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Is your dog losing weight even though he is eating every morsel of food available? Does he pass loose, foul-smelling stool? Then he may have a condition called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). Animals with EPI are unable to produce enough digestive enzymes to properly digest food. Without these digestive enzymes, food passes through the digestive tract basically undigested -- this starves the animal of nutrients essential for survival.

One condition that causes the pancreas to stop producing adequate enzymes is pancreatic acinar atrophy (PAA). This occurs because the disease slowly destroys (atrophies) the acinar cells in the pancreas, which are vital for producing digestive enzymes. If a significant amount of pancreatic cells are destroyed (at least 85 percent), your dog may begin to undergo significant weight loss or suffer from bouts of diarrhea.  

Heredity and PAA

Certain breeds of dog are more commonly afflicted with PAA, such as the German Shepherd, Dachshund, and rough-coated Collie. PAA will also affect dogs in early adulthood, rather than later on in life. And though the reason for the atrophying of pancreatic cells is unknown, genetics may play a role in certain breeds like the German Shepherd.

In addition to loose, pale-colored stools, weight loss and a ravenous appetite, dogs with EPI may exhibit periods of increased flatulence (gas). The dog may also be lethargic and have increased rumbling sounds from the abdomen (borborygmus). Certain animals will even resort to eating stools (coprophagia) due to malnutrition.

Tests for pancreatic insufficiency are done by taking blood samples from the affected dog and measuring the levels of digestive enzyme in the body. The most commonly performed test is the trypsin-like immunoreactivity (TLI) test, which is typically done on animals that have been fasted for 12 hours. Usually, a history of weight loss and diarrhea, paired with an extreme increase in appetite and a decreased TLI level will indicate EPI.

Care and Treatment

Dogs diagnosed with EPI due to pancreatic acinar atrophy will require special food supplements for the rest of their lives. These digestive enzyme supplements help your dog break down the food, allowing it to be absorbed by the body.

Unfortunately, this in and of itself is not a cure for EPI. This is because there is no way to replace or regenerate the cells in the pancreas once they have been destroyed. However, with proper treatment and the right diet, your dog should begin to have firmer stools within about a week’s time. After a while, he will start to put back on the weight he lost. The appetite should also diminish once the body starts receiving proper nourishment.

Your veterinarian will monitor your dog’s progress and assist you in determining an appropriate diet and supplement regimen for him.

Prevention of PAA?

Currently, there is no known way to prevent the occurrence of pancreatic acinar atrophy in dogs. Research is ongoing to find genetic markers for this disease in affected animals. German Shepherd dogs that are known to have this condition should be surgically sterilized so that they cannot pass the genes to their offspring.

Image: AVAVA / via Shutterstock

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