The way your pet digests their food may not be something you've ever had to worry about before. As pet owners, we trust that if we see a healthy firm poop, then the dog's digestive system is doing its job. But if loose stools, diarrhea, regurgitated meals, or stinky farts have become a daily punishment, you may be desperate to do something. 

Have you heard of digestive enzyme supplements for dogs? Does your smelly pet need them? We've created this guide to inform you of digestive supplement options for your dog's tummy upsets. 

What are Digestive Enzymes?

Your dog's pancreas produces vital digestive enzymes. These enzymes have the job of breaking down foods for efficient nutrient absorption. If your dog is the type of pet that swallows its food within seconds, its digestive enzymes have a large job ahead of them.

After some pre-digestion in stomach acid, food particles travel through the small intestine. At this point, the pancreas releases digestive enzymes to attach to the food and break it down even further.

There are three main enzymes that your dog needs for good digestion:

  • Protease breaks down proteins into amino acids. Amino acids are needed for energy, growth, body tissue support, and more. 

  • Amylase breaks down starches or carbohydrates in food. Because dogs and cats are carnivores by nature, they have less of this protein enzyme than humans.

  • Lipases help the canine body to digest fat molecules.

For humans and dogs, these enzymes are essential for survival.

Why Your Dog Needs Digestive Enzymes

Your dog needs digestive enzymes to break their food into tiny pieces so that they can absorb nutrients and proteins for energy and vitality.

Your dog can benefit from digestive enzyme supplements in the following situations:

They're Getting Old, and Their Enzymes are Depleted

Older dogs struggle in many ways. Their previously healthy digestive system may slow down adequate digestive enzyme production.

As a result, they struggle to digest food properly and do not get the nutrients they need. This is not true for healthy dogs, but if your older dog has struggled with health issues, they may benefit from enzyme supplements to replenish and support digestion.

You Give Your Pooch a Starchy Doggy Diet

A starchy diet isn't the best for your dog, and here is why. The pancreas produces amylase, an enzyme that can also be found in the saliva of humans.

Cats and dogs do not produce amylase in saliva, and only small measures are excreted from the pancreas. This is because dogs are carnivorous. Many years ago, before dogs learned how to catch a ball or accompany humans on airplanes, dogs were wild beings.

Over time, people tamed dogs as companions, working animals, or hunting partners, and their diet changed. Initially, it was protein-rich and raw, but today, dog food is primarily starchy. 

Studies have found that domestic dogs have adapted to their modern diet and amylase activity has increased compared to wolves. Companion dogs can thrive on a diet rich in starch, "but their closest feral relatives cannot." However, starch is not intended to be their primary food group. 

To Treat a Health Issue

Some marketing teams for supplements will argue that your healthy pooch can also benefit from enzyme supplements to digest their food better. We will look at that later, but let's first discuss the health issues that can benefit from the addition of enzyme products:

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)

The pancreas' exocrine function is to produce and release digestive enzymes to the small intestine for the breakdown of pet foods. When a dog has Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI), its symptoms include pale stool, increased appetite, vomiting, nutrient malabsorption, and weight loss. 

Unfortunately, this syndrome is hereditary in certain dog breeds and can even be present from birth. The failed function of the pancreas can also result from pancreatic infection, injury, masses that are blocking the duct, or inflammation.

Chronic treatment is necessary, including a change in diet. Experts have reported how digestive enzyme supplements can benefit digestion in dogs with EPI. 

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth 

A case of EPI in a dog can lead to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). When undigested food passes through the dog digestive tract, it can get stuck in the small intestine rather than passing it on to the colon. As the food settles in the small intestine, bacteria grows and can cause damage to the surface of the bowel resulting in malabsorption.

Digestive enzymes that include pancreatic enzymes will have the most effective results on EPI and SIBO. 

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic Pancreatitis is a severe condition that needs expert treatment. It could be the reason your dog is experiencing pain surrounding its abdomen.

Chronic Pancreatitis is defined as inflammation of the pancreas and can impair the exocrine function of the pancreas, including the release of digestive enzymes. A treatment plan may include the addition of digestive enzymes so the supplement can provide pancreas enzymes. 

Symptoms of Digestive Enzyme Deficiency

If your dog is showing these signs, speak to your vet about adding digestive enzymes to their wellness routine:

  • Foul flatulence

  • Burping 

  • Stomach troubles, like loose stool, diarrhea, or constipation

  • Bloating

  • Regurgitating undigested food

  • Excessive hunger

  • Weight loss

  • Stinky breath

  • Acid reflux

  • Cramping and abdominal pain

If your dog ticks a few of the above symptoms, a digestive product can make a huge difference. Before you go wade through all the different types of products out there, speak to your vet to rule out any other health issues. Many diseases can cause the same symptoms, and more specific treatment is needed to resolve them.

Can Healthy Dogs Benefit From Enzyme Supplements?

For most dogs, their pancreas makes enough digestive enzymes, and a supplement will not benefit them. For healthy dogs, digestive enzymes are nonessential. A paper by the Journal of Nutritional Science studied the effects of enzyme supplements on healthy dogs. 

This is what they found:

  • During enzyme treatments, there were no differences in energy and nutrient digestibility.

  • Enzyme supplementation does not significantly increase the digestibility of a typical dry diet in healthy adult dogs, and "routine use of such products is not recommended."

  • "Digestive enzyme replacement therapy" is effective for the treatment of dogs and cats with EPI. 

  • While plant-origin enzyme products are commonly used due to cost, animal-origin digestive enzymes (amylase, protease, and lipase) are recommended by most clinicians. 

  • Further studies on the effects of digestive enzyme supplements in canines are scarce.

Are Canned or Cooked Foods Part of the Problem?

Some research has pointed out that heating or cooking dog food destroys vital enzymes needed for fermentation and digestion. When dog food is sterilized for canning or cooked in kibble manufacturing, enzymes die. Brands claim that this can make it difficult for the food to be broken down and for nutrients to be absorbed. 

But wait, deciding to offer your dog digestive enzymes based on the "cooked or canned food" dilemma can also be disputed. Dr. Cailin Heinze, a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist, says the claims that cooked dog food lacks food enzymes and will therefore impact nutrient absorption are not valid.

She says, "The enzymes naturally occurring in food have more to do with why food spoils than being necessary for digestion, so "killing" them by cooking isn't going to make any measurable difference for your pet." 

A Balanced Diet Should be Your Priority

Of course, your dog's diet will affect their digestion and overall wellness. Speak to your veterinarian about adding some raw foods to your dog's diet and choosing kibbles that are full of proteins. A balanced diet is important for all humans and animals.

What is a Probiotic? 

Digestive supplements can include probiotics and multivitamins too. Probiotics are the healthy gut bacteria population in your dog's body. These tiny bugs are essential for keeping the body healthy and strong. They defend the body against harmful bacteria and bring balance to the gut microbial community or gut flora.

Probiotics eat non-soluble fibers called prebiotics. Prebiotics are provided in fiber-rich foods like apples, mushrooms, bananas, fermented vegetables, and leafy greens. 

Supporting your dog's gut flora and healthy bacteria, as well as offering them prebiotic snacks (like small pieces of banana), may be effective in the treatment of minor gastrointestinal upset.

If your pet's stool has been looking or smelling weird for a while, they can benefit from digestive supplements. Digestive enzymes or probiotic supplements are the go-to digestive products for pets. Let's look at the difference between these two products and when or why you should choose them for your pet.

Digestive Enzyme Supplement

There are many different types of digestive enzymes that will be present in dog digestion supplements. Plant-origin products include the following:

  • Bromelain comes from pineapple stem, fruit, and syrup. It can be used to break down protein and is also known for reducing discomfort and inflammation. Sometimes this supplement is recommended for joint pain and arthritis.

  • Papain is an enzyme from papaya and helps digest protein and meat. It's immune-boosting and is even recognized for the ability to eliminate parasites.

  • Betaine HCl is commonly used as a stomach acidifier and digestive aid. It's a natural hydrochloric acid and breaks down proteins into peptides and amino acids and fats into triglycerides.

  • Cellulase helps to break down plant grains and fiber, also known as cellulose. The mammalian cells do not produce cellulase so some enzyme supplements may include it in their formula. However, gut bacteria (probiotics) digest cellulose in the large intestine with cellulase enzymes.

Animal-originating product ingredients include:

  • Pancreas supplements provide all the protein enzymes that the digestive system needs –proteases, amylases, and lipases.

  • Ox Bile can be a helpful digestive supplement that provides bile from the gallbladder. Its purpose is to release bile after a meal, to break down fat for digestion. It is beneficial for dogs who are bile deficient.

Who Digestive Enzymes Help

To recap, digestive enzymes are most beneficial to dogs struggling with Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency or other health issues that affect correct digestion and nutrient absorption of foods. 

Side Effects of Digestive Enzymes  

Veterinarian Dr. Hanie Elfenbein believes that "with chronic use, supplements may suppress the pancreas so that your dog relies on the supplement, turning a healthy dog into one who requires medication at every meal."

Other side effects include:

  • oral ulceration

  • vomiting

  • diarrhea

  • severe allergic reactions.

Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic supplements are commonly used for pets with sensitive gastrointestinal tracts. You may have also given your dog probiotics as part of their treatment plan with antibiotics. 

How Probiotics Help

Probiotic supplements replace good bacteria in the body and can have the following health benefits:

  • Reduce the effects of stress or anxiety

  • Ease gastrointestinal upset like diarrhea, loose bowels, or stomach upset

  • Can reduce the occurrence of food allergies and therefore reduce allergy symptoms like skin inflammation or dermatitis

  • Can treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease

  • Can prevent Urinary Tract Infections 

  • Prevents gastrointestinal inflammation and disease

  • Reduces obesity

  • Strengthens the immune system

Who Probiotics Help

Probiotics are incredibly beneficial for pets who are on antibiotics and suffering the effects of drugs that are killing off their gut bacteria. It can also form part of a daily wellness routine, but it is usually given to pets with allergies or struggling with GI tract issues.

Probiotic supplements for dogs are preferred over human products as they are specifically formulated for the canine gut flora. They'll contain a combination of probiotic strains that can provide a strong defense against harmful bacteria. 

Side Effects of Probiotics

Probiotics have very few side effects, and it's unlikely that your pet will overdose on probiotic supplements. However, sensitivity to high doses or incorrect probiotics can result in gastrointestinal upset. 

Choosing the Best Supplement for Your Dog

As much as you love sharing with your pet, giving them a human digestive supplement is not a good idea. Your dog has unique enzyme needs for its body, and a product for dogs will have the best results. 

Expert opinion counts, and you should always speak to your veterinarian if your dog struggles with digestion or gastrointestinal upset. Taking care of your pet can be done in many ways, including regular wellness exams, daily exercise, and a healthy balanced diet. If your dog needs a digestive supplement, it can make a world of difference in your pet's longevity.

Snuggling up with your pet has never smelt sweeter. Talk to your vet today to see which supplement can help your pet's unique needs. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does my dog need digestive enzymes?

For healthy dogs, digestive enzymes are nonessential. However, digestive enzyme supplements can be effective for the treatment of dogs and cats with EPI. 

What are good digestive enzymes for dogs?

Pancreas digestive enzyme supplements provide all the protein enzymes that the digestive system needs - proteases, amylases, and lipases.

Can I give human digestive enzymes to my dog?

As much as you love sharing with your pet, giving them a human digestive enzyme is not a good idea. Your dog has unique enzyme needs for its body, and a product for dogs will have the best results. 

What are the side effects of digestive enzymes?

Taking digestive supplements is not without risks. Expert opinion believes that side effects include suppressed function of the pancreas due to dependency on drugs, oral ulceration, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe allergic reactions.