Animals with pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) have a diminished ability to break down the foods that they eat and use the nutrients for survival. Because of this, dogs and cats diagnosed with EPI require a specialized diet, including soluble fibers, and enzyme replacement therapy for the rest of their lives.
There are several dietary factors to consider when faced with caring for an animal with EPI. Your pet will need to be fed several small meals daily, all of which must contain a powdered digestive enzyme replacement. In some cases, you won’t need to change your pet's base diet at all. Simply providing an enzyme replacement with the food may be enough to successfully treat him or her. In other cases, switching the previously fed diet to a good-quality, highly digestible product with a significant amount of protein, moderate fat, and lower levels of fiber will be necessary.
Fiber has been found to interfere with the function of pancreatic enzymes in the intestine. It may also inhibit nutrient absorption. Because of this, diets with a higher level of fiber should not be fed to animals with pancreatic insufficiency. The majority of fiber in the diet should be of the soluble (digestible) type, as this can be beneficial in firming up bowel movements.
Adding soluble fiber to the diet can be especially beneficial for animals that develop secondary bacterial overgrowth (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO). Fibers that moderately ferment in the intestinal tract have been shown to create a therapeutic amount of short-chain fatty acids (called SCFAs).
These fatty acids act as fuel to build up healthy intestinal cells, feed “good bacteria,” and provide bulk for better movement of materials through the gut. A diet higher in digestible fiber also helps reduce the amount of potential “fuel” available for bad bacteria to use. This reduces the amount of damage that can potentially be done to the intestinal cells if these bacteria are allowed to proliferate unchecked.
Potential sources of fiber in your pet’s diet include:
- Beet pulp
- Rice bran
- Psyllium husk
- Dried peas and beans
- Oats/oat bran
- Fruit and vegetables (carrots, apples, etc.)
Your veterinarian can help you select the best possible combination of food(s) for your pet based on his or her particular situation. Each and every pet with EPI will respond differently and trial and error may be necessary to get your pet’s condition under some control. EPI is a chronic disease condition and you will need to constantly monitor your pet’s ability to maintain body weight.
Changes to the diet may need to be made over time; however, these adjustments should be made slowly and carefully. Even the simple addition of a single treat or table scrap could cause a set-back in your pet’s condition, so carefully consider every item you feed your pet in order to help him maintain control for life.