are Rough-coated Collies.
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (also called EPI) is a medical condition in which the pancreas of the affected German Shepherd Dog (GSD) stops producing enough digestive enzymes to digest food normally in its small intestine.
EPI in the GSD can result from primary pancreatic disease or several other diseases that interfere with the correct production of enzymes by the pancreas or of activation of the enzymes in the intestine.
What is the pancreas and EPI? And what does this have to do with my own personal German Shepherd?
Briefly: the “exocrine” part of the pancreas is responsible for producing the enzymes we all use to digest our food correctly. Without adequate production of these particular enzymes your GSD cannot digest its food properly either.
If your German Shepherd can’t digest it’s food, it will not be able to absorb all the food’s nutrients properly. Keep in mind that Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency can be potentially life threatening, especially in its acute form. However, it often responds well to ongoing and daily treatments when diagnosed and treated with the proper drugs.
Typically, the exocrine functions of the pancreas can malfunction in one of two ways. First, in acute pancreatitis, the dog’s pancreas becomes inflamed, causing vomiting and loss of appetite with resulting dehydration. This does require immediate veterinary attention.
Secondly, a previously healthy GSD may begin to exhibit a few or all of the following symptoms: excessive water-drinking, ravenous appetite and very soft “cow patty” stools. This is indeed a big tell. No matter how much the dog eats, it will be hungry soon after and will soon begin to lose weight. Typically, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in the GSD is presented in young adult dogs between 1 to 5 years of age.
The diagnosis of EPI needs to be confirmed by use of laboratory tests. Diarrhea and foul smelling feces due to high fat content results and because all the food ingredients are not being digested completely the German Shepherd will quickly become malnourished.
Signs of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in the GSD:
Diarrhea and foul smelling “cow patty” feces.
Increased gut sounds.
Signs of nutritional deficiency (ex. dry and brittle hair, anemia)
Treatment of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in the GSD:
Treatment of EPI often involves the use of various replacement pancreatic enzymes. These are given orally to your German Shepherd. Occasionally oral antibiotics may be needed as well. Most often, these EPI products are given in powder form or as crushed tablets, then mixed with the food and left on it for about 30 minutes at room temperature before feeding takes place.
Recommended diet to deal with EPI:
Feed several small meals daily (at least 3 or more)
Feed a highly digestible, palatable, complete ration. Consult you veterinarian
Ideal diet for a dog with EPI: low fiber, low in fat, low excess carbohydrates
Keep in mind, once diagnosed, this treatment is a lifelong commitment for you and your GSD. It may be possible to regulate the condition of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in the German Shepherd Dogs who are not so severely affected by feeding a very bland low-fat, low-fiber diet and adding an over-the-counter enzyme supplement.
For the more severely affected German Shepherd a more serious regime is required. If EPI enzyme supplementation is stopped for any reason then all the unpleasant symptoms will recur in your dog – and very soon. Oftentimes the German Shepherds response to therapy can be seen within a week or so of starting treatment.
The owner of a German Shepherd diagnosed with Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency needs to be very attentive to their GSD’s overall condition. After figuring out the correct amount of enzyme(s) needed to produce relatively normal stools and to stop weight loss, the GSD owner can usually feed enough food to help the dog regain lost weight. Relapses are always possible and are shown either in the return of diarrhea or in resumed weight loss.
The dogs owner will have to watch carefully for any of these returning symptoms. Generally speaking, as long as the German Shepherd owner is vigilant in maintaining the diet and enzyme supplements needed by the Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency patient, then the dog with Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency can live a happy and relatively normal life.
German Shepherds are really incredible dogs. But they’re not for everyone – and if you’re thinking of getting one I highly encourage you to do all the research you can about them ahead of time. And if you love to read, why not check out my book, “Your Total German Shepherd Dog