Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in the German Shepherd Dog

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency is a common issue with many German Shepherds. Yet, while this condition affects a large percentage of GSD’s, it can go undetected if the dog’s owner is not aware of the signs and symptoms of the disorder. Further, sometimes symptoms are not overtly obvious.

Because Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency is thought to be genetic, and thus very common in this breed, it is wise for German Shepherd owners to become familiar with the condition. While the disease can easily be treated, if it goes undetected, it can become serious and life-threatening. An owner knowing more about the symptoms, treatment, and prognosis of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency could save his dog’s life.

What is Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, or EPI, occurs when the pancreas stops producing the necessary amount of digestive enzymes. With an insufficient amount of these enzymes being transferred from the pancreas to the intestine, a dog will struggle to digest its food properly.

A German Shepherd with EPI will suffer from an inability to properly absorb nutrients and digest food, usually resulting in weigh loss in spite of an increase in appetite. Dogs with Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency often endure great physical discomfort from their digestive problems, and, if the condition is left untreated, they can die from it.

Causes Of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency is generally thought to be a genetic disease in German Shepherds. The main cause of this condition is Pancreatic Acinar Atrophy (PAA.) This atrophy occurs when acinar cells of the pancreas, responsible for the creation of digestive enzymes and chemicals, are routinely destroyed.

Because the acinar cells are being destroyed, the flow of digestive fluid, or “pancreatic juice,” from the pancreas to the small intestine is drastically reduced. Without the proper amount of digestive fluid in the intestine, bacteria will begin to thrive in the gut.

Once Pancreatic Acinar Atrophy sets in, a dog will not be able to properly digest its food and absorb the necessary nutrients from the food, resulting in a variety of uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms.

Symptoms Of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Although Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency can go undetected, there are symptoms you can watch for. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your German Shepherd, you should make an appointment with the vet immediately:

  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Decrease in muscle tone
  • Excessive thirst
  • Soft stools; diarrhea
  • Foul smelling stools
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Frequent gas; stomach bloating
  • Regular stomach growling, rumbling
  • Coprophagia: dog eating its own stools
  • General tiredness; lethargy

In EPI, weight loss and muscle tone decrease are caused because the dog’s body is not able to take sufficient nutrients, such as fat and protein, from food. As a result of this, the fat content will be higher in the dog’s excrement, causing the foul odor that a dog owner may observe in the German Shepherd’s stools.

Paying attention to any changes in behavior or other symptoms can make a difference between catching EPI early and allowing it to go undetected for too long. If it is not treated, eventually EPI will result in severe malnutrition.

Diagnosis Of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Diagnosing Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency can be difficult. Often a diagnosis is not made until the disease has become severe. However, catching EPI before it has progressed significantly is possible if a dog owner is able to observe some of the symptoms listed above.

There are two main types of tests that can be performed to determine if your German Shepherd has Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency. A veterinarian will usually begin with a blood test to check the level of enzymes present in the bloodstream. If the digestive enzyme level is too low, this is a strong indication that EPI is present.

Another test that a vet may perform is a fecal analysis. This is another way to determine the levels of digestive enzymes being produced by the pancreas. However, the blood test is more reliable and is often the only test necessary to make a clear diagnosis for Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency.

Treatment For Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Thankfully, while the condition is serious, treatment for Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency is fairly simple. In most cases your German Shepherd’s digestive system can return to normal with the aid of supplemental pancreatic enzymes.

Pancreatic enzyme supplements can easily be added to your dog’s food via powdered form. This is often the easiest way to administer the supplement. However, in some cases the enzymes may be administered in capsule form.

Your vet may also recommend a change in diet for your German Shepherd. A diet low in fat and fiber will be easier for the dog to digest. This lighter diet will also help to ease any discomfort your German Shepherd may have from too much stress on the stomach and intestines.

Finally, antibiotics may be prescribed to counteract the bacteria growth in the intestine.

Prognosis For Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

While there is no cure for Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, with proper treatment, a German Shepherd with this condition will live a long and healthy life.

Through the use of enzyme supplements, a change in diet, and administration of antibiotics, EPI can easily be controlled. With these treatments, a German Shepherd will experience very little further discomfort from the disease.

However, it is important to watch for the symptoms and get a clear diagnosis as soon as possible. A dog with EPI that goes undiagnosed or untreated can easily die from malnutrition.