Every pet can benefit from enzyme supplementation. Enzymes not only support digestive health and enhance nutrient absorption; they also reduce inflammation and boost overall wellness.

Enzymes are among the most commonly used supplements in pets. I believe all dogs and cats could benefit from the proper supplementation of enzymes. This article will discuss some of their uses and how they may help your own animal.

Enzymes Defined

Years ago, in my undergraduate nutrition class, our professor made the following statement: “If you have a question on your exam and don’t know the answer, put down ‘enzymes,’ and you’ll likely be correct!” His point was that they are so important to life that they are used by the body in pretty much every physical/biological process.

Enzymes are simply chemicals made by the body and used in specific biological functions. When we talk about enzyme therapy in pets, we are typically talking about using them to improve overall health, reduce inflammation (as in pets with arthritis, allergies, or cancer), or improve digestion and nutrient absorption.

Enzymes for Digestion

Traditionally, they are used in supplemental form to improve or increase digestion and absorption of nutrients from the diet. They can be given to normal, healthy pets to improve nutrient utilization, and are also helpful for dogs or cats with any gastrointestinal disorder, whether it’s a simple case of vomiting or diarrhea, or something more chronic such as constipation/obstipation (megacolon), anal sac disorders, and especially IBD (inflammatory bowel disease, regardless of cause). Since sick pets often suffer from reduced appetite and impaired digestion, enzymes are often added to their regimen to improve their nutritional status.

Enzymes used to aid in digestion and absorption of foods include:

  • Proteases, which break down proteins
  • Carbohydrases (such as amylase) that break down carbohydrates
  • Lipases, for breaking down fats.

Digestive enzymes are very specific as to the type of food they break down, as well as the conditions under which they work. They can be derived from pancreatic, plant, or microbial sources (which are derived from bacteria or fungi). While pancreatic enzymes exert their actions mainly in the small intestines (they are inactivated in the lower pH of the stomach), plant and microbial enzymes begin digesting foods in the stomach, immediately after ingestion (and likely even on the food being prepared if the enzymes are added several minutes before being eaten). Enzymes from microbial and plant origins have a much broader spectrum of activity since they are stable and active through a very wide pH range (3.0 to 8.0).

Additional Uses for Enzymes

Enzymes may also be helpful for pets with inflammatory conditions, including arthritis, dermatitis, asthma, and cancer. For treating inflammatory conditions, it’s recommended that they not be administered with food, as otherwise they will be “used up” as they begin digesting the food.

I’ve also used enzyme supplementation to reduce excessive shedding. The exact mechanism is unknown, but we do know that enzyme supplementation increases the absorption of nutrients, some of which may be involved in the control of hair growth. It is also possible that some of these nutrients are used in thyroid hormone synthesis — increased thyroid hormone synthesis can positively affect hair growth and reduce shedding.

Finally, one novel use for enzymes is to help pets with coprophagia (the eating of feces, either their own or those of another pet). Adding them to the diet is believed to curb coprophagia that might result from nutrient deficiency caused by incomplete digestion and absorption. For pets with behavioral coprophagia, enzyme supplementation is unlikely to help but will not be harmful and will still benefit the pet’s overall health.

They are extremely safe, are useful for many conditions, and help healthy dogs and cats digest and absorb all the nutrients from their diets. I have never heard of nor seen any side effects in any of my patients who have taken enzymes. The dose is empirical and usually based on the labels of specific products. Simply follow the label directions or those provided by your veterinarian. Talk to pet’s doctor about the best enzyme products to address your own dog or cat’s needs and keep him healthy.